A default gateway allows devices on one network to communicate with devices on another network. If your computer, for example, is requesting a web page from the Internet, the request first runs through the default gateway before leaving the local network to reach the Internet.
An easier way to understand a default gateway might be to think of it as an intermediate device between the local network and the Internet. It is necessary to transfer internal data to the Internet and then back.
The default gateway device passes traffic from the local subnet to devices on other subnets. The default gateway usually connects the local network to the Internet, although internal gateways for communication within a local network also serve a useful purpose in corporate networks.
The word default in this term just means that it is the default device to look for when you need to send information over the network.
How traffic moves through a default gateway
All clients on a network point to a default gateway that routes their traffic.
Your home network’s default gateway, for example, comprises certain paths that must be followed to move Internet requests from your computer out of the network and to the next piece of equipment that can figure out what to do.
From there, the same process occurs until the data reaches its final destination. With each network that traffic arrives on, that network’s default gateway serves its own purpose, to relay the information back to the Internet and ultimately to your device that originally requested it.
If the traffic is bound to other internal devices and not to a device external to the local network, the default gateway is still used to understand the request, but instead of sending the data out of the network, it points it to the correct local device.
This process is understood based on the IP address requested by the source device.
Default gateway types
Internet default gateways are usually of two types:
- In home or small business networks with a broadband router to share the Internet connection, the home router serves as the default gateway.
- In home or small business networks without a router, such as in residences with dial-up Internet access, a router at the Internet service provider’s location serves as the default gateway.
Default network gateways can also be configured using a regular computer instead of a router. These gateways use two network adapters, one of which is connected to the local subnet and the other to the outside network.
Routers or gateway computers can be used to network local subnets such as those in large companies.
How to find the default IP address of your gateway
You may need to know the IP address of the default gateway if there is a network problem or you need to make changes to your router.
In Microsoft Windows, a computer’s default gateway IP address can be accessed through Command Prompt with the ipconfig command, as well as through Control Panel. The netstat and ip route commands are used on macOS and Linux to find the default gateway address.