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What is a default gateway?

A look at one of the most critical components of a well-functioning network

A default gateway is a node that enables a connection between networks in order to allow machines on other networks to communicate. The 'default' part of the terminology relates to the fact it is often the first and default route taken. 

One of the most common uses for a default gateway is to access web pages; a request is sent through the gateway before it actually gets on to the internet. Other use cases of default gateways include connecting multiple devices to a single subnet. In that scenario, the default gateway acts as an intermediary. 

Put simply, default gateways are routing systems that allow requests to find the path of least resistance to their intended destination, even if the network protocols of the sender and the receiver are different. 

It all starts with an 'originating device', the first to send out an access request with a routing table. This determines the most efficient route, as well as what router should be used. Even if there is no specific router identified, the default gateway will still receive the request to ensure data can still flow.

Default gateways on smaller networks, such as those catering for home offices, are usually set as the main router. If this is expanded, or multiple networks are used at the same time, a subnet system can also be used in tandem with the default gateway.

How to find the default gateway's IP address

Locating the IP address of the default gateway is incredibly important, as it allows you to identify any problems you might have with your network when looking to troubleshoot or seeking to access your router's web-based management tool.

Fortunately, the default gateway address is quite simple to find. If the operating system you are using is Windows, simply open the Control Panel and select the Network and Sharing Center. Depending on the version, click the change adapter options or change adapter settings. Next, locate the network you would like to find the default gateway for. When you spot it, double-click on it and choose "Details" from the pop up. There, you'll be able to read the IPv4 Default Gateway which will be somewhere on the list.

MacOS users face an even simpler process: go to System Preferences and select Network, then the name of your chosen network. The IP address will be displayed in the TCP/IP tab as a series of numbers under the label 'Router'.

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If you're feeling up to the challenge, you can also try finding the default gateway with the help of the command line utility. As a fair warning, this method might be best left to more experienced computer users, but if you think that category includes you then simple open the Command Prompt for Windows, or Terminal on Linux and macOS. With Windows, the next step is to type in the command 'ipconfig'. If you're using a Mac device, type in 'netstat -nr | grep default'. Linux users will need to type 'ip route | grep default', followed by return. 

You should be met with a readout of your computer's connection details, including the IP address of the default gateway device.

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