Network Switching: Definition & Types

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  • 0:04 What Is Network Switching?
  • 0:56 Circuit Switching
  • 1:42 Packet Switching
  • 2:37 Multi-Protocol Label Switching
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson we will understand the definition of network switching. We will examine how it works with the different types of network switching mechanisms. This lesson will focus on circuit, packet, and MPLS switching.

What Is Network Switching?

Network switching is the process of channeling data received from any number of input ports to another designated port that will transmit the data to its desired destination. The device through with the input data passes is called a switch. Data entering a port is referred to as ingress, while data leaving the port is referred to as egress. The switch represents the medium through which the data is routed to its final destination. There are different types of network switching. To better understand this let us examine the following illustration.

Let us image a room full of people. In two opposite corners of the room are two connected telephones. We identify four people in the room. Two use the telephone lines to speak to each other while the other two stand across the crowded room from each other projecting their voices amid the other voices in the crowded room. These sets of people are using two different types of switching.

Circuit Switching

Circuit switching is defined as the establishment of a dedicated communication path between the two parties, or nodes, within a physical network. This path (circuit) is established and maintained for the duration of the session. No matter the length of the communication session, the circuit will remain and the data paths maintained. The circuit is only terminated when the session ends. The session consists of three phases: circuit establishment, data transfer, and circuit termination/disconnect.

This type of network switching is well suited for voice communications and applications. In our illustration, the two people communicating on the telephone lines from across the room are using a dedicated communication path. Their voices (data) follow a dedicated path. Figure 1 illustrates circuit switching.


Circuit Switch


Packet Switching

Packet switching is defined as the process of breaking down messages into small components, called packets. Switching information (source and destination) is then included in the header information of the packet. Each packet then independently navigates its way using the information, through the network to its destination. Because the messages transmitted are smaller packets, there is less demand for resources on intermediate network devices.


Packet Switching


With this system of switching, line efficiency during transmission is increased and multiple applications can be easily multiplexed over a single channel with different streams of packets differentiated and prioritized. In this type of transmission, the packets from different applications share resources. When we think of our example in the beginning, the two people projecting their voices in the crowded room are sharing the air space to transmit their data with the rest of the crowd while the other two people over the telephone are on an exclusive line.

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