What is a default gateway?

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

Ethernet cable in router

Put simply, a default gateway is a node that enables a seamless connection between networks, allowing one machine to talk to another machine on a different network. It's called a 'default' gateway because it is the first and default route taken unless another option is actively requested.

The most common use for the default gateway is to gain access to a webpage, where the request will be sent via the gateway before going on to the internet. Another key use is connecting devices on one subnet with devices on another, with the default gateway acting as an intermediary.

Default gateways are essentially routing systems that ensure the request is sent to the right destination, even if the sender and receiver use different network protocols.

The device sending the request is the 'originating device', and as part of the process, the device will send out an access request using a routing table.  This determines the most efficient route to send the request, and what the router should be. The default gateway receives any request that doesn't have a specific router identified, ensuring data can still flow.

When you have a small network, such as at home, the default gateway will generally be the main router. However, as networks increase in size, or in those cases where multiple networks may be operating concurrently, a system of subnets will be used alongside a specific default gateway.

How to find the default gateway's IP address

Locating the default gateway's IP address is especially important, as it allows you to uncover any issues you might have with your network when troubleshooting or accessing your router's web-based management tool.

Fortunately, the default gateway address is pretty easy to find. If your operating system of choice is Windows, simply head to 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.

The process is even simpler for MacOS users: go to System Preferences and select Network, followed by the name of the network you're using. The IP address will be displayed in the TCP/IP tab as a series of numbers under 'Router'.

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If you're feeling more adventurous, you can also try finding the default gateway with the help of the command line utility. It's worth mentioning that this method is probably best left to more experienced tech users, but if you're adamant about giving it a go, then open the Command Prompt for Windows, or Terminal on Linux and macOS. With Windows, the next step is to type in the command 'ipconfig' command. If you're using a Mac device, type in 'netstat -nr | grep default'. For Linux, this will be 'ip route | grep default', followed by return. You should now be able to see your computer's connection details pop up, including the IP address of the default gateway device.

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