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

You'll need to locate the default gateway's IP address in order to troubleshoot any issues with your network or when you need to gain access to your router's web-based management tool. Without the default gateway's IP address, you won't be able to uncover issues with your network.

Thankfully, finding the default gateway address is a pretty simple process. If using Windows, just head to the Network and Sharing Center from the Control Panel, and choose either Change adapter options or Change adapter settings. Now, find the network you want to find the default gateway for. Double click on the connection, select "Details" from the pop up and you'll find the IPv4 Default Gateway in the list.

On a Mac, head to System Preferences and choose Network, followed by the network you're using. Head to the TCP/IP tab and the IP address will be displayed as a series of numbers after Router.

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Another way to find the default gateway is by using the command line utility, so if you don't have much knowledge of this, it may be worth asking someone to help or using the previous method.

But if you fancy giving it a go, open the Command Prompt for Windows, or Terminal on Linux and macOS. For the former, type in the command 'ipconfig' command, if you're using a Mac, type in 'netstat -nr | grep default' or if Linux, 'ip route | grep default', followed by return.

You should now see your computer's connection details pop up, including the IP address of the default gateway device.

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