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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. 

A default gateway is most commonly used for webpage access; a request is sent through the gateway before it actually gets on to the internet. Another use cases include connecting multiple devices to a single subnet. In that scenario, the default gateway acts as an intermediary. 

To explain it in simple terms, default gateways are essentially routing systems that allow requests to find the quickest way to their intended destination, even if the senders and receivers are using different network protocols

It starts with an 'originating device', which is the first one to send out an access request with a routing table. The most efficient route is determined by the originating device, which also decides what the router should be. However, if there is no specific router identified, the default gateway will still receive the request to ensure data can still flow.

When using smaller networks - such as a home setup - the default gateway is usually set as the main router. Though, if a network grows, or alternatively if multiple networks are used concurrently, a subnet system can be used in tandem with the 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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