Bridge vs. Switch: What I Learned From a Data Center Tour

The difference between these two networking devices has been an unsolvable mystery to me for quite some time. For a while, I used to use the words "bridge" and "switch" interchangeably. But after getting more into networking, I started noticing that some people tend to see them as rather different devices... So, maybe I've been totally wrong? Maybe saying "bridge aka switch" is way too inaccurate?

Let's try to figure it out!

How network switch works

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Computer Networking Basics For Developers

As a software engineer, I need to deal with networking every now and then - be it configuring a SOHO network, setting up container networking, or troubleshooting connectivity between servers in a data center. The domain is pretty broad, and the terminology can get quite confusing quickly. This article is my layman's attempt to sort the basic things out with the minimum words and maximum drawings. The primary focus will be on the Data link layer (OSI L2) of wired networks where the Ethernet is the king nowadays. But I'll slightly touch upon its neighboring layers too.

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Networking Lab - L3 to L2 Segments Mapping

It's pretty common for an L2 segment to have a single IP subnet running atop. However, technically it's possible to configure multiple IP subnets over a single L2 broadcast domain. And although more complicated, configuring a single IP subnet over multiple disjoint L2 segments is also doable. In this lab, we'll cover the first two scenarios while the more advanced third case deserves its own lab - Proxy ARP.

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Networking Lab - Ethernet Broadcast Domains

In Ethernet, all the nodes forming one L2 segment constitute a broadcast domain. Such nodes should be able to communicate using their L2 addresses (MAC) or by broadcasting frames. A broadcast domain is a logical division of a computer network. Multiple physical (L1) segments can be bridged to form a single broadcast domain. Multiple L2 segments can also be bridged to create a bigger broadcast domain.

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