What is a Network Gateway?

A network gateway is a hardware or software that has one primary function: to connect two separate networks by translating between their different protocols.

A network gateway, whether hardware or software, is essentially a translator executed at the edge of a network, which facilitates communication between two or more networks operating different protocols. 

Each network communicates according to a set of rules chosen by its administrator. These rules are called protocols. For two networks that use different protocols to communicate effectively, there is a constant need to translate from one protocol to another. While a network gateway may have other functions, it primarily translates incoming and outgoing communication between the two networks. 

A fitting analogy will be a case between a Brazilian and an Israeli trying to strike a bargain. Since neither shares a common language, both need a Portuguese and Hebrew translator to communicate effectively. And that translator is like a network gateway.

How Does a Network Gateway Work?

A network gateway is always at the edge of a network, where it interfaces with other networks operating protocols different than its local network. 

On the one hand, a gateway may be hardware, in which case it has to be connected to a stand-alone router and from the router to the network. However, it may also come with in-built Network Interface Cards (NICs), which devices on the network use to connect to it.

These devices send queries to the gateway through the NICs and, from there, to an external network after the gateway carries out the protocol translation. This process reverses when the external network returns a response to the network. 

On the other hand, a gateway may also be in software form. An example is an Application Programming Interface (API) gateway.

Types of Network Gateways

There are two types of network gateways – unidirectional and bidirectional gateways.

Unidirectional Gateway

This gateway type allows data to flow in only one direction: out of the host network or the source node. Gateways like this are structured so that you can make changes in the source node, which the receiving network (destination node) replicates. However, the destination node cannot send back communication to the source node. 

Due to its one-way communication structure, a unidirectional gateway can be impervious to attacks like Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) that come from outside of a network. 

Bidirectional Gateway

This type of gateway allows for data flow between sending and receiving networks. Unlike the unidirectional gateway, it replicates changes made on one network onto the other network. Actions like sending and receiving SMSs, and surfing for information online are all possible due to bidirectional gateways. 

Bidirectional gateways are notorious for their susceptibility to external attacks, making them unpopular for specific use cases. However, with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), this gateway type is witnessing more industrial applications.

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Features and Benefits of a Network Gateway

There are several benefits of having a network gateway. Here are the main ones.

Improves Network Security

Due to its site of action at the edge or boundary of a network, a gateway presents a unique opportunity to control the kind of traffic that enters and exits a network. You can achieve this by integrating security technologies like the firewall into the gateway to examine the type and content of traffic that enters a network and the kind of data that leaves it. 

It Offers Multiprotocol Translation

A gateway translates from one network protocol to another. This feature reconciles an organization’s choice of a network protocol with its need to communicate with an external network like the Internet, which may operate a different protocol. 

It Facilitates Analytics and Helps with Visibility

Due to its unique site of action, a gateway is well-placed to collect data on a network’s communication with external networks and the performance of other devices in other parts of the local network. This advantage goes a long way in diagnosing a network in times of problem.

Additionally, this data collection feature allows greater visibility into how a network functions as a unit, making it easier to make better administrative decisions.

Network Gateway Use Cases

Primarily, a network gateway serves as a translator between two disparate networks to enable effective communication between the devices on these networks. Let’s look at the application of this function for industrial uses.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Having your company’s computer contact the maintenance guy independently when it needs maintenance is terrific. However, it is only possible with a bidirectional gateway that can translate the computer’s network protocol to that of the maintenance guy’s scheduler.

The gateway ensures that the devices on both your network and the maintenance guys can send, receive and understand communication from each other, even if they have entirely different manufacturers and network protocols. 

Storing in the Cloud

Cloud storage involves moving data from a wide range of devices that use varying protocols to a single server, which users can access at will. This technology involves much translation between the different devices and the server when uploading the data and, of course, when accessing and retrieving the data in time of need. And all of that requires a network gateway.

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

VoIP is simply making or receiving calls to or from landlines over the internet. Companies that receive or make many customer service calls use it to reduce their costs. VoIP utilizes gateways to translate landline voice transmissions to a digital protocol.

Application Access

Applications like Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and Gmail perform their function over the internet using a web application server. To access their data, the user’s web server has to communicate the user’s request to the web application server and vice versa. This process can only be possible using a secure web gateway to translate communication both ways.

Difference Between a Network Gateway and a Router

A network gateway and a router handle traffic between networks but in completely different ways. A router inspects the headers of incoming data packets and directs or routes them to the appropriate address (devices) on the network where the request originates. A network gateway only translates the protocol of the incoming data packets into one that is readable at its destination.

Difference Between a Network Gateway and a Firewall

The only thing a network gateway and a firewall have in common is their site of action. Their functions are entirely different. 

A firewall inspects incoming and outgoing traffic according to laid-out rules to ensure it conforms to an organization’s standards. On the other hand, a network gateway performs inter-network protocol translation to ensure that devices on the network understand the incoming traffic. 

Difference Between a Network Gateway and a Switch

A network switch is like the errand boy of a network. It facilitates communication between devices on the same network. It differs from a network gateway because it facilitates intra-network communication, while a network gateway facilitates inter-network communications.

Difference Between a Network Gateway and a Bridge

A network bridge and a network gateway are similar because they facilitate communication between two networks. However, a bridge can only facilitate communication between two networks operating similar protocols, as this requires no protocol translation. A gateway can translate between different protocols.

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Network Gateway FAQs

What Is a Network Gateway IP?
A network gateway IP is the IP address of the gateway device of the network. 
However, since gateways can come as either hardware, software, or a combination of both, the gateway IP becomes the IP address of the device which sends the local traffic of a network to external networks, i.e., the IP address of the device that sends all requests from a network to other networks.
Is a Gateway Installed on a Router?
Yes, gateways may be installed on routers (another name for a modem) and vice versa. It is easy to confuse both. A gateway gives you access to the internet. A router takes this internet to your devices via wireless means (WiFi) or ethernet cables. In practice, you connect a gateway to a router, then the router to your devices.

However, some gateways (modems), especially the ones provided by an ISP, have routers built into them in the form of LAN ports, through which traffic from the gateway can be routed to your devices by a wired connection.
Is a Gateway the Same as a Modem?
Yes, a gateway is the same as a modem. Remember that a gateway connects a network that operates a different protocol to another by performing inter-network protocol translations. Think of your device as a network; then the modem, which brings internet access (the internet is a network) to your device, sends queries from your device to appropriate servers, and returns data for these queries, is its gateway. 
Is a Gateway and IP Address the Same?
Yes, a gateway and its IP address are the same. An IP address is a unique numerical label identifying a device on a local network or the internet. So an IP address is just the digital representation of a gateway. This IP address is called the default gateway address.
What Is a Default Network Gateway?
Devices on a network do not communicate directly with other networks. Queries originating from all devices on a network destined for external networks must go through a path before they can get to their destination. This path is called a default network gateway.
How To Find Your Router’s Default Gateway Address
For Windows OS 
1. Click the windows symbol found on the extreme low-left corner of the screen.
2. Type in “cmd” in the search bar and press enter. 
3. Select “Command Prompt” 
4. Type in “ipconfig” and press enter. 

Your default gateway address is “IPv4” in the window that pops up. 

1. Click the Apple symbol on the uppermost left side of the screen.
2. Choose “Network” and then WiFi on the window that pops up. 
3. On the WiFi bar, click “details” at the extreme right-hand side of the bar. 
4. On the window that pops up, choose the “TCP/IP” bar.

In the window on the right-hand side, your default gateway address is the number labeled “IP Address.” 

For Android OS 
1. Open ‘settings’.
2. Choose ‘WiFi’, and then choose the active WiFi network. 
3. On the window that pops up, select ‘advanced.’
In the window that pops up, your default gateway address is labeled ‘Gateway’. 

For iOS 
1. Open ‘settings’.
2. Choose ‘WiFi’, and then choose the active WiFi network.
In the window that pops up, your default gateway address is labeled ‘Router.’ 
What Is a Gateway Protocol?
A gateway protocol communicates routing information between gateways within an autonomous system (interior gateway protocols) or between gateways of two autonomous systems (exterior gateway protocols).

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