Difference Between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch (With Table)

Switches are devices that allow the transport, routing and routing of data. They were initially introduced as the advanced solutions for hubs.

The switches are used to connect and transport data packets from one domain to another or sometimes a network to another network, depending on the switch being used. Layer 2 switch and layer 3 switch also has the same purpose, though layer 3 switch can be considered the modified version of layer 2 switches.

Layer 2 Switch vs Layer 3 Switch

The difference between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch is that layer 2 switch can perform only switching of data while layer 3 switch can perform, both switching and routing of data.

Layer 2 switch uses the MAC address and is used to manage the traffic network very efficiently. The main purpose of this switch is switching the data. They en route the data from the source to the destination port.

Layer 3 switch is used for both, routing and switching and therefore uses IP address instead of MAC address. They are mostly used to implement VLAN. This also helps in simplifying security management.


Comparison Table Between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch

Parameters of ComparisonLayer 2 SwitchLayer 3 Switch
Operating systemMAC addressIP address
FunctionEn routes data from source to destinationRoutes and switches the data packets using IP address
UtilityUsed for managing the traffic network.Mainly used for implementing VLAN
SpeedIt is fast.It is slower than Layer 2 switch
DomainSingle broadcast domainMultiple broadcast domain
Inter-network communicationIt only allows communication within the networkCan transport data to other networks as well
CostLow costExpensive


What is Layer 2 Switch?

Layer 2 switch uses the MAC address. This transports the data packets to different domains within the same network. It switches the destination port of the data and does not perform routing of the data.

The layer 2 switch also filters the data and allows it to pass through only those switches that are necessary.

They are mainly responsible for transporting data and having error checks on the data being transmitted. The data is transported on a physical level. 

The layer 2 switches are used for managing the traffic on producing VLAN and other networks. It uses hardware techniques for switching, connecting and transmitting data. 

They are fast for tapping and switching the data in as they do not need to look into other networks or network layers.


What is Layer 3 Switch?

Layer 3 switch, unlike layer 2 switch do not use MAC address but uses IP address. Therefore, they can perform both routing and switching. They can perform the functions of layer 2 switch along with advanced functions of its own.

In times of connecting a device to other domains or subnets, it performs as a switch. When supporting routing protocols and inspecting the incoming data packets it functions as a router.

Since they provide network layer facilities and data link layer together this device is cost-efficient. Their basic utility is for implementing VLAN and also helps in the simplification of security management.

They have multiple broadcast domain. They can also facilitate inter-network communication and this is possible since they perform routing and switching. Because they have to look at different domains and networks, they are comparatively slow.

They are also referred to as multilayer switch as it functions in different layers of the data. They are mostly used in the distribution layer and the core layer. Though a layer 3 switch is expensive, it is the smarter choice as it provides the function of layer 2 switches as well.

Main Differences Between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch

  • The operating addresses used by the two switches are different. Layer 2 switch uses the MAC address whereas the layer 3 switch uses IP address.
  • Since they have a different operating address, they also allow a difference in the functioning of the switches. While layer 2 switch only performs switching functioning, the layer 3 switch performs both switching and routing of the data.
  • The difference in the functions also gives rise to a difference in their utilities. Layer 2 switch is used for managing and controlling traffic on implementing networks like LAN while layer 3 switch implements the networks like VLAN and simplifies the security management.
  • The layer 2 switch is comparatively faster than the layer 3 switches. This is because the layer 2 switch needs to perform only one functioning of switching and does not need to cross-check with other domains or wait for other networks. These functions need to be done by a layer 3 switch and therefore is slow.
  • Layer 2 switch is single broadcast domain while layer 3 switch is multiple broadcast domain.
  • Since layer 2 switch allows only en routes data from source to destination, it does not allow inter-network communication whereas the functions performed by layer 3 switch requires it to perform inter-network communication. 
  • A layer 3 switch is comparatively more expensive than a layer 2 switch. But this is because of the added functions and the fact that the layer 3 switch also includes the functions performed by the layer 2 switch makes it the smarter choice.



The switch is a device that allows transportation, switching and routing of data packets. The switches connect to a specific address such as the MAC address or IP address and allow them to perform their functions.

The layer 2 switch and layer 3 switches are also such devices and can also be classified as a router without the LAN connection.

The layer 2 switch connects to MAC address and transports data from the source to the destination domain. This switch does not allow inter-network communication and also has only a single broadband domain.

The layer 3 switch connects to the IP address of the network and performs routing an switching. Since they route data, they can perform inter-network communication and hence are multiple broadband domain.

It can be said that the layer 3 switch is advanced and is an upgraded version of the layer 2 switches.


  1. https://www.hjp.at/doc/rfc/rfc7348.html
  2. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/19/10/3827.short