Difference Between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch

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


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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.

Key Takeaways

  1. Layer 2 switches operate at the data link layer of the OSI model and are primarily responsible for forwarding frames based on MAC addresses.
  2. Layer 3 switches function at the network layer, providing routing capabilities using IP addresses and the data link layer features.
  3. Layer 3 switches offer more advanced features like inter-VLAN routing, static routing, and dynamic routing protocols, making them suitable for larger and more complex networks.

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 vs Layer 3 Switch

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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.

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.


Comparison Table

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.

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.

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.

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.

Main Differences Between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.

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