Layer 2 vs Layer 3 Switch: Difference and Comparison

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

The switches connect and transport data packets from one domain to another or sometimes a network to another, 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

Layer 2 switch is used to switch data. This switch uses the MAC address operating system. Network traffic can be managed effectively using this switch. Its broadcast domain is single. Layer 3 switch is used to switch and route data. This switch uses an IP address as an operating system. VLAN can be implemented using this switch. 

Layer 2 Switch vs Layer 3 Switch

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Layer 2 switch uses the MAC address to manage the traffic network efficiently. The main purpose of this switch is to switch the data.

Layer 3 switch is used for 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 necessary switches.

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

The layer 2 switches manage 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 the layer 2 switch, does not use a MAC address but an IP address. Therefore, they can perform both routing and switching.

Connecting a device to other domains or subnets performs as a switch. It functions as a router when supporting routing protocols and inspecting the incoming data packets.

Since they provide network layer facilities and data link layers together, this device is cost-efficient. Their basic utility is for implementing VLAN and also helps simplify security management.

They have multiple broadcast domains. They can also facilitate inter-network communication, which is possible since they perform routing and switching.

They are also called multilayer switches as they function in different data layers. They are mostly used in the distribution layer and the core layer.

Main Differences Between Layer 2 Switch and Layer 3 Switch

  1. Since the layer 2 switch allows only routing data from source to destination, it does not allow inter-network communication. In contrast, the functions performed by the layer 3 switch require 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.


Last Updated : 14 October, 2023

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