In the simplest terms, IP Routing is the process of moving packets from its source to its destination across internetworks. To be able to route packets, a router must know at a minimum the following:

  • Destination address
  • Neighbor routers from which it can learn about remote networks
  • Possible routes to all remote networks
  • The best route to each remote network
  • Be able to maintain and verify routing information

Unfortunately the process is not as simple as it sounds because it involves multiple protocols at multiple layers. To understand the complete process of how a packet moves from the source to the destination, consider the network shown in Figure 4-1.

 Figure 4-1 Understanding IP Routing

 understanding ip routing

In the network shown above, when Host1 sends a TCP segment to Host3, the following happens:

  1. The TCP segment is handed off to IP, which adds a header consisting of the source address, and destination address and hands off that packet to the next layer.
  2. Using the subnet mask of the host, it is determined that the destination address lies in a remote network and hence the packet must be sent to the default gateway, So Host1 sends out an ARP request to find the MAC address of Router1. When a response is received, it frames the packet with the source MAC address of Host1 and destination MAC address of Router1.
  3. When Router1 receives the frame, it strips of the header and trailer and looks at the destination address in the IP header. Since the packet is not destined to Router1, it must be routed out.
  4. It tries to match the destination address to a list of known networks, called the routing table. It finds that the destination network is reachable via Router2, so it frames the packet with the source MAC address of its exit interface (interface with the IP address of and the destination address of Router2’s interface.
  5. When Router2 receives the frame, it repeats the strip and lookup process and frames the packet again before sending it to Router3. This time the MAC address of Router2’s exit interface is the source address while the MAC address of Router3 is the destination address.
  6. Finally Router3 looks at the destination MAC address and realizes that the destination network is directly connected. It finds the MAC address of the destination host and frames the packet using its own MAC address as the source while the MAC address of Host3 as the destination address. At last the frame is sent out and reaches the destination host.
  7. At the destination, the frame is stripped and the destination IP address is verified. Then the IP header is stripped and the TCP segment reaches Layer 4 of the destination.
  8. Now when Host3 needs to reply back to Host1, TCP will hand off the reply segment to IP.
  9. IP will add a header consisting of a source address of and a destination address of and will send it to layer 2 for framing.
  10. By the subnet mask of Host3, it is determined that the destination lies in a remote network. Hence the frame will need the MAC address of the default gateway as destination. If Host3 does not have the MAC address of Router3, it will send an ARP query to get it. Once Host3 has the MAC address, it will frame the segment and send it out to Router3.
  11. Router3 strip the frame header and look at the destination IP address in the IP header. From its routing table, it will know that the packet needs to go to Router2. It will frame the packet with a source MAC address of its fa0/0 interface and the destination MAC address will be the address of Router2’s fa0/1 interface and then send it out to the wire.
  12. Router2 receives the frame and repeats process to send the packet to Router 1.
  13. Router1 receives the frame from Router2 and removes the frame. By the destination IP address it knows that the packet belongs to a directly connected interface.
  14. Since it received a frame from Host1 earlier, it has the MAC address of the host mapped to its IP address in the ARP table. The router uses that to create a frame with its fa0/0 interface’s MAC address as source and Host1’s MAC address as destination and sends the frame out the interface.
  15. When Host1 receives the frame, it verifies the destination address, strips the frame and IP header and sends the TCP segment to layer 4.
Exam Alert: Remember that the source and destination IP address do not change throughout the process while the source and destination MAC address changes at each segment. You will see multiple questions about this on the CCNA exam!  The MAC address is only locally significant and changes each hop.

The above steps show how a TCP segments moves from its source to its destination across an internetwork. The steps above assume that each router in the path knows where the destination network lies. But as you have seen in the previous chapter, a new router has no configuration and the router is not going to discover remote networks by itself. You will need to tell the router about the remote networks manually or configure it to learn the routes dynamically by talking to other routers.

Note: The network shown in Figure 4-1 will be used throughout the chapter. I strongly suggest you setup the above network and configure the basic connectivity. It will also allow you to practice everything learned in the previous chapter, once again.