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Understanding Default Routes

A default route is the route that takes effect when no other route is available for an IP destination address.

If a packet is received on a routing device, the device first checks to see if the IP destination address is on one of the device’s local subnets. If the destination address is not local, the device checks its routing table. If the remote destination subnet is not listed in the routing table, the packet is forwarded to the next hop toward the destination using the default route. The default route generally has a next-hop address of another routing device, which performs the same process. The process repeats until a packet is delivered to the destination.

The route evaluation process in each router uses the longest prefix match method to obtain the most specific route. The network with the longest subnet mask that matches the destination IP address is the next-hop network gateway.

The default route in IPv4 is designated as or simply 0/0. Similarly, in IPv6, the default route is specified as ::/0. The subnet mask /0 specifies all networks, and is the shortest match possible. A route lookup that does not match any other route uses this route if it is configured and active in the routing table. To be active, the configured next-hop address must be reachable.

Administrators generally point the default route toward the routing device that has a connection to a network service provider. Therefore, packets with destinations outside the organization's local area network, typically destinations on the Internet or a wide area network, are forwarded to the routing device with the connection to that provider. The device to which the default route points is often called the default gateway.