Hop Count

In computer networking, hop count refers to the intermediate devices (like routers) through which data must pass between source and destination, rather than flowing directly over a single wire. Each router along the data path constitutes a hop, as the data is moved from one Layer 3 network to another. Hop count is therefore a basic measurement of distance in an network.

By itself, hop count is not a useful metric for determining the optimum network path, as it does not take into consideration the speed, load, reliability, or latency of any particular hop, but merely the total count. Nevertheless, some routing protocols such as RIP use hop count as their sole metric.

Hop counts are often useful to find faults in a network, or to discover if routing is indeed correct. Network utilities like Ping can be used to determine the hop count to a specific destination. Ping generates packets that include a field reserved for the hop count. Each time a capable device receives these packets, that device modifies the packet, incrementing the hop count by one. In addition, the device compares the hop count against a predetermined limit and discards the packet if its hop count is too high. This prevents packets from endlessly bouncing around the network due to routing errors. Both routers and bridges are capable of managing hop counts, but other types of intermediate devices (like hubs) are not.

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