A network bridge connects two separate computer networks, allowing them to communicate with each other and expand the overall network reach. They’re commonly used to connect LANs, but WiFi networks, and WiFi and LAN networks can also be bridged together. Two bridged networks can communicate with each other, and they act as one however, you cannot bridge two networks together and expect to combine their speed. For example, if you combine a 20Mbps connection with another 20Mbps connection, you will not get 40Mbps download speed.
A network bridge works on the second layer of the OSI model where data transfer occurs between adjoining nodes. These can be nodes on a WAN or LAN. This layer has two layers under it, one of which is the Media Access Control Layer aka the MAC layer.
Bridge vs Repeater
A bridge might seem similar if not the same as a repeater however, there’s a difference. A repeater is like a signal amplifier; it listens for incoming signal, boosts it, and sends it down the line to be heard.
A bridge on the other hand listens to the incoming signal, understands where it comes from and where it needs to go, and only directs it accordingly.
A bridge is essentially smarter than a Repeater. A repeater is passing on a signal without regard to where it needs to be sent or where it’s coming from while the bridge will make sure the signal only goes where it needs to. It’s ideal for networks that are segregated because it can divide large networks into smaller networks.
Physical vs Virtual Bridge
A bridge is often created using a physical device. The device can be somewhat cheap but good ones are usually more expensive. If you’re looking to bridge a LAN, you might want to go for a physical device. If your needs for bridging networks is small-scale and you have a Windows or Mac machine with a network card that supports it, you can create a virtual bridge between a LAN and WiFi network.
Virtual Network Bridge
You can create a virtual network bridge on Windows 10 and on macOS. You will need admin rights to create a network bridge.
On Windows 10, open File Explorer and paste the following in the location bar.
Control Panel\Network and Internet\Network Connections
Make sure you’re connected to both the networks you want to bridge. Select both networks, and right-click any one of them. Select the ‘Bridge’ option from the context menu. Wait a few seconds for the bridged network to be created.
You can disable a bridged network, or you can remove networks from a bridge. Right-click the bridged network and select Disable or right-click one of the networks in the bridged network, and select Remove from bridge option.
You will have to remove both networks individually and you should wait for one network to be removed before you remove the next one or you might run into a BSOD.
On macOS, open System Preferences, and select the Network preference. Click the cog wheel button at the bottom of the left column and select ‘Manage Virtual Interfaces…’.
In the pop-up window, click the plus button and select ‘New Bridge’ from the menu. Select the networks you want to include in the bridge, and you’re good to go.