Similar to a personal computer, a router or switch cannot function without an operating system. Without an operating system, the hardware does not have any capabilities. The Cisco Internetwork Operating System (IOS) is the system software in Cisco devices. It is the core technology that extends across most of the Cisco product line. The Cisco IOS is used for most Cisco devices regardless of the size and type of the device. It is used for routers, LAN switches, small Wireless Access Points, large routers with dozens of interfaces, and many other devices.
The Cisco IOS provides devices with the following network services:
Basic routing and switching functions
Reliable and secure access to networked resources
The IOS operational details vary on different internetworking devices, depending on the device's purpose and feature set.
The services provided by the Cisco IOS are generally accessed using a command line interface (CLI). The features accessible via the CLI vary based on the version of the IOS and the type of device.
The IOS file itself is several megabytes in size and is stored in a semi-permanent memory area called flash. Flash memory provides non-volatile storage. This means that the contents of the memory are not lost when the device loses power. Even though the contents are not lost they can be changed or overwritten if needed.
Using flash memory allows the IOS to be upgraded to newer versions or to have new features added. In many router architectures, the IOS is copied into RAM when the device is powered on and the IOS runs from RAM when the device is operating. This function increases the performance of the device.
There are several ways to access the CLI environment. The most usual methods are:
Telnet or SSH
The CLI can be accessed through a console session, also known as the CTY line. A console uses a low speed serial connection to directly connect a computer or terminal to the console port on the router or switch.
The console port is a management port that provides out-of-band access to a router. The console port is accessible even if no networking services have been configured on the device. The console port is often used to access a device when the networking services have not been started or have failed.
Examples of console use are:
The initial configuration of the network device
Disaster recovery procedures and troubleshooting where remote access is not possible
Password recovery procedures
When a router is first placed into service, networking parameters have not yet been configured yet. Therefore, the router cannot communicate via a network. To prepare for the initial startup and configuration, a computer running terminal emulation software is connected to the console port of the device. Configuration commands for setting up the router can be entered on the connected computer.
During operation, if a router cannot be accessed remotely, a connection to the console can enable a computer to determine the status of the device. By default, the console conveys the device startup, debugging, and error messages.
For many IOS devices, console access does not require any form of security, by default. However, the console should be configured with passwords to prevent unauthorized device access. In the event that a password is lost, there is a special set of procedures for bypassing the password and accessing the device. The device should be located in a locked room or equipment rack to prevent physical access.
Telnet and SSH
A method for remotely accessing a CLI session is to telnet to the router. Unlike the console connection, Telnet sessions require active networking services on the device. The network device must have at least one active interface configured with a Layer 3 address, such as an IPv4 address. Cisco IOS devices include a Telnet server process that launches when the device is started. The IOS also contains a Telnet client.
Another way to establish a CLI session remotely is via a telephone dialup connection using a modem connected to the router's AUX port. Similar to the console connection, this method does not require any networking services to be configured or available on the device.