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Next hop is a routing term that refers to the next closest router a packet can go through. The next hop is among the series of routers that are connected together in a network and is the next possible destination for a data packet. More specifically, next hop is an IP address entry in a router's routing table, which specifies the next closest/most optimal router in its routing path. Every single router maintains its routing table with a next hop address, which is calculated based on the routing protocol used and its associated metric.
The next hop may also be referred to as the next optimal router.
The Internet consists of thousands of different networks of every size and shape. Routers are among the most important and significant network devices in this network in that they hold the key to the rapid growth of the Internet worldwide, enabling communication among the devices. Therefore, a router has to manage the information related to its topological surroundings, specifically about nearby routers. Whenever a router maintains information about the routers in its routing table, the lowest metric among them is known as the next hop or the next optimal router.
Hops are considered to be the routers/gateways along a packet's path as it travels from its source to a destination. Whenever a packet passes a router, the hop count increases by one. For example, if a destination is 20 hops away from the source, the packet has to pass 20 different routers to reach it. Similarly, for every router, the next router connected to it with the best metric will be placed as the next hop in its routing table.