A gateway can translate information between different network data formats or network architectures. It can translate TCP/IP to AppleTalk so computers supporting TCP/IP can communicate with Apple brand computers. Most gateways operate at the application layer, but can operate at the network or session layer of the OSI model.

Gateways will start at the lower level of data and strip information until it gets to the required level then repackage the information. Then the gateway will work its way back toward the hardware layer of the OSI model. To confuse issues, when talking about a router that is used to interface to another network, the word gateway is often used. This does not mean the routing machine is a gateway as defined here, although it could be.