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Active networks are a novel approach to network architecture in which the switches (or routers) of the network perform customized computations on the messages flowing through them. This approach is motivated by both lead user applications, which perform user-driven computation at nodes within the network today, and the emergence of mobile code technologies that make dynamic network service innovation attainable. The authors discuss two approaches to the realization of active networks and provide a snapshot of the current research issues and activities. They illustrate how the routers of an IP network could be augmented to perform such customized processing on the datagrams flowing through them. These active routers could also interoperate with legacy routers, which transparently forward datagrams in the traditional manner.