An autonomous system (AS) is a collection of connected Internet Protocol (IP) routing prefixes under the control of one or more network operators on behalf of a single administrative entity or domain, that presents a common and clearly defined routing policy to the Internet. Each AS is assigned an autonomous system number (ASN), for use in Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing. Autonomous System Numbers are assigned to Local Internet Registries (LIRs) and end user organizations by their respective Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), which in turn receive blocks of ASNs for reassignment from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The IANA also maintains a registry of ASNs which are reserved for private use (and should therefore not be announced to the global Internet).
Originally, the definition required control by a single entity, typically an Internet service provider (ISP) or a very large organization with independent connections to multiple networks, that adhered to a single and clearly defined routing policy. In March 1996, the newer definition came into use because multiple organizations can run BGP using private AS numbers to an ISP that connects all those organizations to the Internet. Even though there may be multiple autonomous systems supported by the ISP, the Internet only sees the routing policy of the ISP. That ISP must have an officially registered ASN.