A network processor is a processing unit with an instruction set that has been optimized for processing data in a network environment. Often RISC based, network processors tend to have limited instruction space, but are augmented by smart co-processors, such as dma engines or queueing engines. Often they are referred to incorrectly as a NPU, taking from the CPU acronym.

Network processors are designed to be suited for applications in core routers, switches, aggregation platforms, and broadband cable products. Companies producing network processors include Intel, Motorola, IBM, and Vitesse.