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Network Component Addressing: Types & Significance

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will understand the importance of addresses in identifying different components on a network. We will understand the importance of IP addresses and MAC addresses and understand the significance and the different roles they play in successful communication over a network.

The Importance of Addresses

In the world of telecommunications and networking there are millions of computers and devices, connected at numerous geographical locations, communicating with each other. Similar to millions of people in a nation, there has to be a means by which people are identified as individuals and located for effective communication to occur. People are identified as individuals using Social Security numbers, for example, and their location (home/business) by physical addresses.

With computers and other communication devices, IP and MAC addresses are the mechanisms within networks by which the devices are identified and located for communication.

IP Addresses

For computers to effectively communicate (send and receive data) over a network, their hardware (tangible physical components) and software (programs and applications) must function and be able to communicate with the corresponding hardware and software that govern the network. An IP (Internet Protocol) address is a series of numbers which is used to identify a device within a network environment. It is the identifier the network software uses to identify the device as a member of that environment. IP Addresses operate within the network layer of the TCP/IP stack. The IP address forms an integral part of any networking environment and requires effective management. Successful communication between devices on any network depends on the IP address assigned.

IP Address Example: 192.168.1.61

MAC Addresses

The MAC (Media Access Control) addresses work along with IP addresses on a network device for communication. The device must have the necessary functioning hardware to communicate on the network. This communication is achieved by a NIC (Network Interface Card), a piece of hardware with a circuitry card. Its function is similar to an electric plug which is integral to any electronic device that requires direct current to operate.

Also known as the Ethernet address, every NIC is identified by this series of 48-bit numbers know as the MAC address. The MAC is linked to the hardware circuitry of the NIC. It is usually hardwired (permanent and cannot be altered) into the NIC during manufacture.

MAC Address Example: 00-14-22-01-23-45

Addresses and Network Layers

The network to which devices are connected is governed by a networking protocol called the TCP/IP Protocol (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) from which IP addresses are derived. Many networks today, including those involving the World Wide Web(WWW), use the TCP/IP Protocol as the standard protocol by which connected devices are identified and communicate.

The TCP/IP is the communication protocol comprising of digital message formats and rules that govern the management of message exchange over the Internet. It comprises of four abstraction layers namely: the Physical layer and the Data Link layer, the Network or the Internet layer, the Transport layer, and the Application layer (the highest). MAC addresses operate at the Data Link layer while IP addresses operate at the upper Network layer.

Significance of MAC and IP Addresses

MAC Addresses And The Data Link Layer

MAC addresses operate only at the Data Link Layer which is one of the lower layers in the TCP/IP Protocol stack. At this level, different devices are allowed to communicate with each other over the same physical network (LAN) using MAC addresses as identifiers but they cannot route data over the internet. The hardwired MAC Addresses are on devices that can be connected to any physical network anywhere in the world.

Device Cloning

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