What is a MAC Address, and How Does it Differ from an IP Address?

Every internet-connected machine or device has a physical and an internet address. The physical address identifies a device to other devices on the same local network. 

IP addresses identify devices globally. MAC and IP are different. A MAC (Media Access Control) address identifies a device that will join a network.

IP addresses connect devices to the Internet. IP connects devices and ISPs to the networks that transmit internet information to computers.

Those who must deal with hardware and the problems that may develop when a device fails to connect should know how to recognize a Media Access Control address and what it means.

You must know what is a MAC address and an IP address are and their differences. Let's focus on some of the most important aspects of those topics.

If you don't know what a Mac Address is, read on.

Defining MAC:

Media Access Control is the abbreviation for MAC. A unique 12-character hexadecimal number called a media access control address is used to find a network interface controller. A network interface card, or NIC, is the piece of hardware that makes it possible for your computer or mobile device to connect to a local area network (LAN) and the Internet.

Manufacturers of Network Interface Controllers give out MAC addresses, making them unique and unchangeable. The MAC address can be changed, however. 

For ease of reading, a MAC address is typically shown as six pairs of two-digit numbers or characters separated by a colon (:), hyphen (-), or dot (.).

MAC addresses have nothing to do with Apple products. A MAC address is just a unique identifier for each internet-enabled device. Every internet-enabled device you own, from your 5-year-old HP laptop to your Google Assistant smart speaker, has a unique MAC address.

In other words, what exactly is an IP address?

Each device on a network is allotted an individual address. A machine receives its unique address on the Internet, known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. An Internet Protocol (IP) address allows a network node to find and connect to other devices on the web. 

A device's IP address can be assigned either statically or dynamically. The current standard for IP addresses is Version 4, which uses 32 bits. IPv6 is a more recent protocol, and it has 128 bits.

  • A static IP address is a permanent internet address that will never change.
  • Each new network connection gives a computer or other networked device a temporary, dynamic IP address.

Addresses in IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) take up 32 bits. You can get this address in decimal form with periods (.) between the digits. 192.168.1.1 is an example of a valid IP address. 

IPv4 has a 20-byte header field, including checksum bits for redundancy and reliability. IPv4's support for IPsec (a security protocol) is discretionary. With no problems, 576 bytes can be sent in a datagram. Multicasting and broadcasting data packets are feasible.

Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) utilizes 128-bit addresses. You can find this address in hexadecimal format with a colon (:) between each set of digits. A header field for Pv6 is 40 bytes long. It doesn't include the checksum bits. 

It allows packets as large as 1280 bytes. You cannot use IPv6 addresses for broadcasting.

Why MAC Address?

The link layer carries datagrams between hosts and routers. When a Network adapter delivers frames to a receiver adapter, it includes the receiver's MAC address. 

Link-layer communication requires a MAC address.

How to find your MAC address?

  • Open "Command Prompt" by typing "cmd" under the Windows icon.
  • Type "ipconfig/all" at the prompt and click "Enter."
  • After that, your network's MAC address will be named "Physical Address."

Why do we need an IP address?

Here are the pros of utilizing IP:

  • Every device on a specific network has an IP address where it can be located.
  • It creates a virtual link between a source and a destination.
  • An IP address is assigned to each device on a network that uses IP for communication.
  • It identifies a machine on a network.
  • It helps you specify addressing and packaging scheme formats.

Find your laptop or PC's IP address:

  • In the search bar column, beside the Windows icon, type "cmd" to open the "Command Prompt."
  • Enter "ipconfig" at the command prompt.
  • Your IPv4 and IPv6 network addresses will be displayed.

Key differences between MAC and IP addresses

  • Purpose: An IP address identifies a node's network connection, while a MAC address identifies its unique address.
  • IP address type: IP addresses are software-based or logical, while MAC addresses are hardware-based or physical.
  • Address Provider: The network administrator, DHCP, or ISP provides the IP address (Internet Service Provider). Device manufacturers (Network Interface Cards) include MAC addresses in NICs.
  • Address Length: Ipv4 has a 32-bit address length, while IPv6 has 128-bits. MAC addresses are 48-bits. IP addresses are expressed in binary with dots(.) in between, while MAC addresses are written in hexadecimal with hyphens(-) or colons(:).
  • Network classes: IP addresses use network classes A, B, C, D, and E to address connections. No network classes are utilized for a device's MAC address.
  • Subnetting: It divides a network into multiple smaller networks. IP employs subnetting, while MAC doesn't.
  • Flexibility: The IP address changes when a device connects to another network. MAC addresses, however, are not adjustable and remain constant.
  • Network Traffic: IP addresses can be utilized for multicasting or broadcasting; MAC addresses for broadcasting.
  • Implementation Layer: The OSI or TCP/IP Network layer implements IP addresses or logical addressing. The OSI or TCP/IP Data-Link layer implements the MAC address or physical addressing.

Final verdict

With your new knowledge of IP and MAC addresses, you understand that while they look identical, they have different applications and differ in other ways. Both are useful in networking; you can't substitute one for the other.

Every device's MAC and IP addresses are assigned by authorities. These addresses aim to be distinctive. By using these addresses, we may quickly access devices and web content. 

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