A Media Access Control address, or MAC address, is a 12-character alphanumeric sequence assigned to specific devices on a network. MAC addresses are unique sequences that act as identifiers for different pieces of hardware on local networks.
Is a MAC address the same as an IP address?
No, a MAC address and an IP address are not the same.
While they serve a similar purpose in identifying devices on local networks, MAC addresses are assigned specifically to the physical network interface of a piece of hardware, usually during manufacturing, and as such, they are persistent. An IP address, on the other hand, is assigned by an ISP to a device when it connects to the Internet and can be dynamic.
IP addresses exist to route data between endpoints across the public Internet and operate the Network Layer 3 of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) networking model, while MAC addresses are for distinguishing devices with a local level, and operate at Network Layer 2. As such, while IP addresses are visible on the public Internet, MAC addresses are only visible on local networks.
How do MAC addresses and IP addresses interact?
Though they operate at different levels of network communication, MAC addresses and IP addresses work in conjunction with one another.
Typically, if data is being routed from one network to another, then only IP addresses are utilized. However, when data is sent from one device to another on the same local network, then MAC addresses become relevant.
In such instances, the IP address of the destination device is checked, and when it is determined to be on a local network, the network stack will utilize the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) to derive the relevant MAC address from the IP. The data is subsequently encapsulated in a data frame containing the relevant MAC address, which is then used to route that data packet to the correct destination device.
Uses of MAC addresses
MAC addresses are used for a variety of different functions, including the following:
- Device identification and access control.
- Network administration and maintenance
- Troubleshooting and diagnostics with connectivity issues.
In summary, a Media Access Control (MAC) address is a unique code assigned to identify a specific piece of hardware on a local network. While IPs are utilized for inter-network data packet routing, MAC addresses provide more precise information for data routing within a close network. While they have different functions, the two work together and have equally important roles to play in facilitating efficient and precise data transmission between network devices.