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Quick Reference Guide to the Ethernet System

1.6 Ethernet Frame and Ethernet Addresses

The heart of the Ethernet system is the Ethernet frame, which is used to deliver data between computers. The frame consists of a set of bits organized into several fields. These fields include address fields, a variable size data field that carries from 46 to 1,500 bytes of data, and an error checking field that checks the integrity of the bits in the frame to make sure that the frame has arrived intact.

The first two fields in the frame carry 48-bit addresses, called the destination and source addresses. The IEEE controls the assignment of these addresses by administering a portion of the address field. The IEEE does this by providing 24-bit identifiers called "Organizationally Unique Identifiers" (OUIs), since a unique 24-bit identifier is assigned to each organization that wishes to build Ethernet interfaces. The organization, in turn, creates 48-bit addresses using the assigned OUI as the first 24 bits of the address. This 48-bit address is also known as the physical address, hardware address, or MAC address.

A unique 48-bit address is commonly pre-assigned to each Ethernet interface when it is manufactured, which vastly simplifies the setup and operation of the network. For one thing, pre-assigned addresses keep you from getting involved in administering the addresses for different groups using the network. And if you've ever tried to get different work groups at a large site to cooperate and voluntarily obey the same set of rules, you can appreciate what an advantage this can be.

As each Ethernet frame is sent onto the shared signal channel, all Ethernet interfaces look at the first 48-bit field of the frame, which contains the destination address. The interfaces compare the destination address of the frame with their own address. The Ethernet interface with the same address as the destination address in the frame will read in the entire frame and deliver it to the networking software running on that computer. All other network interfaces will stop reading the frame when they discover that the destination address does not match their own address.

- Multicast and Broadcast Addresses

Quick Reference Guide to the Ethernet System - 04 SEP 95
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