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1.5 Operation of Ethernet

The CSMA/CD Protocol

The CSMA/CD protocol functions somewhat like a dinner party in a dark room. Everyone around the table must listen for a period of quiet before speaking (Carrier Sense). Once a space occurs everyone has an equal chance to say something (Multiple Access). If two people start talking at the same instant they detect that fact, and quit speaking (Collision Detection.)

To translate this into Ethernet terms, each interface must wait until there is no signal on the channel, then it can begin transmitting. If some other interface is transmitting there will be a signal on the channel, which is called carrier. All other interfaces must wait until carrier ceases before trying to transmit, and this process is called Carrier Sense.

All Ethernet interfaces are equal in their ability to send frames onto the network. No one gets a higher priority than anyone else, and democracy reigns. This is what is meant by Multiple Access. Since signals take a finite time to travel from one end of an Ethernet system to the other, the first bits of a transmitted frame do not reach all parts of the network simultaneously. Therefore, it's possible for two interfaces to sense that the network is idle and to start transmitting their frames simultaneously. When this happens, the Ethernet system has a way to sense the "collision" of signals and to stop the transmission and resend the frames. This is called Collision Detect.

The CSMA/CD protocol is designed to provide fair access to the shared channel so that all stations get a chance to use the network. After every packet transmission all stations use the CSMA/CD protocol to determine which station gets to use the Ethernet channel next.

Quick Reference Guide to the Ethernet System - 04 SEP 95
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