Differences between MAC address and IP address

Having trouble distinguishing between a MAC and an IP address? You are certainly not alone as these two terms are easily confused.

ip vs mac address

Both the Mac address and the IP address indicate the same thing, an address, but they have different uses and each is unique in its own way.

Let's go deeper and help you understand what IP addresses are and what MAC addresses are and what their main differences are.

What is a Mac address?

MAC is not Scottish , but an acronym for the phrase Media Access Control meaning “Control media". A MAC address is a unique 12-digit hexadecimal identifier given to a Network Interface Controller (NIC).

A NIC (aka network) helps identify devices connected to a given network. As the name suggests, a network card provides the interface through which your (internet-capable) device connects to the internet, via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.

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MAC addresses are assigned by network card manufacturers, who make this ID permanent. However, it is possible to change your MAC address. Because a MAC address is associated with the network interface card, it is commonly referred to as a physical address.

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A MAC address usually appears in six sets of two-digit numbers or characters separated by either a colon (:), or a hyphen (-) or a period (.) For better readability. The following is an example of a MAC address 3A: 34: 52: C4: 69: B8 The first three sets represent the organization ID, while the last three specify a specific NIC.

example mac address

While the term "MAC" may lead you to believe that MAC addresses are associated with Apple devices, this is not the case. Any device that can connect to the internet has a MAC address.

And when we say any, we mean any. So your five-year-old laptop, your Google Assistant smart speaker, your smart TV, your robotic your and any other devices you can connect to the internet have a MAC address.

What is an IP address?

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique identifier that is given to a device connected to a local area network or the Internet. An IP address can be likened to a home address, which is important when sending mail.

Similarly, an IP address allows different devices connected to a network to communicate. It is the address from which your computer sends and receives .

For example, if you want to send data to a particular computer on the Internet, a server (router) will route it to that computer because of its unique identity (IP address). The same goes for websites. Each site has a unique IP address.

There are two versions of IP addresses, IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 includes a set of four numbers separated by dots ranging from 0 to 255. The following is an example IPv4 address:

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While an IPv6 consists of eight sets of four-character series of numbers and letters with colons in between. An example IPv6 address is 2001:db8:3333:4444:5555:6666:7777:8888. IPv6 is the latest version of IP addresses and came into our world because IPv4 after so many years started to fill up and has no other numbers available.

Differences between MAC address and IP address

Now that you understand what IP addresses and MAC addresses are, let's see how they differ:

  • First, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) provides an IP address, while a network card maker assigns a MAC address.
  • An IP address is a 32-bit (IPv4) or 128-bit (IPv6) logical address, while a MAC address is a 48-bit physical address.
  • MAC addresses operate at the model data connection level Open Systems Interconnection (OSI), while IP addresses operate at the network level.
  • Another difference between a MAC address and an IP address is that the latter is temporary and the former is permanent (You can change this, but be careful).
  • Also, two or more devices cannot share the same MAC address, and many devices can share a single IP address.
  • The key is that an IP address identifies a connection to the network, while a MAC address identifies a physical device connected to the network.

In conclusion
Now that you know what an IP address is and what a MAC address is, you understand that while the two terms may sound similar, they each have their and differs in several points.

Both are useful in networking, each one proves useful in different scenarios, and you can not replace each other.

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Written by Dimitris

Dimitris hates on Mondays .....

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