How Ethernet Works

Ethernet Terminology

Ethernet follows a simple set of rules that govern its basic operation. To better understand these rules, it is important to understand the basics of Ethernet terminology.

  • Medium - Ethernet devices attach to a common medium that provides a path along which the electronic signals will travel. Historically, this medium has been coaxial copper cable, but today it is more commonly a twisted pair or fiber optic cabling.
  • Segment - We refer to a single shared medium as an Ethernet segment.
  • Node - Devices that attach to that segment are stations or nodes.
  • Frame - The nodes communicate in short messages called frames, which are variably sized chunks of information.

Frames are analogous to sentences in human language. In English, we have rules for constructing our sentences: We know that each sentence must contain a subject and a predicate. The Ethernet protocol specifies a set of rules for constructing frames. There are explicit minimum and maximum lengths for frames, and a set of required pieces of information that must appear in the frame. Each frame must include, for example, both a destination address and a source address, which identify the recipient and the sender of the message. The address uniquely identifies the node, just as a name identifies a particular person. No two Ethernet devices should ever have the same address.