How Ethernet Works


The acronym CSMA/CD signifies carrier-sense multiple access with collision detection and describes how the Ethernet protocol regulates communication among nodes. While the term may seem intimidating, if we break it apart into its component concepts we will see that it describes rules very similar to those that people use in polite conversation. To help illustrate the operation of Ethernet, we will use an analogy of a dinner table conversation.

Let’s represent our Ethernet segment as a dinner table, and let several people engaged in polite conversation at the table represent the nodes. The term multiple access covers what we already discussed above: When one Ethernet station transmits, all the stations on the medium hear the transmission, just as when one person at the table talks, everyone present is able to hear him or her.


Now let's imagine that you are at the table and you have something you would like to say. At the moment, however, I am talking. Since this is a polite conversation, rather than immediately speak up and interrupt, you would wait until I finished talking before making your statement. This is the same concept described in the Ethernet protocol as carrier sense. Before a station transmits, it "listens" to the medium to determine if another station is transmitting. If the medium is quiet, the station recognizes that this is an appropriate time to transmit.