How Routers Work

Logical Addresses

Every piece of equipment that connects to a network, whether an office network or the Internet, has a physical address. This is an address that's unique to the piece of equipment that's actually attached to the network cable. For example, if your desktop computer has a network interface card (NIC) in it, the NIC has a physical address permanently stored in a special memory location. This physical address, which is also called the MAC address (for Media Access Control) has two parts, each 3 bytes long. The first 3 bytes identify the company that made the NIC. The second 3 bytes are the serial number of the NIC itself.

The interesting thing is that your computer can have several logical addresses at the same time. Of course, you're used to having several "logical addresses" bring messages to one physical address. Your mailing address, telephone number (or numbers) and home e-mail address all work to bring messages to you when you're in your house. They are simply used for different types of messages -- different networks, so to speak.

Logical addresses for computer networks work in exactly the same way. You may be using the addressing schemes, or protocols, from several different types of networks simultaneously. If you're connected to the Internet (and if you're reading this, you probably are), then you have an address that's part of the TCP/IP network protocol. If you also have a small network set up to exchange files between several family computers, then you may also be using the Microsoft NetBEUI protocol. If you connect to your company's network from home, then your computer may have an address that follows Novell's IPX/SPX protocol. All of these can coexist on your computer. Since the driver software that allows your computer to communicate with each network uses resources like memory and CPU time, you don't want to load protocols you won't need, but there's no problem with having all the protocols your work requires running at the same time.

On the next page, you’ll learn how to find your computer’s MAC address.