MAC Addresses

A MAC address is unique address assigned to a network device (like a NIC, or Network Interface Card) during manufacturing. The address is supposed to be linked to the specific physical device and usually doesn’t change. Network hardware manufacturers are assigned a ranges of addresses which they have to use.

For this reason, MAc addresses are sometimes referred to as physical address or burned-in address.

A MAC address is a sequence of six, two-digit hexadecimal numbers: 00:1B:44:11:3A:B7.

MAC address lets computer on a local network know if the data transmited is intended to them or not.

CSMA: Carrier Sense Multiple Access

CSMA is the approach of sending data over a carrier, in this case any shared transmission medium such as copper wire for Ethernet or air carrying radio waves for WiFi to any connected devices in the local network. Device will know if the message is addressed to them by checking the MAC Addresses# included in the header with their own.

Collision

As network traffic increases, so does the probability of two computers to attempt to write data at the same time. This is called a collision. The data gets garbled up like two people trying to speak on the phone at the same time.

Computers can detect the collisions by listening to the signal on the wire but this is not scalable as each computer will either wait for a carrier to go silent while other will try to jump in during any pause, leading to more collision.

Ethernet protocol reduce collision by adding a random wait time before retrying to use the carrier. It also adds more and more wait time if it sees the carrier is still congested. This behavior of using a exponentially growing wait time is called Exponential Backoff. Many transmission protocols such as Ethernet and WiFi use it.

However, the trick above is still not enough to power a big network such as school or office network. One need to shrink the number of device on any given shared carrier. This is called Collision Domain. This is often done using a network switch, which break a network in multiple collision domains. The switch keeps a list of MAC addresses on each side of a given network and only passes information if necessary.

This approach is also basically how the Internet works (at a high level).

MAC Address Table

A MAC address table is a mapping of a Swhitchports to MAC addresses. As traffic flow through a switch, it will identify what devices are connected to each port by their MAC addresses and record it in its MAC address table.