Network Layer Layer 3 Addressing

One key feature of network layer addresses is that they were designed to allow logical grouping of addresses. In other words, something about the numeric value of an address implies a group or set of addresses, all of which are considered to be in the same grouping. In TCP/IP, this group is called a network or a subnet. In IPX, it is called a network. In AppleTalk, the grouping is called a cable range. These groupings work just like U.S.P.S. ZIP codes, allowing the routers (mail sorters) to speedily route (sort) lots of packets (letters).

Just like postal street addresses, network layer addresses are grouped based on physical location in a network. The rules differ for some network layer protocols, but the grouping concept is identical for IP, IPX, and AppleTalk. In each of these network layer protocols, all devices on opposite sides of a router must be in a different Layer 3 group, just like in the examples earlier in this chapter.

Routing relies on the fact that Layer 3 addresses are grouped together. The routing tables for each network layer protocol can have one entry for the group, not one entry for each individual address. Imagine an Ethernet with 100 TCP/IP hosts. A router needing to forward packets to any of those hosts needs only one entry in its IP routing table. This basic fact is one of the key reasons that routers can scale to allow tens and hundreds of thousands of devices. It's very similar to the U.S.P.S. ZIP code system—it would be ridiculous to have people in the same ZIP code live somewhere far away from each other, or to have next-door neighbors be in different zip codes. The poor postman would spend all his time driving and flying around the country! Similarly, to make routing more efficient, network layer protocols group addresses together.

With that in mind, most network layer (Layer 3) addressing schemes were created with the following goals:

■ The address space should be large enough to accommodate the largest network for which the designers imagined the protocol would be used.

■ The addresses should allow for unique assignment.

■ The address structure should have some grouping implied so that many addresses are considered to be in the same group.

■ Dynamic address assignment for clients is desired.

The U.S. Postal Service analogy also works well as a comparison to how IP network numbers are assigned. Instead of getting involved with every small community's plans for what to name new streets, the post service simply has a nearby office with a ZIP code. If that local town wants to add streets, the rest of the post offices in the country already are prepared because they just forward letters based on the ZIP code, which they already know. The only postal employees who care about the new streets are the people in the local post office. It is the local postmaster's job to assign a mail carrier to deliver and pick up mail on any new streets.

Also, you can have duplicate local street addresses, as long as they are in different ZIP codes, and it all still works. There might be hundreds of Main streets in different ZIP codes, but as long as there is just one per ZIP code, the address is unique. Layer 3 network addresses follow the same concept—as long as the entire Layer 3 address is unique compared to the other Layer 3 addresses, all is well.

Example Layer 3 Address Structures

Each Layer 3 address structure contains at least two parts. One (or more) part at the beginning of the address works like the ZIP code and essentially identifies the grouping. All instances of addresses with the same value in these first bits of the address are considered to be in the same group—for example, the same IP subnet or IPX network or AppleTalk cable range. The last part of the address acts as a local address, uniquely identifying that device in that particular group. Table 5-2 outlines several Layer 3 address structures.

Table 5-2 Layer 3 Address Structures


Size of Address in Bits

Name and Size of Grouping Field in Bits

Name and Size of Local Address Field in Bits



Network or subnet (variable, between 8 and 30 bits)

Host (variable, between 2 and 24 bits)



Network (32)

Node (48)



Network* (16)

Node (8)



Many formats, many sizes

Domain-specific part (DSP—typically 56, including NSAP)

*Consecutively numbered values in this field can be combined into one group, called a cable range.

*Consecutively numbered values in this field can be combined into one group, called a cable range.

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