Difference between a MAC address and an IP address

October 21, 2015 by Editorial Team

Both have the term “address” in them and both have numerical labels, but these may be the only similarities they have between them. The differences may not be that much, but those few differences may offer a better understanding of how your computer system works.

Definitions

An Intel 8254L Ethernet NIC PCI Express x1 card

MAC Address

Known as the Media Access Control Address, it is a unique identifier that is assigned to your network interfaces enabling communications through a physical network segment. This simply means that it’s an identifier for your hardware, in which case it can be referred to as your physical address or hardware address. It is absolutely unique and it will be assigned by the manufacturers of a said device. It simply is a label for your device, wherein it can be easily identified by your local area network or any network that may use your device’s address.

Mac Addresses follow rules in which they are formed, with three numbering name spaces such as MAC 48, EUI-48, and EUI-64.

  • MAC-48: Format form is in six groups, and each group consists of two hexadecimal digits and is separated by hyphens. (01-02-03-04-ab-a1)
  • EUI-48: Format form is in six groups, and each group consists of two hexadecimal digits but is separated by colons. (01:02:03:04:ab:a1)
  • EUI-64: Format form is in three groups, and each group consists of four hexadecimal digits and is separated by dots. (0102.0304.aba1)

While knowing a MAC address of a certain device may not seem much to the common user, it is actually quite handy in knowing who and how many devices are connected to your network. Through a MAC address, you can limit connectivity by going through simple configurations. Take note however, a MAC address will show up on your settings but will not particularly state that it is nearby or currently connected. It will only mean that a device with said MAC address connected with your network at a certain point of time. Through Wi-Fi, these devices could mean your mobile phones, tablets, and others that are connected through your network.

IP Address

Known as the Internet Protocol address, it is an identifier that’s labeled numerically for your computer network. It has two principal functions and those are your network interface identification and location addressing. So basically, it functions as your system’s label through network, and will be responsible for connecting you with your private or public network through network interface.

Two types of address assignment

  • Static IP address – it is an IP address manually assigned to a computer by an administrator/ISP (Internet service provider). IP address does not change. 
  • Dynamic IP address – it is an IP address usually assigned dynamically on LANs and broadband networks by DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). IP address changes constantly.

IP Addresses are usually displayed in notations such as (IPv4) 172.16.254.2 and (IPv6) 2001:ab5:0:1234:0:567:8:9. The difference is due to an IPv4 consisting of 32 bits which limits the address space, and IPv6 consisting of 128 bits.

Comparison Chart

MAC addressIP address
Numeric representation of a device that uses Ethernet (physical connection between devices and routers)Numeric representation of a device that uses TCP/IP (logical connection between your devices and the internet)
Assigned by the device’s manufacturersAssigned by User/administrator, DHCP, or ISP
ChangeableUnchangeable (Static IP address) and Changeable (Dynamic IP Address)
Unique (unless changed by the user to mirror another device’s MAC address)Unique (misconfiguration can sometimes lead to duplicate IP addresses)

Comparison

Both may mean labeling of a device but their uses are quite different.

While MAC addresses of certain devices are those that are connected via Ethernet (computer networking for LANs or MAN’s), IP addresses of certain devices are those that are connected via TCP/IP (LAN’s and the Internet). To explain further, let us say that your MAC address is your physical mailbox, your IP address is your postal address, the internet would be your post office, and the router would be your postal carrier. Now your post office would know your postal address and is able to send you a piece of mail. You will then be able to receive that mail through a postal carrier. Since your mailbox and postal address are both at the receiving end of the mail, we can say that the postal carrier knows your address and your mailbox, your post office however does not, except for your postal address.

Video

You can refer to the video below for a better understanding of how a Mac address and an IP address work in reaching out to a wide area of networks.