Understanding the Difference between IP Address and MAC Address

Understanding the Difference between IP Address and MAC Address

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Jaya Sharma
Assistant Manager - Content
Updated on Sep 1, 2023 18:37 IST

Both MAC address and IP address are identifiers. While MAC address indicates the physical location, IP address indicates logical location of a device.


In this article, we will be discussing the difference between IP address and MAC address in detail. Let us get started.

Table of Contents

Difference between IP address and MAC address

Following are the differences between IP address and MAC address:

Parameter MAC Address IP Address
Full form Media Access Control Address Internet Protocol Address.
Size Six-byte hexadecimal address Four-byte (IPv4) and sixteen-byte (IPv6)
Provider NIC Card’s Manufacturer  Internet Service Provider 
Purpose Identifying the device Identifying the device connection on network
Address Modification Not possible Possible
Layer of Operation Data link layer Network layer
Protocol retrival Can retrieve by ARP protocol Can retrieve by RARP protocol

What is an IP address?

The IP address refers to a unique address that identifies devices on the local network or internet. It is an identifier that allows information to be sent among devices on the network. An IP address is a network address of the computer that allows communication with other devices over the internet. The IP address can either be static or dynamic. 

If a permanent connection is needed, it requires a static IP address that is located on the network. A dynamic IP address is assigned to a computer that has no fixed number and it changes periodically. An IP address is provided in order to differentiate between different routers, computers and websites.

Format of an Internet Protocol Address

It represents a string of numbers that is separated by periods. This is expressed as a set of four numbers where every number in the set ranges from 0 to 255. The minimum possible IP address is, and the maximum possible IP address is These are mathematically produced numbers that are allocated by Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). 

Working of an IP Address

An IP address works similarly to any other language where it communicates using set guidelines for passing information. Every device finds, exchanges and sends information with other connected devices that use Internet Protocol. 

The device connects indirectly to the internet by connecting to a network that is connected to the internet. This grants the device with access to the internet. Your internet activity goes via ISP that routes back to you using an IP address. Since they are providing access to the internet, they are responsible for assigning an IP address to your device.

What is a MAC address?

Media Access Control (MAC) address is a unique identified that is assigned to Network Interface Controller (NIC). Since it is unique, no two devices can ever have the same MAC address. Every device on the same network subnet has distinct MAC addresses. 

They help in diagnosing the issues with a network, such as any problems with IP addresses. This is due to the fact that MAC addresses do not change as opposed to dynamic IP addresses. For network administrators, that improves the reliability of MAC address to identify the senders and receivers of data on a network.

Format of MAC Address

The format of any MAC address is hexadecimal such as 00:0a:95:9d:67:16. It is a 12 numero-alpha digit long MAC address that is 48-bit long. The starting 24-bits indicate Organizational Unique Identifier, and last 24 bits are either vendor-specific or are reserved for NIC. 

The first 3 octets are used as Organisationally Unique Identifier. IEEE Registration Authority Committee assigns the prefixes of MAC. The last 3 octets are NIC-specific and are used by manufacturers for each NIC cards. Vendors can use any sequence of the digits to NIC-specific digits. Here, the prefix should be the same as that provided by IEEE. 

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Working of MAC Address

When data packets from the internet hit the router, it must be able to send these packets to the right device on the network. To do so, it uses a MAC address by assigning a private IP address to every network-connected device based on the MAC address of the device. The router tracks outbound data requests so that when data returns, it can attach the correct private IP to data packets. It sends these packets to the device whose MAC matches the private IP.


How are IP addresses and MAC addresses primarily different?

IP addresses are related to the network layer and can change based on the network or location. MAC addresses are physical addresses hardwired into network cards and remain constant regardless of the network.

Can any two devices have the same IP address?

While two devices on different networks can share the same private IP address, on a single network, having the same IP can lead to IP conflicts.

Can any two devices have the same MAC address?

MAC addresses are meant to be globally unique as they're manufacturer-assigned to hardware. However, in rare cases or due to deliberate spoofing, duplications can occur.

Why do devices need both IP and MAC addresses?

IP addresses facilitate routing of data across networks, while MAC addresses ensure device-specific data delivery within a local network.

Is it possible to change a device's IP or MAC address?

IP addresses can be dynamically changed by DHCP or manually. MAC addresses are hard-coded but can be spoofed or changed using software in some circumstances.

About the Author
Jaya Sharma
Assistant Manager - Content

Jaya is a writer with an experience of over 5 years in content creation and marketing. Her writing style is versatile since she likes to write as per the requirement of the domain. She has worked on Technology, Fina... Read Full Bio