Addressing and Delivering
As you learned in Hour 3, "The Network Access Layer," a computer communicates with the network through a network interface device such as a network adapter card. The network interface device has a unique physical address and is designed to receive data sent to that physical address. This physical address is burned into the card when it is manufactured. A device such as an ethernet card does not know any of the details of the upper protocol layers. It does not know its IP address or whether an incoming frame is being sent to Telnet or FTP. It just listens to incoming frames, waits for a frame addressed to its own physical address, and passes that frame up the stack.
This physical addressing scheme works very well on an individual LAN segment. A network that consists of only a few computers on an uninterrupted medium can function with nothing more than physical addresses. Data can pass directly from network adapter to network adapter using the low-level protocols associated with the Network Access layer. (The non-routable NetBEUI protocol is a holdover from this simpler era in networking.)
Unfortunately, on a routed network, it is not possible to deliver data by physical address. The discovery procedures required for delivering by physical address do not work across a router interface. Even if they did work, delivery by physical address would be cumbersome because the permanent physical address built into a network card does not allow you to impose a logical structure on the address space.
TCP/IP therefore makes the physical address invisible and instead organizes the network around a logical, hierarchical addressing scheme. This logical addressing scheme is maintained by the IP protocol at the Internet layer. The logical address is called the IP address. Another Internet layer protocol called Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) assembles a table that maps IP addresses to physical addresses. This ARP table is the link between the IP address and the physical address burned into the network adapter card.
On a routed network (see Figure 4.1), the TCP/IP software uses the following strategy for sending data on the network:
In this hour you'll learn about the important IP addressing system, and you'll learn how TCP/IP delivers datagrams on a complex network using the Internet layer's IP and ARP. You'll also learn about the Internet layer's ICMP protocol, which provides error detection and troubleshooting.