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Subnet Masks and Subnetting

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A subnet allows the flow of network traffic between hosts to be segregated based on a network configuration. By organizing hosts into logical groups, subnetting can improve network security and performance.

Subnet Mask

Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of subnetting is the subnet mask. Like IP addresses, a subnet mask contains four bytes (32 bits) and is often written using the same "dotted-decimal" notation. For example, a very common subnet mask in its binary representation
    11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000
is typically shown in the equivalent, more readable form
    255.255.255.0

Applying a Subnet Mask

A subnet mask neither works like an IP address, nor does it exist independently from them. Instead, subnet masks accompany an IP address and the two values work together. Applying the subnet mask to an IP address splits the address into two parts, an "extended network address" and a host address.

For a subnet mask to be valid, its leftmost bits must be set to '1'. For example,

    00000000 00000000 00000000 00000000
is an invalid subnet mask because the leftmost bit is set to '0'.

Conversely, the rightmost bits in a valid subnet mask must be set to '0', not '1'. Therefore,

    11111111 11111111 11111111 11111111
is invalid.

All valid subnet masks contain two parts: the left side with all mask bits set to '1' (the extended network portion) and the right side with all bits set to '0' (the host portion), such as the first example above.

Next page > IP Subnetting in Practice > Pages:
1 - IP Address Notation,
2 - IP Address Classes, Broadcast and Multicast,
3 - IP Loopback and Private Addresses, IPv6 Anycast,
4 - DNS - Domain Name System,
5 - IP Network Numbering,
6 - Subnet Mask and Subnetting,
7 - IP Subnetting in Practice,
8 - CIDR - Classess Internet Domain Routing,
9 - IP Practice Test

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