Difference Between MAC Address and IP Address

MAC Address and IP Address are regarded as two entities that hold the information regarding the identity of any device connected to a network. The significant difference between MACaddress and IP address is that MAC address is specifically associated with the device built with hardware and is of fixed nature. As against, IP address is associated with a network connection through which the device is connected and so it gets changed with the change in the network connection.

Any data packet which is required to be transmitted from an end to other necessarily requires both MAC as well as IP address.

What is an Address?

Address in general corresponds to location. For any device within a network, address defines a unique identification of a device associated with that network. The address is typically expressed in numbers and can be of physical or logical nature.

Content: MAC Vs IP Address

  1. Comparison Chart
  2. Definition
  3. Key Differences
  4. Conclusion

Comparison chart

Basis for ComparisonMAC AddressIP Address
Stands forMedia Access Control AddressInternet Protocol Address
Address typePhysicalLogical
ServesDevice identificationNetwork connection identification
NatureNot flexibleFlexible
Provided byManufacturerInternet service provider
Size6 Bytes 4 or 8 Bytes
Used forBroadcastingBroadcasting or Multicasting
Representation HexadecimalDecimal
Byte separation byColons Dots
Operates onData link layerNetwork layer
Characteristics orientationHardwareSoftware
Identification offeredLocalGlobal
SpoofingDifficultComparatively easy

Definition of MAC Address

MAC address is used as an abbreviation for media access control address. Any device either wired or wireless that forms a connection with any network has a hardware component. This hardware unit is assigned an address by the manufacturer and this address is called MAC address.

It is of unique nature and contains encoded information regarding the manufacturer. However, spoofing can be done at the software level. Thus, is used as an identification of the device.

MAC address operates in the data link layer of the internet protocol suite and is of 48 bits. It is etched into the network interface card thus is known to be the physical address of the network device. Basically, a data link layer has two parts,

  • Logical link control sublayer
  • Media access control sublayer

The MAC address exists in the MAC sublayer.

It is represented in hexadecimal format and is sometimes known as a burned-in address. Though it is of unique nature, it does not show suitability towards a large network.

Definition of IP Address

IP stands for Internet Protocol. An IP address is that unique address that a network assigns to any device by its own side. Within a network, each device consists of its own specific IP. This is so because if two or more devices have the same IP then there will an IP address conflict and this makes the conflicting devices useless.

Using the IP addresses, devices send and receive data. It is either 32 bits or 128 bits depending on whether it is IPv4 or IPv6. Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) manages globally shared IP addresses.

The combination of bits in the IP address contains the network number and a host number in the encoded format. This combination is made in such a unique manner that no two machines exhibit similar IP addresses. It is written in dotted decimal notation. The lowest and highest IP addresses are and respectively.
It offers efficiency in network resource utilization by providing connectionless datagram services to the user. Internet control message protocol acts as a partner to internet protocol.

Key Differences Between MAC and IP Address

  1. The key factor of differentiation of MAC and IP address is that MAC address corresponds to the unique identification number of any device. On the contrary, IP address is associated with the specific network through which the device has been connected.
  2. MAC is a type of address that is provided by the NIC (i.e., Network Interface Controller) card manufacturer. Whereas IP is a type of address that is assigned by the internet service provider.
  3. Any device connected to a network is defined completely only when it has both MAC and IP address as one defines its physical address while the other defines the logical address.
  4. The address resolution protocol (i.e., ARP) is used to get the MAC address of the device in a network. Whereas reverse address resolution protocol (i.e. RARP) helps in recovering the IP address of the device in a network.
  5. To represent the MAC address of a device 6-byte hexadecimal number system is used where the bits are separated by colons. Whereas IP is represented by either 4-byte or 8-byte decimal number system where bits are separated by dots.
  6. MAC address is used for the purpose of broadcasting information whereas IP address is used for the purpose of broadcasting and multicasting.
  7. Through MAC address, a device is identified in the local network. On the contrary, by the use of IP address devices can be identified in a global network.
  8. As MAC is specified by the manufacturer thus it is hardware associated while as IP is provided by the network service provider hence it is software associated.
  9. The MAC address of a device is not flexible as it cannot be changed but using spoofing techniques it can be hidden. The IP address of a device is flexible in nature because it changes with the movement of the device from one network connection to the other.
  10. Spoofing or unauthentically changing the MAC address of a device is quite difficult in comparison to spoofing the IP address. However, doing any of the two is not legal.
  11. In a network where router and switches are present, the router requires an IP address whereas switches require a MAC address for their respective operation.


Thus, this discussion concludes that MAC and IP address have their individual importance and any device is identified using both these addresses. Also, a network packet that travels from one end to another must have specified MAC and IP addresses for getting properly delivered to the desired destination.

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