Understanding IPv4 Addressing

IPv4 addresses are 32-bit numbers that are typically displayed in dotted decimal notation. A 32-bit address contains two primary parts: the network prefix and the host number.

All hosts within a single network share the same network address. Each host also has an address that uniquely identifies it. Depending on the scope of the network and the type of device, the address is either globally or locally unique. Devices that are visible to users outside the network (webservers, for example) must have a globally unique IP address. Devices that are visible only within the network must have locally unique IP addresses.

IP addresses are assigned by a central numbering authority called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). IANA ensures that addresses are globally unique where needed and has a large address space reserved for use by devices not visible outside their own networks.

IPv4 Classful Addressing

To provide flexibility in the number of addresses distributed to networks of different sizes, 4-octet (32-bit) IP addresses were originally divided into three different categories or classes: class A, class B, and class C. Each address class specifies a different number of bits for its network prefix and host number:

  • Class A addresses use only the first byte (octet) to specify the network prefix, leaving 3 bytes to define individual host numbers.
  • Class B addresses use the first 2 bytes to specify the network prefix, leaving 2 bytes to define host addresses.
  • Class C addresses use the first 3 bytes to specify the network prefix, leaving only the last byte to identify hosts.

In binary format, with an x representing each bit in the host number, the three address classes can be represented as follows:

00000000 xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx (Class A)
00000000 00000000 xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx (Class B)
00000000 00000000 00000000 xxxxxxxx (Class C)

Because each bit (x) in a host number can have a 0 or 1 value, each represents a power of 2. For example, if only 3 bits are available for specifying the host number, only the following host numbers are possible:

111 110 101 100 011 010 001 000

In each IP address class, the number of host-number bits raised to the power of 2 indicates how many host numbers can be created for a particular network prefix. Class A addresses have 224 (or 16,777,216) possible host numbers, class B addresses have 216 (or 65,536) host numbers, and class C addresses have 28 (or 256) possible host numbers.

IPv4 Dotted Decimal Notation

The 32-bit IPv4 addresses are most often expressed in dotted decimal notation, in which each octet (or byte) is treated as a separate number. Within an octet, the rightmost bit represents 20 (or 1), increasing to the left until the first bit in the octet is 27 (or 128). Following are IP addresses in binary format and their dotted decimal equivalents:

11010000 01100010 11000000 10101010 = 208.98.192.170
01110110 00001111 11110000 01010101 = 118.15.240.85
00110011 11001100 00111100 00111011 = 51.204.60.59


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