Each network that runs TCP/IP must have a unique network number. Every machine on the network must have a unique IP address. You must understand how IP addresses are constructed before you register your network and obtain its network number. This section describes IPv4 addresses. For information on IPv6 addresses, see IPv6 Addressing.
The IPv4 address is a 32-bit number that uniquely identifies a network interface on a machine. An IPv4 address is typically written in decimal digits, formatted as four 8-bit fields that are separated by periods. Each 8-bit field represents a byte of the IPv4 address. This form of representing the bytes of an IPv4 address is often referred to as the dotted-decimal format.
The bytes of the IPv4 address are further classified into two parts: the network part and the host part. The following figure shows the component parts of a typical IPv4 address, 188.8.131.52.
The network part specifies the unique number that is assigned to your network. The network part also identifies the class of network that is assigned. In Figure 5–3, the network part occupies two bytes of the IPv4 address.
This is the part of the IPv4 address that you assign to each host. The host part uniquely identifies this machine on your network. Note that for each host on your network, the network part of the address is the same, but the host part must be different.
Local networks with large numbers of hosts are sometimes divided into subnets. If you choose to divide your network into subnets, you need to assign a subnet number for the subnet. You can maximize the efficiency of the IPv4 address space by using some of the bits from the host number part of the IPv4 address as a network identifier. When used as a network identifier, the specified part of the address becomes the subnet number. You create a subnet number by using a netmask, which is a bitmask that selects the network and subnet parts of an IPv4 address. Refer to Creating the Network Mask for IPv4 Addresses for details.