The OSI Model's Lower Layers - Networking

Now that you have a broad overview of the OSI model and its seven layers, you will learn about the functions of each layer in a little more detail, starting with the lower layers. In addition to the functions, you’ll read about some of the devices that operate at those layers and some of their installation concepts.

The Physical Layer

The easiest way to think about the Physical layer is that it deals with measurable, physical entities (like electrons, electricity, etc.). Any protocol or device that operates at the Physical layer deals with the physical concepts of a network and knows nothing of the meaning of the individual bits that it transmits or deals with.

Physical Layer Concepts

Generally speaking, Physical layer concepts involve a network component that is tangible or measurable. For example, when a protocol at the Physical layer receives information from the upper layers, it translates all the data into signals that can be transmitted on a transmission medium. This is known as signal encoding (or encoding , for short). With cable media (also called bounded media ), the protocols that operate at the Physical layer translate the bits of the data into electrical ons and offs, often using pulses of electricity or light for one or both of these states.

Additionally, the Physical layer specifies how much of the media will be used (in other words, its signaling method) during data transmission. If a network signal uses all available signal frequencies (or, to put it differently, the entire bandwidth), the technology is said to use baseband signaling. Most LAN technologies, such as Ethernet, use baseband signaling. On the other hand, if a signal uses only one frequency (or only part of the bandwidth), the technology is said to use broadband signaling. This means multiple signals can be transmitted on the media simultaneously, and one or more of these channels must be “tuned” to in order for device-to-device communication to occur across them. Television signals use broadband signaling.

Finally, the Physical layer specifies the layout of the transmission media (its topology, in other words). A physical topology describes the way the cabling is physically laid out. The physical topologies include the following:

  • Bus
  • Star
  • Ring
  • Mesh

The Bus Topology

In a physical bus topology, every computer is directly connected to a common medium. A physical bus network uses one network cable that runs from one end of the network to the other. Workstations connect at various points along this cable. The main advantage to this topology is simplicity: Only one cable is used, and a physical bus topology typically requires less cable than other physical topologies. However, a cable fault can bring down the entire network, thus making a physical bus topology the least fault tolerant of all the physical topologies.

Physical bus topology

The Star Topology

In a physical star topology, a cable runs from each network entity to a central device. This central device (called a hub) allows all devices to communicate as if they were all directly connected. The main advantage to a physical star topology is its fault tolerance. If one node or cable malfunctions, the rest of the network is not affected. The hub simply won’t be able to communicate with the station attached to that port. An Ethernet 10Base-T network is one example of a network type that requires a physical star topology.

Star toplology

The Ring Topology

A physical ring topology isn’t seen much in the computer-networking world. If you do see it, it’s usually in a wide area network (WAN) environment. In a physical ring topology, every network entity connects directly to only two other network entities (the one immediately preceding it and the one immediately following it). The vulnerability of the physical ring topology to disruption of service due to the failure of a single node makes it a poor choice in most network environments. As a result, LANs only ever have implemented the ring as a logical topology, as in physical star/logical ring Token Ring.

Physical ring topology

The Mesh Topology

A physical mesh topology is another physical topology that isn’t widely used in computer networks (except in special WAN cases). In a physical mesh topology, every computer is directly connected to every other computer in the network. The more computers there are on a mesh network, the more cables make up the network. If a mesh network has n computers, there will be n ( n– 1)/2 cables. With 10 computers, there would be 10(10– 1)/2, or 45 cables. As you can see, this topology quickly becomes unmanageable with only a few computers.

Mesh Topology

Physical Layer Devices

Several devices operate primarily at the Physical layer of the OSI model. These devices manipulate mainly the physical aspects of a network data stream (such as the voltages, signal direction, and signal strength). Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular devices:

  • NIC
  • Transceivers
  • Repeaters
  • Hubs
  • MAUs

The Network Interface Card (NIC)

Probably the most common component on any network is the network interface card (NIC). A NIC is the component that provides the connection between a computer’s internal bus and the network media. NICs come in many shapes and sizes. They vary by the type of bus connection they employ and their network media connection ports. More than any other Physical layer device, a NIC is recognized for both its layer 2 and its layer 1 personality. Think about it this way: Where in your PC is the Ethernet protocol? We know Ethernet is a layer 2 protocol, but your computer, not the NIC, is the layer 2 device, right? Not really. All you have to do to enable a PC or Macintosh to communicate using Ethernet is to install the physical NIC card and the driver that gets the operating system familiar with the new hardware. None of that was the installation of Ethernet software. Conversely, when you remove a NIC card, you don’t have to go into an Add/Remove applet to remove Ethernet from the computer. It goes away with the NIC card. As a result, we can surmise that the NIC card supplies both the Physical layer and the Data Link layer(at least the MAC sublayer) Ethernet functionality of your PC.

Network Interface Card (NIC)

The Transceiver

In the strictest definition, a transceiver is the part of any network interface that transmits and receives network signals (transmitter /receiver). Every functioning network interface has a transceiver, internal or external. Those that do not have a built-in transceiver (for example, NICs with only a DIX/AUI port) will require an external transceiver, but every interface requires some form of transceiver to convert the device’s digital signal to one that is compatible with the network medium. The appearance and function of the external transceiver vary with the type of network cable and topology in use.

The Repeater

The simplest of all the Physical layer devices is the repeater, which simply regenerates the signals it receives on one port and sends (or “repeats”) them on another as if it were the original physical source of the transmission. Contrast this functionality to an analog amplifier, sometimes referred to inaccurately as an analog repeater. The analog device is unable to completely discern what part of the incoming signal is intentional and what part of it is noise. As a result, except for with high-end models that can incompletely mitigate the noise to some degree, all of the interference is amplified, along with the intended signal. Digital repeaters used in early networking, and still seen in various outposts today, were not subject to such noise reproduction.

Repeaters are used to extend the maximum length of a network segment. They are often used if a few network devices are located far from the rest of the network.

There is a limit to the number of 10Mbps repeaters that can be used in serial on a network without separating them by at least a layer 2 device. The 5-4-3 Rule dictates how many repeaters can be used on a network and where they can be placed. According to this rule, a single network can have five network segments connected by four repeaters, with three of the segments populated. The other two segments are simply for inter-repeater connectivity. The 5-4-3 Rule ensured that the minimum-sized Ethernet frame of 64 bytes could begin being received by the destination device before the last bit was transmitted by the source device. If this rule is violated, two devices may not be able to reach one another across the network. Furthermore, a phenomenon known as late collisions becomes more prominent, resulting in improper recovery behavior by the transmitter, which already believes the frame has made it across the network safely and does not hear the collision. Errored frames known as runts are often the product of late collisions. Today’s faster hubs are not bound by the 5-4-3 Rule but actually by stricter guidelines because the data appears compressed by 10Mbps standards and cannot tolerate as long of an electrical distance between transmitting and receivingdevices.

A Repeater install on a network

A Repeater install on a network

The 5-4-3 Rule for network repeaters

The 5-4-3 Rule for network repeaters

A Standard Hub

A Standard Hub

The Hub

After the NIC, a hub is probably the most common Physical layer device found on networks today. A hub (also called an Ethernet concentrator) serves as a central connection point for several network devices. At its basic level, an active hub is nothing more than a multiport repeater. A hub repeats what it receives on one port to all other ports, including the port on which the signal was received, so that the transmitting device may monitor and recover from collisions. 10Mbps hubs are, therefore, also subject to the 5-4-3 Rule.

There are many classifications of hubs, but two of the most important are active and passive:

  • An active hub is usually powered and it actually regenerates and cleans up the signal it receives, thus doubling the effective segment distance limitation for the specific topology (for example, extending a twisted-pair Ethernet segment another 100 meters).
  • A passive hub is typically unpowered and makes only physical, electrical connections. Typically, the maximum segment distance of a particular topology is shortened because the hub takes some power away from the signal strength in order to do its job. You should not expect to see these in service anymore.

The Multistation Access Unit (MAU)

The Multistation Access Unit (MAU) is a Physical layer device that is unique to Token Ring networks. Token Ring networks use a physical star topology, yet they use a logical ring topology. Logical topologies are discussed in the upcoming section “Data Link Layer.” The central device on an Ethernet star topology network is a hub, but on a Token Ring network, the central device is a MAU (sometimes called MSAU, for those who prefer to represent the word station separately in the acronym).

The functionality of the MAU is similar to that of a hub in that active MAUs regenerate the signal they receive as they send it out, but the MAU provides the data path that creates the logical “ring” in a Token Ring network. Unlike a hub, the MAU passes the bits received on one port to the port that the MAU deems the nearest active downstream port. In doing so, the MAU recognizes which ports have active stations attached and bypasses any inactive ports in its search for the next active downstream port. The data can travel in an endless loop between stations. MAUs are chained together by connecting the Ring Out port of one MAU to the Ring In port of another and connecting the last Ring Out port to the Ring In of the first MAU in the chain, thus forming a complete loop. MAUs on the market since the mid ‘90s were found fairly reliably to have a feature that allowed the ring to be completed internally, without the last MAU connecting back to the first. Such flexibility resulted in considerably more expansive rings, without the restriction of that potentially longer run back to the beginning if expansion had occurred in a straight line. In a Token Ring network, you can have up to 33 MAUs chained together.

MAUs in a Token Ring network

MAUs in a Token Ring network

The Data Link Layer

The Data Link layer is actually made up of two sublayers:

  • The Media Access Control (MAC) sublayer
  • The Logical Link Control (LLC) sublayer

The Data Link Layer

Data Link Layer Concepts

Protocols that operate at the Data Link layer have several responsibilities, including creating, transmitting, and receiving frames.

Additionally, the Data Link layer is responsible for physical (MAC) addressing and logical link control (LLC) processing, creating logical topologies, and controlling media access.


At the Data Link layer, data coming from upper-layer protocols are divided into logical chunks called frames. A frame is a unit of data transmission. The size and format of these frames depend on the transmission technology. In other words, Ethernet frames differ greatly from Token Ring frames and Frame Relay frames, and the three are not compatible (without some sort of intermediary device to translate).

PDU's by Layer

PDU's by Layer

The Hardware (MAC) Address

Every interface that communicates over a LAN segment has a globally unique address, typically assigned at the factory. This address is protocol independent and is often called the hardware address. It’s technically accurate, however, to call it the MAC address because it exists at the MAC sublayer of the Data Link layer.

The MAC address itself is a 48-bit value, commonly represented as a 12-digit hexadecimal number. As you may remember, the hexadecimal numbering system uses all digits from 0 through 9 and adds A through F. Each two-digit set is separated by colons, like so:


Or some manufacturers display it with dashes, like so:


The first three sets of digits (07-57-AC in the preceding example) are known as the Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI), which is administered by the IEEE and uniquely identifies the manufacturer of the interface. The last three sets (1F-B2-76 in this example) form a value, sometimes referred to as the device ID, that the manufacturer must ensure exists only on a single manufactured interface that bears that OUI, making the entire 48-bit value unique worldwide. The OUI and the serialized suffix together make up a MAC address. Because the MAC address is almost universally permanently embedded in a ROM chip on the device, it is often referred to as a burned-in address (BIA).

Normally, the MAC address of an interface is set at the factory and cannot be changed. For this purpose, all NIC manufacturers keep track of the MAC addresses they use so they don’t duplicate addresses internally among their products. The IEEE ensures that no two manufacturers legally use the same OUI. Again, this creates a globally unique identifier for each interface manufactured by any registered vendor, barring rogue manufacturers from randomly creating their own OUI. Administrators are able to change the MAC addresses of the cards they receive (using a factory-supplied program), so if they discover a rare duplicate MAC address, they can resolve the conflict, or if they have an unrecommended locally administered addressing system, they can implement it. To that end, many operating systems (including Linux and Windows XP) allow a locally administered address (LAA) to overide the factory MAC address. The configuration procedure varies according to the software used, but it is usually a simple procedure.

Logical Topology

The Data Link layer also bears the responsibility of dictating the logical topology of a network, or the way the devices perceive the topology of the network. A logical topology differs from a physical topology in that the physical topology dictates the way the cables are laid out, whereas the logical topology dictates the way the information flows. The types of logical topologies are the same as the physical topologies except that the information flow specifies the type of logical topology in use. For example, in the early days of Ethernet, networks were physically wired using a bus topology. The MAC sublayer of the Data Link layer of the equipment attached to this physical bus was designed to envision the network as a bus, making the logical topology a bus as well. Thus, that configuration is known as a physical bus/logical bus. Once twisted pair and fiber were introduced into the Ethernet Physical layer, hubs were designed to allow the network to be wired as a physical star while allowing the devices attached to the hub to continue to believe they were part of a bus, making this configuration a physical star / logical bus.

Finally, the Data Link layer can describe the method of media access. There are three main classifications of media access methods:

ContentionEvery device “competes” with other devices for the opportunity to transmit, and each has an equal chance at transmitting. If two devices transmit at the same time, an error, referred to as a collision, occurs and the devices try again.

PollingA central device, called a controller, polls each device in turn and asks if it has data to transmit. This type of media access virtually eliminates collisions.

Token PassingThis uses a special data packet called a token. When a device has the token, it can transmit. If it doesn’t have the token, it can’t transmit. This media access technology also eliminates collision problems.

Media Access Methods With many devices on the same piece of network media, there has to be a way of vying for time on the cable. This process is called media access, and there are three main methods:

Carrier Sense/Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD)This media access technology is probably the most common. When a protocol that uses CSMA/CD has data to transmit, it first senses if a signal is already on the wire (a carrier), indicating that someone is transmitting currently. That’s the “Carrier Sense” part. If no one else is transmitting, it attempts a transmission and then listens to hear if someone else tried to transmit at the same time. If someone else transmits at the exact same time, a collision occurs. Both senders “back off” and don’t transmit until some random period of time has passed. Then they both retry. That’s the “Collision Detection” part. The final part (“Multiple Access”) just means that more than one station can be on the network at the same time. CSMA/CD is the access method used in Ethernet and wireless Ethernet networks.

Token PassingIn addition to being a broad classification of media access methods, token passing is actually a specific method of media acess unto itself. This media access method uses a special packet called a token. The first computer that is turned on creates the token. It then passes on the token to the next computer. The token passes around the network until a computer that has data to send takes the token off the network, modifies it, and puts it back on the network along with the data it has to send. Each station between the sender and the receiver along the network reads the destination address in the token. If the destination address doesn’t match its own, the station simply sends the package on its way. When the destination station recognizes its address in the destination address of the token, the NIC copies the data into the station’s memory and modifies the token, indicating that it has received the data and recognized its own address in the frame. The token continues around the network until the original sender receives the token again. If the original sender has more data to send, the process repeats itself (for a specific amount of time). If not, the sender modifies the token to indicate that the token is “free” for anyone else to use. With this method, there are no collisions (as in CSMA/CD networks) because everyone has to have “permission” to transmit (via the token).

Carrier Sense/Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA) This technology works almost identically to CSMA/CD, but instead of sending the whole data chunk and then listening to hear if it was transmitted, the sender transmits a request to send (RTS) packet and waits for a clear to send (CTS) before sending. When it receives the CTS, the sender sends the chunk. AppleTalk networks use this method of media access. The difference between CSMA/ CD and CSMA/CA has been described like this: Say you want to cross a busy street and you want to use one of these protocols to cross it. If you are using CSMA/CD, you just cross the street. If you get hit, you go back to the curb and try again. If you’re using CSMA/CA, you send your little brother across. If he makes it, it’s probably OK for you to go.

Project 802

One of the major components of the Data Link layer is the result of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’s (IEEE’s) 802 subcommittees and their work on standards for local area and metropolitan area networks (LANs/MANs). The committee met in February 1980, so they used the “80” from 1980 and the “2” from the second month to create the name Project 802. The designation for an 802 standard always includes a dot (.) followed by either a single or a double digit. These numeric digits specify particular categories within the 802 standard. Currently, there are 12 standards.

IEEE 802 Networking Standards

IEEE 802 Networking Standards

The IEEE standards' relationship to the OSI Model

The IEEE standards' relationship to the OSI Model

The 802.1 LAN/MAN Management (and Media Access Control Bridges)

IEEE 802.1 discusses standards for LAN and MAN management, as well as for MAC bridges. One of the derivatives of 802.1 is the spanning tree algorithm for network bridges and switches, 802.1d (bridges and switches are discussed later in this chapter). The spanning tree algorithm helps to prevent switching loops in a switched network. See the upcoming section on 802.10 for its comparison with another popular 802.1 specification.

The 802.2 Logical Link Control

This standard specifies the operation of the Logical Link Control (LLC) sublayer of the Data Link layer of the OSI model.The LLC sublayer provides an interface between the MAC sublayer and the Network layer. The 802.2 standard is used by the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet specification (discussed next) but not by the earlier Ethernet 2 specifications (used in early implementations of Ethernet).

The 802.3 CSMA/CD

This standard specifies a network that uses a bus topology, baseband signaling, and a CSMA/ CD network access method. This standard was developed to match the Digital, Intel, and Xerox (DIX) Ethernet networking technology. So many people implemented the 802.3 standard, which resembles the DIX Ethernet, that people just started calling it Ethernet. It is the most widely implemented of all the 802 standards because of its simplicity and low cost.

Recently the 802.3ae working group updated 802.3 to include Gigabit Ethernet implementations.

The 802.5 Token Ring

This standard is one example of a commonly used product becoming a documented standard. Typically, a standard is developed and then products are written to conform to the standard. Token Ring was developed by IBM in 1984, and the 802.5 standard soon followed. The 802.5 standard and Token Ring are almost identical.

Like Ethernet, Token Ring can use several cable types. Most often, it is installed using twisted-pair cabling, which can be either shielded or unshielded. Shielding adds to the cable investment but offers the advantage of resistance to unwanted electrical signals that could impair the network signal.

Possible transmission rates for Token Ring have increased with time; after 4Mbps Token Ring came 16Mbps Token Ring. Token Ring uses a physical star, logical ring topology with token-passing media access. If you install 4Mbps NICs on a network that otherwise uses 16Mbps NICs, your entire ring speed is reduced to 4Mbps. Unlike with Ethernet, a computer cannot talk unless it has a token. This can cause some grief if a token gets “stuck.”

Although nowhere near as popular as Ethernet, Token Ring is still used in a number of locations for two reasons:

  • IBM made sure that Token Ring did a fine job of talking to IBM mainframes, which are still used.
  • Token Ring network performance “degrades with grace.”

The latter means that as network traffic increases, the network slowly gets slower because the single token, which can travel in only one direction, gets busy servicing all that demand. Ethernet, on the other hand, can become so flooded as network traffic increases that the entire network collapses. Now, suppose you were wiring a computerized fire alarm system for a large building. Which would you rather use: Ethernet or Token Ring? To increase performance, some Token Ring technologies implement early token release, whereby the sending station doesn’t hog the token. It simply grabs the token, sends its data, and frees the token.

In Token Ring, just as in most Ethernet schemes, there is a central device to which stations connect. It isn’t, however, called a hub. IBM calls it a MAU. IBM often has a different name for things. Even its name for Token Ring cabling is different. In telephone and computer networks, twisted cable is rated by categories. IBM rates Token Ring cable by type.

One final difference between Token Ring and the others is the regeneration process. Data signals are read, amplified, and repeated by every device on the network to reduce degradation. This includes MAUs and NICs and is one reason that Token Ring was once so much more expensive than Ethernet.

The 802.10 LAN/MAN Security

The 802.10 Standards for Interoperable LAN/MAN Security (SILS), ratified in late 1992, were originally designed to provide security within shared LAN/metropolitan-area network (MAN) environments. The 802.10 protocol incorporates a mechanism whereby LAN traffic can carry a virtual LAN (VLAN) identifier in the header of its frames, allowing selective switching of frames based on their identifier. Interfaces that were members of one VLAN could not exchange frames with interfaces in another VLAN, creating security. 802.10 incorporates authentication and encryption to ensure data confidentiality, further enhancing security. 802.10 enjoyed some success in FDDI environments but has waned in popularity in recent years in favor of other frame tagging protocols, such as IEEE 802.1Q and Cisco’s proprietary Inter-Switch Link (ISL) protocol.

The 802.11 Wireless LAN

Wireless networking usually requires a higher up-front investment than cable-based networking. Still, the cost can be justified if an office is rearranged with any regularity or must be moved from location to location to satisfy business requirements. A famous example of this is the Red Cross. This agency would not be effective if it had to wire computers together before assisting at each disaster area.

Recently, 802.11 was updated to include the 802.11a, b, and g standards, which specify higher wireless speeds compared to the original 1Mbps of 802.11. 802.11b is the next faster specification, with bit rates of 11Mbps. Both 802.11a and 802.11g post speeds of 54Mbps, but they do so in different ways. 802.11a uses a 5GHz signal, which makes it effective only at shorter distances, as well as incompatible with 802.11b’s 2.4GHz signal, but places it in a much less-crowded bandwidth. Neither one interferes with the other at least. 802.11g, however, shares the lower 2.4GHz frequency of 802.11b, making interoperation of the faster 802.11g end devices with the slower 802.11b access points rather easy through simple rate adaption over the same frequency. Nevertheless, some manufacturers offer NIC cards, for example, that combine all three technologies and allow the device to autosense the capability of the strongest access point in order to allow the modest installed base of more expensive 802.11a access points to play successfully with the others. But the bottom line is that 802.11a is incompatible with the other two specifications.

The 802.12 Demand Priority Access Method

First developed by Hewlett-Packard, this standard combines the concepts of Ethernet and Token Ring. The communication scheme used is called Demand Priority (thus, the name of the standard). It uses “intelligent” hubs that allocate more bandwidth to frames that have been assigned a higher priority by the sending computer. The hub scans its ports and then allocates bandwidth according to each frame’s priority. This is extremely valuable for real-time audio and video transmissions.

The 802.12 standard is also known as 100VG (Voice Grade), 100VG-AnyLAN, 100Base-VG, and AnyLAN. The 100 is short for 100Mbps, or 10 times faster than the original Ethernet speeds. Other manufacturers didn’t buy into the ideas of 100VG, perhaps in part because of the higher overhead of demand priority due to port scanning. Instead, they updated the original Ethernet to Fast Ethernet, which also supports 100Mbps while maintaining the 802.3 standards.

The Table summarizes the main features—including speed, access method, topology, and media—of various network standards, such as the most common 802 MAC standards and FDDI.

Data Link Layer Devices

Three main devices manipulate data at the Data Link layer:

  • Bridges
  • Switches
  • Wireless access points (WAPs)

They are more complex than their Physical layer counterparts and thus are more expensive and more difficult to implement. But they each bring unique advantages to the network.

Main Features of Various Network Technologies

Main Features of Various Network Technologies

The Bridge

A bridge is a network device, operating at the Data Link layer, that logically separates a single network into two segments, but it lets the two segments appear to be one network to higherlayer protocols. The primary use for a bridge is to keep traffic meant for devices on one side of the bridge from passing to the other side. For example, if you have a group of workstations that constantly exchange data on the same network segment as a group of workstations that don’t use the network much at all, the busy group will slow down the performance of the network for the other users. If you put in a bridge to separate the two groups, however, only traffic destined for a workstation on the other side of the bridge will pass to the other side. All other traffic stays local. Figure shows a network before and after bridging.

A Sample network before and after bridging

A Sample network before and after bridging

The Switch

The switch is more intelligent than a hub in that it can actually understand the frames that pass through it.A switch (also known as a Layer 2 switch) builds a table of the MAC addresses of all the devices connected to it.

A Switch builds a table of all MAC addresses of all connected stations

A Switch builds a table of all MAC addresses of all connected stations
When two devices attached to the switch want to communicate, the sending device sends its data on to its local segment. This data is heard by the switch (similar to the way a hub functions). However, when the switch receives the data, rather than duplicating it out to all the ports as a hub would, it examines the Data Link header for the MAC address of the destination device and forwards it to the correct port. This process triggers a function within the switch that opens a virtual pipe between ports that can use the full bandwidth of the topology because the switch has a nonblocking backplane, able to support the collective bandwidth offered by the sum of its ports.

Switches have risen to the high level of popularity they enjoy today because of their ability to prevent collisions from occurring between the devices attached directly to their ports, thus increasing overall network throughput and efficiency. This stems from the fact that every port on a switch is in a different collision domain. A collision domain is that group of devices whose frames could potentially collide with one another. If a server were connected to a 100Mbps port on an Ethernet switch and 10 workstations were directly and individually connected (not through a hub connected to the switch) to 10Mbps ports on the same switch, each workstation would effectively have a dedicated, non-blocking 10Mbps channel to the server and there would never be any collisions. Thus, the inclusion of a switch in a network serves the function of increasing the number of collision domains while reducing the average population of all collision domains for the same number of nodes.

Layer 2 Switches differ from their layer 3 counterparts, which are able to operate on the layer 3 packets by routing the first packet between a source and destination because it stores the actual header required to build the outbound frame. It then rapidly switches subsequent packets between the same two devices in software or even hardware without looking up the layer 3 routing information again.

The Wireless Access Point

If you are going to connect multiple wireless computers to an existing wired network, you will need at least one wireless access point (WAP). The WAP is essentially a wireless bridge (or switch, as multiple end devices can connect simultaneously). It operates by connecting wireless clients together. In addition, it can connect those wireless clients to a wired network. As with a bridge or switch, the WAP indiscriminately propagates all broadcasts to all wireless and wired devices while allowing filtering based on MAC addresses.

The WAP contains at least one radio antenna that it uses to communicate with its clients via radio frequency (RF) signals. The WAP can (depending on software settings) act as either an access point, which allows a wireless user transparent access to a wired network, or a wireless bridge, which will connect a wireless network to a wired network yet only pass traffic it knows belongs on the other side.

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