MAC Addresses With Formatting Examples

MAC addresses identify networks, not a device's location

The Media Access Control (MAC) address is a binary number used to identify computer network adapters. These numbers (sometimes called hardware addresses or physical addresses) are embedded in the network hardware during the manufacturing process or stored in firmware and designed not to be modified.

MAC addresses are also referred to as Ethernet addresses for historical reasons, but multiple types of networks use MAC addressing, including Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

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The Format of a MAC Address

Traditional MAC addresses are 12-digit (6 bytes or 48 bits) hexadecimal numbers. By convention, these addresses are usually written in one of the following three formats, although there are variations:


The leftmost six digits (24 bits), called a prefix, are associated with the adapter manufacturer (M). Each vendor registers and obtains MAC prefixes as assigned by the IEEE. Vendors often possess many prefix numbers associated with their products. For example, the prefixes 00:13:10, 00:25:9C, and 68:7F:74 (plus others) belong to Linksys (Cisco Systems).

The rightmost digits of a MAC address represent an identification number for the specific device (S). Among all devices manufactured with the same vendor prefix, each is given a unique 24-bit number. Hardware from different vendors may share the same device portion of the address.

64-Bit MAC Addresses

While traditional MAC addresses are 48 bits in length, a few types of networks require 64-bit addresses instead. Zigbee wireless home automation and other similar networks based on IEEE 802.15.4, for example, require 64-bit MAC addresses to be configured on their hardware devices.

TCP/IP networks based on IPv6 also implement a different approach to communicating MAC addresses compared to mainstream IPv4. Instead of 64-bit hardware addresses, IPv6 automatically translates a 48-bit MAC address to a 64-bit address by inserting a fixed (hardcoded) 16-bit value FFFE between the vendor prefix and the device identifier. IPv6 calls these numbers identifiers to distinguish them from true 64-bit hardware addresses.

For example, a 48-bit MAC address of 00:25:96:12:34:56 appears on an IPv6 network in either of these two forms:

  • 00:25:96:FF:FE:12:34:56
  • 0025:96FF:FE12:3456

MAC vs. IP Address Relationship

TCP/IP networks use both MAC addresses and IP addresses but for different purposes. A MAC address remains fixed to the device's hardware, while the IP address for that same device can be changed depending on its TCP/IP network configuration. Media Access Control operates at Layer 2 of the OSI model, while Internet Protocol operates at Layer 3. This allows MAC addressing to support other kinds of networks besides TCP/IP.

IP networks manage the conversion between IP and MAC addresses using Address Resolution Protocol (ARP). The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) relies on ARP to manage the unique assignment of IP addresses to devices.

MAC Address Cloning

Some internet service providers link each of their residential customer accounts to the MAC addresses of the home network router or another gateway device. The address seen by the provider doesn't change until the customer replaces their gateway, such as by installing a new router. When a residential gateway is changed, the internet provider sees a different MAC address being reported and blocks that network from going online.

A cloning process solves this problem by enabling the router (gateway) to keep reporting the old MAC address to the provider even though its hardware address is different. Administrators can configure their router (assuming it supports this feature, as many do) to use the cloning option and enter the MAC address of the old gateway in the configuration screen. When cloning isn't available, the customer must contact the service provider to register their new gateway device.

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