Address Resolution Protocol

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  • Topic: Address Resolution Protocol, Internet Protocol, MAC address
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  • Published : May 22, 2010
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Address Resolution Protocol

The Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) is a computer networking protocol for determining a network host's link layer or hardware address when only its Internet Layer (IP) or Network Layer address is known. This function is critical in local area networking as well as for routing internetworking traffic across gateways (routers) based on IP addresses when the next-hop router must be determined. ARP was defined by RFC 826 in 1982.[1] It is Internet Standard STD 37. ARP has been implemented in many types of networks, such as Internet Protocol (IP) network, CHAOS, DECNET, Xerox PARC Universal Packet, Token Ring, FDDI, IEEE 802.11 and other LAN technologies, as well as the modern high capacity networks, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM). Due to the overwhelming prevalence of IPv4 and Ethernet in general networking, ARP is most frequently used to translate IPv4 addresses into Ethernet MAC addresses. In the next generation Internet Protocol, IPv6, ARP's functionality is provided by the Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP).

Overview and IPv4-plus-Ethernet example
Consider a LAN where machines using IPv4 over Ethernet wish to communicate. A sender wishes to send a message to some other machine on the LAN and knows a destination IPv4 address. The destination IPv4 address is hopefully associated with some appropriate network interface belonging to the recipient machine, and is present on the LAN. But in order for communication to succeed, the sending machine first needs to discover the ethernet MAC address of the intended recipient network interface. This requirement comes about because Ethernet hardware does not (necessarily) understand IPv4 protocols or IPv4 addresses in the sense that Ethernet hardware 'listens out for' relevant Ethernet MAC addresses but does not 'listen out for' IPv4 addresses. (An impractical alternative would be to have all units listen to every Ethernet packet and inspect the contents for relevant IPv4 addresses, discarding the packets that are intended for other devices, but this would be very inefficient.) So before sending an IPv4 packet, the sender sends a broadcast message onto the LAN using ARP in order to discover the Ethernet MAC address of some interface that is listening for that desired target IPv4 address. Some appropriate unit replies that it has a network interface with a certain MAC address that is associated with the IPv4 address in question. The original would-be sender now has the information needed and can go ahead and send its IPv4 packet to the destination inserting it into an Ethernet frame with the correct destination MAC address for the appropriate recipient. The sender's operating system also stores the newly discovered MAC address in a table ('caches' the result). This table of mappings from IPv4 addresses to MAC addresses is retained and consulted again and again, so the ARP discovery procedure only has to be performed one time, when a packet is sent to a 'new' destination IPv4 address.

Operating scope
The Address Resolution Protocol is a low level request and answer protocol that is communicated on the media access level of the underlying network. For Ethernet systems, an ARP message is the payload of Ethernet packets. ARP therefore operates only across the local link that a host is connected to. Within the framework of the Internet Protocol Suite, this characteristic makes ARP a Link Layer protocol.[2] ARP is also very often discussed in terms of the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) networking model, because that model addresses hardware-to-software interfaces more explicitly and is preferred by some equipment manufacturers. However, ARP was not developed based on the design principles and strict encapsulation hierarchy of this model and, therefore, such discussions create a number of...
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