Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
2.1. Interpretation of Internet Addresses

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### 2.1. Interpretation of Internet Addresses

2.1. Interpretation of Internet Addresses

Suppose that an organization has been assigned an Internet network number, has further divided that network into a set of subnets, and wants to assign host addresses: how should this be done? Since there are minimal restrictions on the assignment of the "local address" part of the Internet address, several approaches have been proposed for representing the subnet number:

1. Variable-width field: Any number of the bits of the local address part are used for the subnet number; the size of this field, although constant for a given network, varies from network to network. If the field width is zero, then subnets are not in use.

2. Fixed-width field: A specific number of bits (e.g., eight) is used for the subnet number, if subnets are in use.

3. Self-encoding variable-width field: Just as the width (i.e., class) of the network number field is encoded by its high-order bits, the width of the subnet field is similarly encoded.

4. Self-encoding fixed-width field: A specific number of bits is used for the subnet number.

5. Masked bits: Use a bit mask ("address mask") to identify which bits of the local address field indicate the subnet number.
What criteria can be used to choose one of these five schemes? First, should we use a self-encoding scheme? And, should it be possible to tell from examining an Internet address if it refers to a subnetted network, without reference to any other information?
An interesting feature of self-encoding is that it allows the address space of a network to be divided into subnets of different sizes, typically one subnet of half the address space and a set of small subnets.

For example, consider a class C network that uses a self-encoding scheme with one bit to indicate if it is the large subnet or not and an additional three bits to identify the small subnet. If the first bit is zero then this is the large subnet, if the first bit is one then the following bits (3 in this example) give the subnet number. There is one subnet with 128 host addresses, and eight subnets with 16 hosts each.

To establish a subnetting standard the parameters and interpretation of the self-encoding scheme must be fixed and consistent throughout the Internet.

It could be assumed that all networks are subnetted. This would allow addresses to be interpreted without reference to any other information.

This is a significant advantage, that given the Internet address no additional information is needed for an implementation to determine if two addresses are on the same subnet. However, this can also be viewed as a disadvantage: it may cause problems for networks which have existing host numbers that use arbitrary bits in the local address part. In other words, it is useful to be able to control whether a network is subnetted independently from the assignment of host addresses.

The alternative is to have the fact that a network is subnetted kept separate from the address. If one finds, somehow, that the network is subnetted then the standard self-encoded subnetted network address rules are followed, otherwise the non-subnetted network addressing rules are followed.

If a self-encoding scheme is not used, there is no reason to use a fixed-width field scheme: since there must in any case be some per-network "flag" to indicate if subnets are in use, the additional cost of using an integer (a subnet field width or address mask) instead of a boolean is negligible. The advantage of using the address mask scheme is that it allows each organization to choose the best way to allocate relatively scarce bits of local address to subnet and host numbers. Therefore, we choose the address-mask scheme: it is the most flexible scheme, yet costs no more to implement than any other.

For example, the Internet address might be interpreted as:

```         <network-number><subnet-number><host-number>
```
where the <network-number> field is as defined by IP , the <host-number> field is at least 1-bit wide, and the width of the <subnet-number> field is constant for a given network. No further structure is required for the <subnet-number> or <host-number> fields. If the width of the <subnet-number> field is zero, then the network is not subnetted (i.e., the interpretation of  is used).

For example, on a Class B network with a 6-bit wide subnet field, an address would be broken down like this:

```                           1                   2                   3
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
|1 0|        NETWORK            |  SUBNET   |    Host Number    |
+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+-+
```
Since the bits that identify the subnet are specified by a bitmask, they need not be adjacent in the address. However, we recommend that the subnet bits be contiguous and located as the most significant bits of the local address.

Special Addresses:

From the Assigned Numbers memo :

"In certain contexts, it is useful to have fixed addresses with functional significance rather than as identifiers of specific hosts. When such usage is called for, the address zero is to be interpreted as meaning "this", as in "this network". The address of all ones are to be interpreted as meaning "all", as in "all hosts". For example, the address 128.9.255.255 could be interpreted as meaning all hosts on the network 128.9. Or, the address 0.0.0.37 could be interpreted as meaning host 37 on this network."
It is useful to preserve and extend the interpretation of these special addresses in subnetted networks. This means the values of all zeros and all ones in the subnet field should not be assigned to actual (physical) subnets.
In the example above, the 6-bit wide subnet field may have any value except 0 and 63.
Please note that there is no effect or new restriction on the addresses of hosts on non-subnetted networks.

Next: 2.2. Changes to Host Software to Support Subnets

Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
2.1. Interpretation of Internet Addresses