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In Layman’s Terms #2: Mac Address, DNS, IP Address, Gateway

In Layman's Terms #2: Mac Address, DNS, IP Address, Gateway

In this issue of “In Layman’s Terms”, we’ll look at some terms related to networking.

Mac Address

A Media Access Control Address, also known as a hardware or physical address, is a unique value associated with the network adapter on your computer. Basically, it’s what’s used to identify and associate with a system over a local network.

It doesn’t go all that far- usually, your MAC address is only used to identify your system by your Router, though there are a few processes that make use of it. They’re hardly relevant to this definition.

No two MAC addresses are the same, and MAC addresses generally never change. Some of you might be wondering how MAC addresses differ from IP addresses- the definition of which we shall address in a moment.

A good analogy to this end involves mail delivery: While an IP address can be thought of as your home address- something which can most certainly change, and often does- a MAC address is your physical identity- your name, gender, et-cetera. These are features that are unique to you, and just as a MAC address lets a router know what unique system to deliver data to, your name allows a mail carrier to know what unique person to deliver to. Not a perfect analogy, but it should work just fine for us.


DNS stands for “Domain Name System.” See, IP addresses are used by computers to locate and connect to each other- this includes the servers on which websites are hosted. Problem is, IP addresses are…kind of an unholy pain to remember.

As a result, we have the Domain Name System/Service.  Instead of having to remember an IP address, you can simply type in the domain name of the website- for example. The Domain Name System will translate that domain name into an IP address so that your computer can find the location that the domain name corresponds to, without you having to memorize a needless string of numbers.

To that end, errors such as “Your DNS appears unable to resolve IP addresses” means that the DNS can’t attach an IP address to the domain name you’ve typed in. If you’re looking for something of an analogy, I’ve a rather imperfect one for you: the DNS is kind of like…an automated phonebook. You type in the last name, and it gives you the phone number.

Kind of a flimsy analogy, but it works.

IP Address

An IP-Internet Protocol-Address is how your computer is identified and located online. It’s a fluid value, and often tends to change. . There are actually two kinds of IP addresses- a local IP, and a global IP. A local IP works within a single network, and a global IP works over the entire Internet. In order to find a system online, you’ll need the global IP, among other things.

Let’s say you’re accessing a website. Your computer sends a request to your router, which sends the request to the website. That website responds by sending data to the global IP address of your router, which then proceeds to send data to your system’s local IP address. Make sense?

You could think of a local IP address as your home address, and a global IP address as your home city’s location. Again, that’s anything but perfect; but it’ll do.


A Gateway is the point at which a network connects to either another network or to the Internet. Routers used to be referred to as Gateways, and the term is still used when referring to the IP address of the router(known as the “gateway IP”) which connects a network to the Internet.

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3 thoughts on “In Layman’s Terms #2: Mac Address, DNS, IP Address, Gateway”

JS says:
Thank you the way you explained it made more sense to me!
JJ says:
One of the best network explanation article I have read! Many thanks!
Gabriel Balinth says:
You do a good work to explain names in lay terms.

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Sep 7, 2011

643 Articles Published