Subnets and Subnet Masks

One of the most complex tasks TCP/IP has to perform is to determine whether or not a given IP address exists on the same subnet. The task isn’t really that complicated once you understand how TCP/IP uses its IP address and subnet mask.

An IP address looks something like this: IP addresses always contain four numbers from 0-255, separated by periods. A portion of the IP address is called the network ID and acts as a unique identifier for a particular subnet.

The rest of the IP address is called the host ID and identifies a particular computer or network device on that subnet uniquely. How can you tell which part of the IP address is which? By using the subnet mask. A subnet mask looks a lot like an IP address, with four groups of numbers: Remember, computers are binary machines that can understand only in zeros and ones. For the subnet mask to make sense, you have to translate it and the IP address into binary.

You can switch the Windows Calculator into Scientific view, which enables you to convert numbers from decimal to binary.


Convert all the four groups (octets) of numbers into binary code. For example, an IP address of and a subnet mask of look like this in binary:

Address or Mask 1st octet 2nd octet 3rd octet 4th octet 11000000 10101000 00001010 00101001 11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000

Everyplace you see a “1” in the subnet mask corresponds to the portion of the IP address that is the network ID. Everyplace you see a “0” in the subnet mask corresponds

to the portion of the IP address that is the host ID. Here, the network ID is 192.168.10, and the host ID is 41.TCP/IP treats everything with an IP address that starts with 192.168.10 as if it were on the same subnet. Any IP address that starts with something other than 192.168.10 is treated as if it existed on another subnet.

Basic TCP/IP Services

A number of the protocols in the TCP/IP suite are considered core protocols, which means they are usually present on any network that uses TCP/IP. The core protocols provide basic services that no network can do without. These services include

_ Data transmission. Is handled by more than one protocol: the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and the Transport Control Protocol (TCP). Computers use UDP when they need to send a small packet of data and don’t care if the remote computer actually receives the data. Computers use TCP when loads of data needs to be transmitted because TCP allows the remote computer to reply, confirming its receipt of the data.

_ Name resolution. Provided by the Domain Name System, or DNS, protocol. DNS enables people to use easy-to-remember names like and allows computers to translate those names to numeric IP addresses.

_ Windows Internet Name System (WINS). Prior versions of Windows also use WINS to convert computer names into IP addresses. Windows Server 2003 is compatible with WINS.


Sybex(2003): Mastering Windows Server 2003 (pp. NONE, see Security Policies)

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