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MAC Address vs. IP Address: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 23, 2023
A MAC address is a hardware identifier for devices in a network, while an IP address is a software-based address used for communication between devices across networks.

Key Differences

A MAC address, which stands for Media Access Control address, is a unique identifier assigned to network interfaces for communications on the physical network segment. Conversely, an IP address represents the location of a device on a network, allowing for data routing and communication between devices.
The MAC address is typically hardcoded onto a device's Network Interface Card (NIC) by the manufacturer. In contrast, the IP address can be dynamic, assigned by network protocols or set statically by an administrator.
When it comes to universality, a MAC address remains constant regardless of where the device is on a network. On the other hand, an IP address might change based on the device's location and how it's connected to the network.
Security features such as MAC filtering involve utilizing the MAC address of a device to permit or deny network access. In contrast, various protocols and tools use the IP address for tasks like geo-location and network diagnostics.
From a visibility standpoint, while MAC addresses operate within local area networks (LANs), IP addresses function in wider networks, such as the internet. This distinction allows IP addresses to facilitate global data transfer while MAC addresses handle device identification within local networks.

Comparison Chart


Hardware-based identifier.
Software-based address.


Hardcoded by manufacturers.
Dynamic or statically set.


Remains constant across networks.
Can change based on network/location.


Device identification in LANs.
Data routing and communication between devices.


Operates within local networks.
Functions across wider networks, including the internet.

MAC Address and IP Address Definitions

MAC Address

Typically represented in a six-group format of hexadecimal numbers.
The format 00:1A:2B:3C:4D:5E is an example of a MAC address.

IP Address

Essential for data transfer across global networks like the internet.
Without an IP address, devices wouldn't be able to communicate over the internet.

MAC Address

Used for device identification within local networks.
His router utilized MAC address filtering for enhanced security.

IP Address

Can be dynamically assigned by DHCP or set statically.
After resetting the router, his computer received a new IP address.

MAC Address

Operates at the data link layer of the OSI model.
Network switches use the MAC address to forward data to the correct device.

IP Address

Operates at the internet layer of the OSI model.
Routers use the IP address to route data to its destination.

MAC Address

A unique identifier for network interfaces.
Each network card has its own MAC address.

IP Address

Divided into IPv4 (using a dot-decimal format) and IPv6 (using hexadecimal).
IPv4 is limited, leading to the development of the IP address version IPv6.

MAC Address

Hardcoded onto devices by manufacturers.
The MAC address on his computer couldn't be altered easily.

IP Address

A numerical label for device identification and location on a network.
Websites have associated IP addresses behind their domain names.


Is a MAC address unique for every device?

Ideally, every device's MAC address is unique, but there have been instances of duplicates.

Can a device have the same MAC address and IP address as another device?

Devices should have unique MAC addresses, but IP addresses can overlap in different networks.

What does MAC address stand for?

MAC address stands for Media Access Control address.

Can an IP address provide information about a device's location?

Yes, an IP address can offer approximate geo-location data.

What is the main purpose of an IP address?

The main purpose of an IP address is to identify and locate devices on a network.

Why might someone want to know a device's MAC address?

Network administrators might use a MAC address for security measures, like MAC filtering.

Can you change your IP address?

Yes, an IP address can change, either dynamically via DHCP or manually by the user.

Which protocol typically assigns IP addresses to devices?

DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) typically assigns IP addresses.

How is a MAC address typically represented?

A MAC address is usually represented in a format of six groups of two hexadecimal numbers.

How many bits constitute an IPv4 IP address?

An IPv4 IP address is 32 bits long.

Can a device's MAC address be changed?

While it's hardcoded, some software tools can "spoof" or change the apparent MAC address.

How many bits constitute an IPv6 IP address?

An IPv6 IP address is 128 bits long.

What are the two main versions of IP addresses used today?

The two main versions are IPv4 and IPv6.

Is the MAC address software-based?

No, the MAC address is a hardware-based identifier, while the IP address is software-based.

Which has a larger address space, IPv4 or IPv6?

IPv6 has a larger address space than the IP address version IPv4.

Can two devices on the same network have the same IP address?

No, two devices on the same network shouldn't have the same IP address.

Can you locate a device using its MAC address?

Not globally. MAC addresses are used primarily within local networks.

Why are MAC addresses important in a local network?

MAC addresses help switches and routers direct data to the correct device within a LAN.

Are MAC addresses globally unique?

MAC addresses should be globally unique, but rare exceptions exist.

Is it possible to hide your IP address?

Yes, users can hide their IP address using VPNs, proxies, or other methods.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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