MAC Address: What is a MAC address and what is its use?

Read this article now to find what a MAC address is and why computers need it.

MAC Address definition

A MAC address (Media-Access-Control address), also known as physical address, is a unique 12 digit hexadecimal number to clearly identify a device. Unlike IP addresses, MAC addresses are fixed and not intended to be changed. However, it is not impossible to change them.

Computers use the MAC addresses to identify other devices to send data to them.

Why do computers need MAC addresses if they have IP addresses?

The main difference between IP addresses and the MAC addresses is that MAC addresses are fixed and unique. IP addresses change when computers switch networks, but MAC addresses always stay the same.

When a computer wants to send data to another computer, it only knows the IP address of that device and has to find out its unique MAC address to clearly identify the device. To discover it, a computer uses ARP (Address-Resolution-Protocol) for IPv4 and NDP (Neighbour-Discovery-Protocol) for IPv6. After it has found out the address of the other device, it saves it in its cache and sends the data directly to it.

MAC address
In short:

Computers use IP addresses to locate a device on a network, whereas they use MAC addresses to identify the actual device

What does a MAC address look like?

A MAC address is a 48-bit 12 digit hexadecimal address that is divided into six parts, consisting of 2 digits, by a colon (:) or a hyphen (-). Additionally, they can be divided into only two parts by a single hyphen (-), or into 3 parts by dots (.).

  • 00:80:41:AE:FD:7E
  • 00-80-41-AE-FD-7E
  • 008041-AEFD7E
  • 0080.41AE.FD7E

We call the first six digits the Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI) that determines the manufacturer who produced the network interface of a device. The OUI gets assigned by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Furthermore, the last six digits are a unique device id to clearly identify it.

Manufacturer and Device ID

The three types of MAC addresses


A unicast address is a unique address to identify a single device


A multicast address represents a group of devices. When data is sent to a multicast address, all devices with that address receive the data.

All multicast addresses start with 01-00-5E e. g. 01-00-5E-00-00-05. Note that this address could also look like this: 01:00:5E:00:00:05, or like some of the other ways of displaying a MAC address.


When data is sent to a broadcast address, the data is sent to all devices in the same network.

The broadcast address is FF-FF-FF-FF-FF-FF.

How can I find out my MAC Address?


To find out your MAC address on windows you have to press Windows+R and then type cmd in the little window that opened up.

Open Command Prompt

After pressing OK, you have to type ipconfig /all and hit Enter in the window that just opened up.

Find out address

Now you can see the MAC address of your network adapters under Physical Address

Linux & Mac OS

To find your MAC address on Linux or Mac OS you just have to open the terminal and type in ifconfig.

ifconfig linux

Now you can see the MAC addresses of your network adapters after “ether“.

Thanks for reading!

Share this article