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What is binary?

Binary is a numbering system that uses only the digits 1 and 0. We are
accustomed to using the decimal number system, which uses the digits 0
through 9.

Binary is the numbering system that network devices use to process all data.
Without binary, computers and networks would not function. All data sent
across a network is in binary.

Just like we use the decimal numbering system (numbers 0 through 9) for all
counting, money, and financial transactions, computers use binary for storage
of all data, all data transmissions, and all numerical calculations. You can
think of this as a language. For example, all people in Russia use Russian for
all communication. If someone in Russia talked to someone in the United
States, they would probably talk in English so that we could understand and
communicate. That person would be bilingual because they understand two
languages. In that sense, you could compare the computer to them because
the computer understands two numbering systems, binary and decimal.
Humans don't want to have to think or do calculations in binary. We want to
convert those binary numbers to decimal. Converting from binary to decimal is
not difficult. The numbers 0 and 1 in binary are converted to 0 and 1 in
decimal. After that, it gets a little more complicated.

Here is an example of counting from zero to ten using binary:

Decimal Binary
0 0
1 1
2 10
3 11
4 100
5 101
6 110
7 111
8 1000
9 1001
10 1010

All binary to decimal or decimal to binary conversions use this chart:

27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20
12864 32 16 8 4 2 1

Let's discuss how to use this chart. First, always start by looking at the chart
from right to left, not from left to right. Second, all the numbers on the chart
stay where they are -- you don't change these. These numbers are used to tell
you the values of the binary digits you will enter in the blanks.

Finally, the top line of 2x numbers tells you what each column represents. The
column on the far right is worth 20. The second line, with the decimal numbers,
tells you what the answer is to the 20 line. So, if you look at the column on the
far right, second line, it tells you that 20 is equal to 1 IF there is a 1 in the blank
below it. If you had a one in the fourth column from the right, 23, you would
have a value of 8 turned ON. Anywhere that you do not have a 1 in the bottom
line, you will fill in with a zero. Think of each of these columns being able to be
turned ON and OFF by using a 1 or a 0, respectively.

When you are done filling in your 1's and 0's on the bottom line of the chart,
you can add all the values that you turned ON, in decimal, from left to right
(using the second line of the chart). Thus, if you had put a 1 in the 23 column
(8) and a 1 in the 20 column (1), you would add 8 + 1 = 9. That 9 is
represented by 1001.

These numbers are calculated using this table:

27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20
1286432168 4 2 1 = 9
0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 = 1001

Let's look at another example... If you look at the number 3, it was calculated
by having a 1 in the 20 place and a 2 in the 21 place (starting on the right-hand
side of the table). If you add the 1 that you get from the 20 place and the 2 that
you get from the 21 place, you get 3. In other words, 1 + 2 = 3.

Let's look at another one. The 1000 in binary represents 8 in decimal because
you have a 1 in the 23 place and that gives you 8. You have 0's in all the other

IP addressing and binary

The three critical pieces of information that you, the network administrator,
provide or a DHCP server provides to network devices (computer, server,
router, switch, etc.) are:

• IP Address
• Subnet mask
• Default Gateway

The network device immediately converts this information into binary. So, let's
pretend that we are that network device and we are given the following

• IP Address =
• Subnet Mask =
• Default Gateway =

The computer converts this information into binary and calculates the Network
ID. Before we can calculate the Network ID, we first have to convert from
decimal to binary.

Converting decimal to binary

Let's start with converting the IP address to binary. To convert to

binary, you take the octets (the numbers between the decimals) one at a time,
like this:

1 decimal = 1 binary
1 decimal = 1 binary
1 decimal = 1 binary
1 decimal = 1 binary

An IP address is 32 bits in binary, so each octet is 8 bits in binary. Because of

this, we need to pad the other bits as 0's. That means that in decimal
equals the following number in binary:
00000001 00000001 00000001 00000001

That was easy! To convert the subnet mask of, take each octet
one at a time, using the table:

27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20
12864 32 16 8 4 2 1

Here is what I get:

255 = 11111111

To do this, I looked at the bottom row of numbers that each binary space
represents. I started with 27, which equals 128. So, how many 128's are in
255? The answer is 1. So I write:
256 – 128 = 127

Now, how many 64's (the next binary space) are in 127? The answer is 1, so I
write: 127 – 64 = 63

And so on, like this:

63 – 32 = 31
31 – 16 = 15
15 – 8 = 7

So, I used all 8 binary spaces to calculate the 255 in decimal, to be 11111111
in binary. The last octet is a 0, so 0 in binary is 0 but we write 00000000. As
you get more experience you will already know that eight 1's in binary equals
255 in decimal.

The total subnet mask in binary is:

11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000

So, here is our IP address and subnet mask in binary:

00000001 00000001 00000001 00000001
11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000

Calculating the Network ID

The network device on which you configured this IP addressing information

must know what its network ID is. The network ID tells the device what its
local network is. If the destination IP address for the network device with
which this network device is trying to communicate is not on its local network,
that traffic is sent to the default gateway. Thus, the default gateway is used
only if the destination for the traffic your device is sending is not on your local

To calculate the Network ID, start off with the IP address and subnet mask in
binary, from above:

IP Address 00000001 00000001 00000001 00000001

Subnet Mask 11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000

Perform a logical AND on these. A logical AND is a math function where you
look at each row and calculate an answer based on the following rules:

• 0 and 0 = 0
• 0 and 1 = 0
• 1 and 1 = 1

In our case, this is the answer you get:

IP Address 00000001 00000001 00000001 00000001

Subnet Mask 11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000
Network ID 00000001 00000001 00000001 00000000

Using the AND rules, I look at the first 0 in the IP address and the first 1 in the
subnet mask. I see that, according to the rules, a 0 and a 1 = 0. That is how I
calculated the first 0 in the network ID. To continue, I go from left to right,
calculating each row.

Notice that the only difference between the IP address and network ID is in
the last number of the last octet. Now, to get the Network ID in decimal, we
convert this back. This is a simple example, so converting it back is easy. The
00000001 in binary is converted to 1 in decimal. In the last octet, the
00000000 is converted to 0. This makes our network ID:

So, when the network device wants to communicate with a host that has the
IP address of, it compares this with its network ID and finds that this
host is on the local network. The network device can then communicate
directly with it because it is on the network. If the network device
wants to communicate with host, however, it finds that this is NOT on
its local network (the network) and it sends this traffic to the default

These examples are, of course, very simplified, since this topic can get very
complex when you begin subnetting networks and using variable-length
subnet masks.

Article Summary

Here is what we have learned:

• Binary is a numbering system using only 1 and 0.

• Use the binary conversion chart to convert from binary to decimal and
• Your network device/computer calculates the Network ID using the IP
address and subnet mask it is provided.
• To calculate the Network ID, the computer performs a math calculation
called a "logical AND."
• A default gateway is not required for a device that will not communicate
outside its local network.

About the author:

David Davis (CCIE #9369, CWNA, MCSE, CISSP, Linux+, CEH) has been in
the IT industry for 15 years. Currently, he manages a group of
systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and
authors IT-related material in his spare time. He has written over fifty articles,
eight practice tests and three video courses and has co-authored one book.
His website is at

- Binary describes a numbering scheme in which there are only two
possible values for each digit: 0 and 1.� The term also refers to any digital
encoding/decoding system in which there are exactly two possible states.� In
digital data memory, storage, processing, and communications, the 0 and 1
values are sometimes called "low" and "high," respectively.

Binary numbers look strange when they are written out directly.� This is
because the digits' weight increases by powers of 2, rather than by powers of
10.� In a digital numeral, the digit furthest to the right is the "ones" digit; the
next digit to the left is the "twos" digit; next comes the "fours" digit, then the
"eights" digit, then the "16s" digit, then the "32s" digit, and so on.� The
decimal equivalent of a binary number can be found by summing all the
digits.� For example, the binary 10101 is equivalent to the decimal 1 + 4 + 16
= 21:





BINARY = 10101

The numbers from decimal 0 through 15 in decimal, binary, octal, and

hexadecimal form are listed below.

1. What do you need to know about addresses?

You probably know what an IP address is: a number that identifies that device
on the network. But what else do you need to know? IP addresses are made
up of 32 bits (IPv4 addresses, that is). We normally think of an IP address as
something like, but really this can be translated into eight binary bits
(see Binary-to-Decimal Conversion for more information). Each set of binary
bits can represent only the numbers zero through 255. That is why your IP
addresses can range only from to

By the way, the IP address is called the "all ones" network
because in binary it is represented by 32 numeral ones (1s). The all ones
address is used to send a packet to all devices on all networks (as long as it
isn't stopped by a router first).

Traditionally, IP addresses were broken up into classes, but those classes

aren't used much any more unless you are taking a certification exam. We will
learn more about classes below.

Most importantly, IP addresses must be unique on your network. If two

devices have the exact same IP address, you have an IP address conflict.
When that happens, either device or both devices will not work on the
network. Commonly, DHCP is used to dynamically allocate IP addresses in
hopes of preventing address duplication and easing the administrative burden
of static IP addressing.

2. What is a subnet mask?

A subnet mask is what tells your computer (or other network device) what
portion of the IP address is used to represent your network and what part is
used to represent hosts (other computers) on your network. For example, if
you have an IP address of and a subnet mask of, the
255s mask off the first three 1s. If you did the logical "AND" (the calculation
your computer does -- see Binary-to-Decimal Conversion for more
information), you would find out that the network ID for this network is
Where the 0 is located, you could fill in hosts numbered 1 to 254. For
example, the first host on your network is and the last host is

Of special note when looking at the number of hosts in a network is this: The
first IP address in a network is the network address and the last IP address is
always the broadcast address. That's why I couldn't use IP address
and IP address These are special, reserved addresses, but some
computers will allow you to use the network address as a real computer

"Subnetting" is breaking up a single network into smaller networks. To do this,

you add more bits (more numbers) to the subnet mask. Traditionally, we are
used to seeing subnet masks that look like,, or However, a subnet mask might also look like or In both of these cases, it is obvious that the network has
been subnetted to break a single network into smaller networks.

3. What is the difference between "classful" and "classless" IP


When the concept of IP addressing was first thought up, it was decided that IP
addresses would be put into classes. These classes are:

Class IP address range Default subnet mask

A to
B to
C to

Today, these default subnet masks aren't much used except as a point of
reference and trivia. For example, if I said that your IP address was but didn't tell you the subnet mask, it would be safe to assume
that your subnet mask is because that IP address falls into the
Class C range. This is also important when you take some certification tests.

In real life, an IP address today could have any legal subnet mask. For
example, you may have an IP address of with a subnet mask of Or you may have an IP address of with a
subnet mask of Sometimes, people will say things like "I need an
entire Class C block of addresses." This just means that they want 254
contiguous and usable IP addresses.

The term "classful" means that the IP address or software is assuming that IP
addresses fall into these classes and uses the default subnet mask shown. If
a routing protocol, like RIP, is classful, it has trouble with the IP addresses that
don't use the default subnet masks.

On the other hand, a "classless" routing protocol, like RIP version 2, doesn't
assume that IP addresses have their default subnet masks. Today, you should
assume that all network devices are classless unless you find that they are
not (like routing protocols RIP or IGRP, or a very old computer operating

4. What is a default gateway?

Contrary to popular belief, a default gateway is not a required piece of IP

address configuration on any computer. However, if you want to access
devices outside of your local network (such as devices on the Internet), a
default gateway is required.

A default gateway is where a computer sends requests to IP addresses that

are not on its local network. How does the computer know what is and what is
not on its local network? As discussed above, the subnet mask is what the
computer uses to know what is and what is not on its local network. Say, for
example, your IP address is and your subnet mask is,
and you make a Web request to Because of your subnet mask, your
local area network is the network. Meaning anything that is
through 254 is on your local network. Because you are requesting,
which is not on your local network, that packet would be sent to your default

5. What are private IP addresses?

The private IP address space is defined by RFC1918. In this RFC, it says that
no public (take that as "no Internet") devices will use or recognize the
following IP addresses:

• to (10/8 prefix)

• to (172.16/12 prefix)
• to (192.168/16 prefix)

Your IP address may be the same on your PC as someone else's if you have
a private IP address. These ranges of IP addresses are available for anyone
to use on their own internal (private) network. There is no need to keep them
unique. I can have IP address on my home network and so can
everyone else in the world! When I go to make a request to the Internet,
however, that private IP address must be converted into a public IP address or
else the Internet router I make the request to will just throw my request away
(because I have a private IP address). Network Address Translation (NAT) is
what performs this public-to-private translation (see RFC1631 and RFC2663
for more information on NAT).

Private IP addresses are there to reduce the need for more public IP
addresses. An unintentional consequence is that they provide a tiny bit of

So, if I am trying to FTP to your computer on the Internet and you tell me that
your IP address is, I will tell you "No, I need your public IP
address, not your private IP address."


- A subnet (short for "subnetwork") is an identifiably separate part of an

organization's network. Typically, a subnet may represent all the machines at
one geographic location, in one building, or on the same local area network
(LAN). Having an organization's network divided into subnets allows it to be
connected to the Internet with a single shared network address. Without
subnets, an organization could get multiple connections to the Internet, one for
each of its physically separate subnetworks, but this would require an
unnecessary use of the limited number of network numbers the Internet has to
assign. It would also require that Internet routing tables on gateways outside
the organization would need to know about and have to manage routing that
could and should be handled within an organization.

The Internet is a collection of networks whose users communicate with each

other. Each communication carries the address of the source and destination
networks and the particular machine within the network associated with the
user or host computer at each end. This address is called the IP address
(Internet Protocol address). This 32-bit IP address has two parts: one part
identifies the network (with the network number) and the other part identifies
the specific machine or host within the network (with the host number). An
organization can use some of the bits in the machine or host part of the
address to identify a specific subnet. Effectively, the IP address then contains
three parts: the network number, the subnet number, and the machine number.

The standard procedure for creating and identifying subnets is provided in

Internet Request for Comments 950.

The IP Address

The 32-bit IP address (we have a separate definition of it with IP address) is

often depicted as a dot address (also called dotted quad notation) - that is, four
groups (or quads) of decimal numbers separated by periods. Here's an

Each of the decimal numbers represents a string of eight binary digits. Thus,
the above IP address really is this string of 0s and 1s:


As you can see, we inserted periods between each eight-digit sequence just
as we did for the decimal version of the IP address. Obviously, the decimal
version of the IP address is easier to read and that's the form most commonly

Some portion of the IP address represents the network number or address and
some portion represents the local machine address (also known as the host
number or address). IP addresses can be one of several classes, each
determining how many bits represent the network number and how many
represent the host number. The most common class used by large
organizations (Class B) allows 16 bits for the network number and 16 for the
host number. Using the above example, here's how the IP address is divided:

<--Network address--><--Host address-->

130.5 . 5.25
If you wanted to add subnetting to this address, then some portion (in this
example, eight bits) of the host address could be used for a subnet address.

<--Network address--><--Subnet address--><--Host address-->

130.5 . 5 . 25

To simplify this explanation, we've divided the subnet into a neat eight bits but
an organization could choose some other scheme using only part of the third
quad or even part of the fourth quad.

The Subnet Mask

Once a packet has arrived at an organization's gateway or connection point

with its unique network number, it can be routed within the organization's
internal gateways using the subnet number as well. The router knows which
bits to look at (and which not to look at) by looking at a subnet mask. A mask is
simply a screen of numbers that tells you which numbers to look at
underneath. In a binary mask, a "1" over a number says "Look at the number
underneath"; a "0" says "Don't look." Using a mask saves the router having to
handle the entire 32 bit address; it can simply look at the bits selected by the

Using the previous example (which is a very typical case), the combined
network number and subnet number occupy 24 bits or three of the quads. The
appropriate subnet mask carried along with the packet would be:

Or a string of all 1's for the first three quads (telling the router to look at these)
and 0's for the host number (which the router doesn't need to look at). Subnet
masking allows routers to move the packets on more quickly.

If you have the job of creating subnets for an organization (an activity called
subnetting) and specifying subnet masks, your job may be simple or
complicated depending on the size and complexity of your organization and
other factors.