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IP Addresses, Subnet Masks, and Default Gateways: Page 2 of 4

Subnet masks

As the name indicates, the subnet mask is used to subdivide a network into smaller, more manageable chunks. And when I say "more manageable," I'm mostly referring to the amount of broadcast traffic that can be tolerated within a network. As described above, in order for a sending device to transmit data to a receiving device, the sender needs to know where the destination is. The destination will either be on the same subnetwork as the source, or on some other subnetwork.

In our example, let's assume that the source IP address is while our destination IP address remains In order to determine if the devices are on the same subnet, we need the subnet mask. The mask designates where the network boundaries reside. Here, our subnet mask is This can also be written as a /24 network mask. To understand the IP subnetwork boundaries, let's look at the IP address and subnet mask for our destination device:

As you can see, the four octets of the IP address align with the four octets of the subnet mask. The 255 octets in the subnet mask tell us that the corresponding numbers in the IP address are static and never change. Therefore, we know that the first three octets -- 192.168.40 of our IP address -- designate the network portion of our destination IP. And since the fourth octet is 0, that means this is the host octet and that individual devices can be assigned any number from 1-254. If that's the case, then our source IP address of means these two devices belong to the same subnet.

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