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Why couldn't MAC addresses be used instead of IPv4/6 for networking?
in Data Science & Statistics by Diamond (81,178 points) | 51 views

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The OSI model explains why it doesn't make sense to make routing, a layer 3 concept, decisions based on a physical, layer 2, mechanism.

Modern networking is broken into many different layers to accomplish your end to end communication. Your network card (what is addressed by the mac address - physical address) needs to only be responsible for communicating with peers on it's physical network.

The communication that you are allowed to accomplish with your MAC address is going to be limited to other devices that reside within physical contact to your machine. On the internet, for example, you are not physically connected to each machine. That's why we make use of TCP/IP (a layer 3, logical address) mechanism when we need to communicate with a machine that we are not physically connected to.

IP is an arbitrary numbering scheme imposed in a hierarchical fashion on a group of computers to logically distinguish them as a group (that's what a subnet is). Sending messages between those groups is done by routing tables, themselves divided into multiple levels so that we don't have to keep track of every single subnet.

It's also pretty easy to relate this to another pair of systems. You have a State Issued ID Number, why would you need a mailing address if that ID number is already unique to just you? You need the mailing address because it's an arbitrary system that describes where the unique destination for communications to you should go.

On the other hand, the distribution of MAC addresses across the network is random and completely unrelated to topology. Routes grouping would be impossible, every router would need to keep track of routes for every single device that relays traffic trough it. That is what layer 2 switches do, and that does not scale well beyond a certain number of hosts.
by Diamond (81,178 points)

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