English French
Ethernet was designed in the 1970s at the Palo Alto Research Center [Metcalfe1976]_. The first prototype [#fethernethistory]_ used a coaxial cable as the shared medium and 3 Mbps of bandwidth. Ethernet was improved during the late 1970s and in the 1980s, Digital Equipment, Intel and Xerox published the first official Ethernet specification [DIX]_. This specification defines several important parameters for Ethernet networks. The first decision was to standardize the commercial Ethernet at 10 Mbps. The second decision was the duration of the `slot time`. In Ethernet, a long `slot time` enables networks to span a long distance but forces the host to use a larger minimum frame size. The compromise was a `slot time` of 51.2 microseconds, which corresponds to a minimum frame size of 64 bytes.
The third decision was the frame format. The experimental 3 Mbps Ethernet network built at Xerox used short frames containing 8 bit source and destination addresses fields, a 16 bit type indication, up to 554 bytes of payload and a 16 bit CRC. Using 8 bit addresses was suitable for an experimental network, but it was clearly too small for commercial deployments. Although the initial Ethernet specification [DIX]_ only allowed up to 1024 hosts on an Ethernet network, it also recommended three important changes compared to the networking technologies that were available at that time. The first change was to require each host attached to an Ethernet network to have a globally unique datalink layer address. Until then, datalink layer addresses were manually configured on each host. [DP1981]_ went against that state of the art and noted "`Suitable installation-specific administrative procedures are also needed for assigning numbers to hosts on a network. If a host is moved from one network to another it may be necessary to change its host number if its former number is in use on the new network. This is easier said than done, as each network must have an administrator who must record the continuously changing state of the system (often on a piece of paper tacked to the wall !). It is anticipated that in future office environments, hosts locations will change as often as telephones are changed in present-day offices.`" The second change introduced by Ethernet was to encode each address as a 48 bits field [DP1981]_. 48 bit addresses were huge compared to the networking technologies available in the 1980s, but the huge address space had several advantages [DP1981]_ including the ability to allocate large blocks of addresses to manufacturers. Eventually, other LAN technologies opted for 48 bits addresses as well [IEEE802]_ . The third change introduced by Ethernet was the definition of `broadcast` and `multicast` addresses. The need for `multicast` Ethernet was foreseen in [DP1981]_ and thanks to the size of the addressing space it was possible to reserve a large block of multicast addresses for each manufacturer.
The datalink layer addresses used in Ethernet networks are often called MAC addresses. They are structured as shown in the figure below. The first bit of the address indicates whether the address identifies a network adapter or a multicast group. The upper 24 bits are used to encode an Organization Unique Identifier (OUI). This OUI identifies a block of addresses that has been allocated by the secretariat [#foui]_ that is responsible for the uniqueness of Ethernet addresses to a manufacturer. Once a manufacturer has received an OUI, it can build and sell products with one of the 16 million addresses in this block.
The original 10 Mbps Ethernet specification [DIX]_ defined a simple frame format where each frame is composed of five fields. The Ethernet frame starts with a preamble (not shown in the figure below) that is used by the physical layer of the receiver to synchronize its clock with the sender's clock. The first field of the frame is the destination address. As this address is placed at the beginning of the frame, an Ethernet interface can quickly verify whether it is the frame recipient and if not, cancel the processing of the arriving frame. The second field is the source address. While the destination address can be either a unicast or a multicast/broadcast address, the source address must always be a unicast address. The third field is a 16 bits integer that indicates which type of network layer packet is carried inside the frame. This field is often called the `EtherType`. Frequently used `EtherType` values [#fethertype]_ include `0x0800` for IPv4, `0x86DD` for IPv6 [#fipv6ether]_ and `0x806` for the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP).
The fourth part of the Ethernet frame is the payload. The minimum length of the payload is 46 bytes to ensure a minimum frame size, including the header of 512 bits. The Ethernet payload cannot be longer than 1500 bytes. This size was found reasonable when the first Ethernet specification was written. At that time, Xerox had been using its experimental 3 Mbps Ethernet that offered 554 bytes of payload and :rfc:`1122` required a minimum MTU of 572 bytes for IPv4. 1500 bytes was large enough to support these needs without forcing the network adapters to contain overly large memories. Furthermore, simulations and measurement studies performed in Ethernet networks revealed that CSMA/CD was able to achieve a very high utilization. This is illustrated in the figure below based on [SH1980]_, which shows the channel utilization achieved in Ethernet networks containing different numbers of hosts that are sending frames of different sizes.
Impact of the frame length on the maximum channel utilisation [SH1980]_
The last field of the Ethernet frame is a 32 bit Cyclical Redundancy Check (CRC). This CRC is able to catch a much larger number of transmission errors than the Internet checksum used by IP, UDP and TCP [SGP98]_. The format of the Ethernet frame is shown below.
Ethernet DIX frame format
Where should the CRC be located in a frame ?
The transport and datalink layers usually chose different strategies to place their CRCs or checksums. Transport layer protocols usually place their CRCs or checksums in the segment header. Datalink layer protocols sometimes place their CRC in the frame header, but often in a trailer at the end of the frame. This choice reflects implementation assumptions, but also influences performance :rfc:`893`. When the CRC is placed in the trailer, as in Ethernet, the datalink layer can compute it while transmitting the frame and insert it at the end of the transmission. All Ethernet interfaces use this optimization today. When the checksum is placed in the header, as in a TCP segment, it is impossible for the network interface to compute it while transmitting the segment. Some network interfaces provide hardware assistance to compute the TCP checksum, but this is more complex than if the TCP checksum were placed in the trailer [#ftso]_.
The Ethernet frame format shown above is specified in [DIX]_. This is the format used to send both IPv4 :rfc:`894` and IPv6 packets :rfc:`2464`. After the publication of [DIX]_, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) began to standardize several Local Area Network technologies. IEEE worked on several LAN technologies, starting with Ethernet, Token Ring and Token Bus. These three technologies were completely different, but they all agreed to use the 48 bits MAC addresses specified initially for Ethernet [IEEE802]_ . While developing its Ethernet standard [IEEE802.3]_, the IEEE 802.3 working group was confronted with a problem. Ethernet mandated a minimum payload size of 46 bytes, while some companies were looking for a LAN technology that could transparently transport short frames containing only a few bytes of payload. Such a frame can be sent by an Ethernet host by padding it to ensure that the payload is at least 46 bytes long. However since the Ethernet header [DIX]_ does not contain a length field, it is impossible for the receiver to determine how many useful bytes were placed inside the payload field. To solve this problem, the IEEE decided to replace the `Type` field of the Ethernet [DIX]_ header with a length field [#ftypelen]_. This `Length` field contains the number of useful bytes in the frame payload. The payload must still contain at least 46 bytes, but padding bytes are added by the sender and removed by the receiver. In order to add the `Length` field without significantly changing the frame format, IEEE had to remove the `Type` field. Without this field, it is impossible for a receiving host to identify the type of network layer packet inside a received frame. To solve this new problem, IEEE developed a completely new sublayer called the Logical Link Control [IEEE802.2]_. Several protocols were defined in this sublayer. One of them provided a slightly different version of the `Type` field of the original Ethernet frame format. Another contained acknowledgments and retransmissions to provide a reliable service... In practice, [IEEE802.2]_ is never used to support IP in Ethernet networks. The figure below shows the official [IEEE802.3]_ frame format.
Ethernet 802.3 frame format
What is the Ethernet service ?
An Ethernet network provides an unreliable connectionless service. It supports three different transmission modes : `unicast`, `multicast` and `broadcast`. While the Ethernet service is unreliable in theory, a good Ethernet network should, in practice, provide a service that:
delivers frames to their destination with a very high probability of successful delivery
does not reorder the transmitted frames
The first property is a consequence of the utilization of CSMA/CD. The second property is a consequence of the physical organization of the Ethernet network as a shared bus. These two properties are important and all revisions to the Ethernet technology have preserved them.
Several physical layers have been defined for Ethernet networks. The first physical layer, usually called 10Base5, provided 10 Mbps over a thick coaxial cable. The characteristics of the cable and the transceivers that were used then enabled the utilization of 500 meter long segments. A 10Base5 network can also include repeaters between segments.
The second physical layer was 10Base2. This physical layer used a thin coaxial cable that was easier to install than the 10Base5 cable, but could not be longer than 185 meters. A 10BaseF physical layer was also defined to transport Ethernet over point-to-point optical links. The major change to the physical layer was the support of twisted pairs in the 10BaseT specification. Twisted pair cables are traditionally used to support the telephone service in office buildings. Most office buildings today are equipped with structured cabling. Several twisted pair cables are installed between any room and a central telecom closet per building or per floor in large buildings. These telecom closets act as concentration points for the telephone service but also for LANs.