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In the seven-layer OSI model of computer networking, media access control (MAC) data communication protocol is a sublayer of the data link layer (layer 2). The MAC sublayer provides addressing and channel access control mechanisms that make it possible for several terminals or network nodes to communicate within a multiple access network that incorporates a shared medium, e.g. Ethernet. The hardware that implements the MAC is referred to as a media access controller.
The MAC sublayer acts as an interface between the logical link control (LLC) sublayer and the network's physical layer. The MAC layer emulates a full-duplex logical communication channel in a multi-point network. This channel may provide unicast, multicast or broadcast communication service.
According to IEEE Std 802-2001 section 6.2.3 "MAC sublayer", the primary functions performed by the MAC layer are:
The local network addresses used in IEEE 802 networks and FDDI networks are called MAC addresses; they are based on the addressing scheme used in early Ethernet implementations. A MAC address is a unique serial number. Once a MAC address has been assigned to a particular network interface (typically at time of manufacture), that device should be uniquely identifiable amongst all other network devices in the world. This guarantees that each device in a network will have a different MAC address (analogous to a street address). This makes it possible for data packets to be delivered to a destination within a subnetwork, i.e. hosts interconnected by some combination of repeaters, hubs, bridges and switches, but not by network layer routers. Thus, for example, when an IP packet reaches its destination (sub)network, the destination IP address (a layer 3 or network layer concept) is resolved with the Address Resolution Protocol for IPv4, or by Neighbor Discovery Protocol (IPv6) into the MAC address (a layer 2 concept) of the destination host.
The channel access control mechanisms provided by the MAC layer are also known as a multiple access protocol. This makes it possible for several stations connected to the same physical medium to share it. Examples of shared physical media are bus networks, ring networks, hub networks, wireless networks and half-duplex point-to-point links. The multiple access protocol may detect or avoid data packet collisions if a packet mode contention based channel access method is used, or reserve resources to establish a logical channel if a circuit-switched or channelization-based channel access method is used. The channel access control mechanism relies on a physical layer multiplex scheme.
The most widespread multiple access protocol is the contention based CSMA/CD protocol used in Ethernet networks. This mechanism is only utilized within a network collision domain, for example an Ethernet bus network or a hub-based star topology network. An Ethernet network may be divided into several collision domains, interconnected by bridges and switches.
A multiple access protocol is not required in a switched full-duplex network, such as today's switched Ethernet networks, but is often available in the equipment for compatibility reasons.
Examples of common statistical time division multiplexing multiple access protocols for wired multi-drop networks are:
Examples of common multiple access protocols that may be used in packet radio wireless networks are: