A Simple Breakdown: Mac Address, DNS, IP Address, Gateway

A Simple Breakdown: Mac Address, DNS, IP Address, Gateway

Welcome to another edition of “In Layman’s Terms,” where we break down complex topics into accessible language. Today, we’ll dive into the world of networking.

Mac Address

An address that is unique to the network adapter on your computer is called a Media Access Control Address, or MAC address. Think of it as a way to identify your system when it’s connected to a local network.

Usually, your MAC address is only used by your Router to identify your system. There are a few other processes that may use it, but they’re not really important for this definition.

No two MAC addresses are the same, and they rarely ever change. Now you might be wondering, how is a MAC address different from an IP address? I’ll explain that in a bit.

Let’s use a metaphor to understand this better: Imagine mail delivery. An IP address is like your home address, which can change. But a MAC address is your physical identity, like your name and gender. It’s unique to you. Just as a MAC address helps a router deliver data to your system, your name helps a mail carrier know who to deliver mail to. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it should help us understand.


DNS stands for “Domain Name System.” Computers use IP addresses to find and connect to each other, including the servers that host websites. The problem is, IP addresses are difficult to remember.

That’s where the Domain Name System/Service comes in. Instead of memorizing an IP address, you can simply type in the domain name of a website, like www.google.com. The Domain Name System will translate the domain name into an IP address so that your computer can find the corresponding location without you needing to remember a string of numbers.

To put it simpler, if you see an error message like “Your DNS appears unable to resolve IP addresses,” it means that the DNS couldn’t match the domain name you typed with an IP address. Let me give you a somewhat imperfect analogy: think of the DNS as an automated phonebook. When you type in a last name, it gives you the phone number associated with it.

It’s not the best analogy, but it gets the idea across.

IP Address

An IP, or Internet Protocol, address is how your computer is identified and found on the internet. It’s a dynamic value that can change over time. There are two types of IP addresses: local and global. A local IP works within a single network, while a global IP works across the entire internet. When trying to locate a system online, you’ll need the global IP, among other things.

Let’s imagine you’re visiting a website. Your computer sends a request to your router, which then forwards the request to the website. The website responds by sending data to the global IP address of your router, which in turn sends the data to your computer’s local IP address. Does that make sense?

Think of a local IP address as your home address and the global IP address as the location of your home city. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it works.


A Gateway is like the doorway between networks. It’s where one network connects to another network or to the Internet. In the past, routers were sometimes called Gateways. These days, we use the term “gateway IP” to talk about the IP address of the router that joins a network to the Internet.

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