MAC Address vs IP Address: What is the Difference?

We often use the terms MAC address and IP address interchangeably — sometimes even confusing the primary differences between the two. In this quick guide, we show you how these addresses compare by mainly focusing on their technical applications.

What’s the Difference between a MAC address and IP address?

In short, you can classify these as the digital address to refer to the IP address, and physical address to refer to the MAC address.

MAC address means Media Access Control address. It’s a hardware identifier which is given to each device during manufacture to help make it unique from other devices it will share networks with. It’s unique in such a way that you can never find two devices with the same MAC address connected on a single network.

The IP address, on the other hand, means Internet Protocol address. It’s a numerical identifier that’s used to identify each device connected to a network which relies on Internet Protocol to allow communication.

You can visit this page to see what your IP address is.

Right off the bat, the core difference between MAC, and IP address is that the MAC address is basically a hardware address for each computer. It is assigned during manufacture.

They’re all critical in the roles they’re designed for, and none can replace the other.

It’s worth noting that you can only get the IP address from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). This digital address is not assigned to all devices in your home.

Instead, it’s assigned to your network router so it can forward data to all other devices individually connected to the network. Every time you connect your device to the network router, a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) assigns it a private IP address which is only visible on your local network.

The role of this address here is to identify each device connected to the subnet in your home. To communicate via the internet and get information from the outside world though, you will need a new address, i.e., the MAC address to make networking easy.

Each time you send requests or queries over the internet, the MAC address travels across multiple routers and servers to its final destination. During this process, it changes constantly and gets updated each time it lands on a new router before getting to the final destination.

The router then tracks all outbound requests, connecting them with private IP requests so it’s easy to determine which device it should be forwarding the packets to.

Can I Hide My MAC Address and IP Address?

Considering that the MAC address doesn’t travel past your subnet/local network, it’s impossible to hide it. Nevertheless, there are network adapters you could use to override the MAC address, but still, these adapters will identify the devices in your local network.

As for the IP addresses, which travel for networking, it’s easy to use anonymization tools to mask your IP and make it appear like coming from a different location/address. But then, there are IP addresses which can still reach your computer.

In terms of safety, there are online tools that can read and send your IP addresses, and MAC addresses even if you mask or override them. Here’s a catch though;

Irrespective of the mission behind the person revealing your IP or MAC address, there’s nothing he/she can do with them unless you’re connected on the same network with them. The masking of IP addresses here is only effective when you’re trying to cover up your trails or access geo-restricted sites.

To achieve this, you will need a reliable VPN which will hide your identity even when you’re browsing the deep web or torrenting. Take your time analyzing comparisons of VPN services to find what fits you the best.

But it doesn’t end there, though…

Good VPN will also spare you the headaches of marketers who trace your activities online to track you with annoying ads here, and there. It also encrypts your information when you’re using a public WiFi hotspot so hackers cannot access the data you’re sending.

Finally, if you’re looking to stay safe online, the best bet is to ensure that you use powerful antivirus and antimalware software and ensure that the system is up to date throughout.

Wrap up

Both the IP address and MAC address are critical for your device to complete connection and communicate via the internet. They’re independent but work together to ensure a smooth connection.