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7.4: Special Addresses

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    A few IPv4 addresses represent special cases.

    While the standard IPv4 loopback address is, any IPv4 address beginning with 127 can serve as a loopback address. Logically they all represent the current host. Most hosts are configured to resolve the name “localhost” to However, any loopback address – eg – should work, eg with ping. For an example using, see 7.8 DNS.

    Private addresses are IPv4 addresses intended only for site internal use, eg either behind a NAT firewall or intended to have no Internet connectivity at all. If a packet shows up at any non-private router (eg at an ISP router), with a private IPv4 address as either source or destination address, the packet should be dropped. Three standard private-address blocks have been defined:


    The last block is the one from which addresses are most commonly allocated by DHCP servers (7.10.1 NAT, DHCP and the Small Office) built into NAT routers.

    Broadcast addresses are a special form of IPv4 address intended to be used in conjunction with LAN-layer broadcast. The most common forms are “broadcast to this network”, consisting of all 1-bits, and “broadcast to network D”, consisting of D’s network-address bits followed by all 1-bits for the host bits. If you try to send a packet to the broadcast address of a remote network D, the odds are that some router involved will refuse to forward it, and the odds are even higher that, once the packet arrives at a router actually on network D, that router will refuse to broadcast it. Even addressing a broadcast to one’s own network will fail if the underlying LAN does not support LAN-level broadcast (eg ATM).

    The highly influential early Unix implementation Berkeley 4.2 BSD used 0-bits for the broadcast bits, instead of 1’s. As a result, to this day host bits cannot be all 1-bits or all 0-bits in order to avoid confusion with the IPv4 broadcast address. One consequence of this is that a Class C network has 254 usable host addresses, not 256.

  • 7.3.1 Multicast addresses

    Finally, IPv4 multicast addresses remain as the last remnant of the Class A/B/C strategy: multicast addresses are Class D, with first byte beginning 1110 (meaning that the first byte is, in decimal, 224-239). Multicasting means delivering to a specified set of addresses, preferably by some mechanism more efficient than sending to each address individually. A reasonable goal of multicast would be that no more than one copy of the multicast packet traverses any given link.

    Support for IPv4 multicast requires considerable participation by the backbone routers involved. For example, if hosts A, B and C each connect to different interfaces of router R1, and A wishes to send a multicast packet to B and C, then it is up to R1 to receive the packet, figure out that B and C are the intended recipients, and forward the packet twice, once for B’s interface and once for C’s. R1 must also keep track of what hosts have joined the multicast group and what hosts have left. Due to this degree of router participation, backbone router support for multicasting has not been entirely forthcoming. A discussion of IPv4 multicasting appears in 20 Quality of Service.

  • This page titled 7.4: Special Addresses is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Peter Lars Dordal.

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