What is a MAC address?

And it’s not where Mayor McCheese lives either. A MAC address is used in networking to help identify a specific part of your computer, phone or tablet.MAC stands for Media Access Control address, that it is an entry/exit point for connecting to a network. Every network device is given a unique number, sort of like a serial number. It’s not tied to the phone or computer, it’s just for the network chips. In fact there is a different MAC address for every network chip, so it’s possible that your phone has three or more (one for voice, one for data-over-cellular, one for Wi-Fi, one possibly for Bluetooth, etc.)

MAC addresses are used to help identify a computer when it joins a network. They help the network hardware remember which devices are which so if there are any “special needs” they can be met quickly. They’re different from IP addresses, which aren’t necessarily unique. IP addresses are given out by routers in order to make communication easier, but MAC addresses are forever (at least until you get a new device or a new network card.)

There are so many available MAC addresses that at this point it’s hard to imagine running out of them. If there were a shortage, then manufacturers could look at things like obsolete mobile phones to reclaim a large bunch of them. We’re in no danger of that now, since the current pool of addresses has about 280 trillion possible unique numbers.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.