Friday, April 29, 2011

Back to Basics - The Difference between Unicast, Broadcast and Multicast

Unicast
Unicast packets are sent from host to host. The communication is from a single host to another single host. There is one device transmitting a message destined for one receiver.

Broadcast

Broadcast is when a single device is transmitting a message to all other devices in a given address range. This broadcast could reach all hosts on the subnet, all subnets, or all hosts on all subnets. Broadcast packets have the host (and/or subnet) portion of the address set to all ones. By design, most modern routers will block IP broadcast traffic and restrict it to the local subnet.


Multicast

Multicast is a special protocol for use with IP. Multicast enables a single device to communicate with a specific set of hosts, not defined by any standard IP address and mask combination. This allows for communication that resembles a conference call. Anyone from anywhere can join the conference, and everyone at the conference hears what the speaker has to say. The speaker's message isn't broadcasted everywhere, but only to those in the conference call itself. A special set of addresses is used for multicast communication.

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