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Data Link Layer Overview

The data link layer is Layer 2 in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. The data link layer is responsible for transmitting data across a physical network link. Each physical medium has link-layer specifications for network and link-layer protocol characteristics such as physical addressing, network topology, error notification, frame sequencing, and flow control.

Physical Addressing

Physical addressing is different from network addressing. Network addresses differentiate between nodes or devices in a network, allowing traffic to be routed or switched through the network. In contrast, physical addressing identifies devices at the link-layer level, differentiating between individual devices on the same physical medium. The primary form of physical addressing is the media access control (MAC) address.

Network Topology

Network topology specifications identify how devices are linked in a network. Some media allow devices to be connected by a bus topology, while others require a ring topology. The bus topology is used by Ethernet technologies, which are supported on Juniper Networks devices.

Error Notification

The data link layer provides error notifications that alert higher-layer protocols that an error has occurred on the physical link. Examples of link-level errors include the loss of a signal, the loss of a clocking signal across serial connections, or the loss of the remote endpoint on a T1 or T3 link.

Frame Sequencing

The frame sequencing capabilities of the data link layer allow frames that are transmitted out of sequence to be reordered on the receiving end of a transmission. The integrity of the packet can then be verified by means of the bits in the Layer 2 header, which is transmitted along with the data payload.

Flow Control

Flow control within the data link layer allows receiving devices on a link to detect congestion and notify their upstream and downstream neighbors. The neighbor devices relay the congestion information to their higher-layer protocols so that the flow of traffic can be altered or rerouted.

Data Link Sublayers

The data link layer is divided into two sublayers: Logical Link Control (LLC) and Media Access Control (MAC). The LLC sublayer manages communications between devices over a single link of a network. This sublayer supports fields in link-layer frames that enable multiple higher-layer protocols to share a single physical link.

The MAC sublayer governs protocol access to the physical network medium. Through the MAC addresses that are typically assigned to all ports on a device, multiple devices on the same physical link can uniquely identify one another at the data link layer. MAC addresses are used in addition to the network addresses that are typically configured manually on ports within a network.

MAC Addressing

A MAC address is the serial number permanently stored in a device adapter to uniquely identify the device. MAC addresses operate at the data link layer, while IP addresses operate at the network layer. The IP address of a device can change as the device is moved around a network to different IP subnets, but the MAC address remains the same, because it is physically tied to the device.

Within an IP network, devices match each MAC address to its corresponding configured IP address by means of the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP). ARP maintains a table with a mapping for each MAC address in the network.

Most Layer 2 networks use one of three primary numbering spaces—MAC-48, EUI-48 (Extended Unique Identifier), and EUI-64—which are all globally unique. MAC-48 and EUI-48 spaces each use 48-bit addresses, and EUI-64 spaces use a 64-bit addresses, but all three use the same numbering format. MAC-48 addresses identify network hardware, and EUI-48 addresses identify other devices and software.

The Ethernet and ATM technologies supported on devices use the MAC-48 address space. IPv6 uses the EUI-64 address space.

MAC-48 addresses are the most commonly used MAC addresses in most networks. These addresses are 12-digit hexadecimal numbers (48 bits in length) that typically appear in one of the following formats:

The first three octets (MM:MM:MM or MM-MM-MM) are the ID number of the hardware manufacturer. Manufacturer ID numbers are assigned by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The last three octets (SS:SS:SS or SS-SS-SS) make up the serial number for the device, which is assigned by the manufacturer. For example, an Ethernet interface card might have a MAC address of 00:05:85:c1:a6:a0.


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