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What is Ethernet in Computer Networks?

Author : Deepanshu
Last Modified: February 29, 2024 
Blog featured image with text - What is Ethernet in Computer Networks and an image of ethernet.


Ethernet is a technology that enables devices to communicate over a wired network. It is widely utilized in area networks (LANs) where computers, printers, scanners, and various other devices are interconnected both with each other and with the internet. Ethernet is also employed in wide area networks (WANs) where multiple LANs are linked over distances. In this blog, we will discuss about the Ethernet in computer networks, its history, its purpose, and how it is different from Internet.

What is Ethernet in Computer Networks?

Ethernet serves as a standard that defines how data is transmitted and received across a network. It utilizes CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection) protocol, meaning that every device on the network listens for signals before transmitting data and pauses if it detects any collision with the data of another device. Ethernet in Computer Network operates in two layers of the OSI model: the physical layer and the data link layer.

Ethernet employs a data unit known as a frame that comprises three parts: header, payload, and trailer. The header carries information such as source and destination address, while the payload contains the transmitted data. Lastly, the trailer holds a checksum to validate the integrity of the data.

Ethernet supports several network protocols and technologies that improve its functionality such as Internet Protocol (IP) for addressing and routing packets in interconnected networks, and the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) for reliable, connection-oriented communications between devices. Although wireless networks have replaced Ethernet but wired connections are more secure and less susceptible to interference than wireless networks. This is the main reason why so many organizations continue to use Ethernet.

History of Ethernet

Ethernet was developed in the early 1970s by a team of engineers at Xerox PARC under the supervision of Robert Metcalfe. He was inspired by the ALOHAnet wireless network. When discussing its commercial use, it was introduced in 1980 and standardized by IEEE in 1983 as 802.3. Ethernet has evolved to support various functionalities such as higher speeds, more device connectivity, and longer distance connectivity while maintaining backward compatibility.

Below, we have shown the evolution of Ethernet.

An image showing the history of Ethernet from 1972 to 2017.

Now that we have a basic understanding of Ethernet in computer networks, let’s now discuss the purpose of Ethernet.

Why use Ethernet in Computer Network?

Ethernet serves as an efficient means of transmitting data. This transmission of data takes place between computers or devices within a network. It facilitates data communication through frames that contain source and destination addresses, data payload, and error detection codes. Additionally, Ethernet supports the broadcasting and multicasting of data to recipients.

Furthermore, Ethernet is compatible with different types of data and protocols like IP (Internet Protocol), TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), UDP (User Datagram Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), and others. This technology also ensures network scalability and flexibility by supporting topologies such as bus, star, ring, tree, mesh, and hybrid configurations.

When we discuss the application of Ethernet in Computer Network, there are many. Some of these are file sharing, web browsing, email services, video conferencing, online gaming experiences, streaming media platforms, cloud computing services, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Let’s discuss the different types of Ethernet in detail.

Types of Ethernet in Computer Networks

Different types of Ethernets are utilized to connect devices and allow data transfer. Below, we have discussed the most common types of Ethernet.

Fast Ethernet

This particular type of Ethernet network employs cables known as twisted pair or CAT5. It usually allows data transfer at a speed of around 100 Mbps. Fast Ethernet utilizes both fiber optic and twisted pair cables to enable communication. It can be further categorized into three types. These are:

  • 100BASE TX
  • 100BASE FX
  • 100BASE T4

Gigabit Ethernet

Gigabit Ethernet is an upgraded version of Fast Ethernet and is more prevalent in today’s networks. It enables data transfer at a speed of 1000 Mbps or 1 Gbps. Similar to Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet also utilizes fiber optic and twisted pair cables for communication. Advanced cables like CAT5e or CAT6 are often used to transfer data at speeds up to 10 Gbps.

10 Gigabit Ethernet

10 Gigabit Ethernet is an advancement from Gigabit Ethernet. It is mostly used in high-performance networks such as data centers or backbone networks. It allows data transfer at a blistering speed of 10 Gbps or 10,000 Mbps. It relies on fiber optic cables such as single-mode or multimode fibers for communication purposes. It can be further classified into four types. These are:

  • 10GBASE SR
  • 10GBASE LR
  • 10GBASE ER
  • 10GBASE ZR

Switched Ethernet

A switch ethernet is a device used to connect devices like computers, printers, and servers using Ethernet cables. Its main function is to filter data packets based on the destination device’s MAC address. It supports data transfer at 10Mbps to 100Mbps for fast Ethernet and 1000Mbps to 10Gbps for the latest Internet.

Let’s now understand the functioning of Ethernet in computer network.

How Does Ethernet Work?

Below, we have discussed the functioning of Ethernet in computer network.

  • Every device connected to the network has an identifier known as a MAC (Media Access Control) address. This address consists of a 48-bit number that helps identify each device.
  • In addition to the MAC address, each device has an IP (Internet Protocol) address. The IP address, either 32-bit or 128-bit in length, plays a role in identifying devices on the Internet.
  • When one device wishes to send data to another device within the network, it first checks if the destination device is on the same network. This is done by comparing the network portion of their IP addresses. If they are part of the same network, the sender uses ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) to obtain and determine the MAC address of the intended recipient. However, if they belong to different networks, the sender relies on a default gateway—a router connecting networks.
  • After that, the sender encapsulates the data into an Ethernet frame containing details such as source and destination MAC addresses, data type information, payload content, and checksum validation. Finally, the sender broadcasts this encapsulated frame to all devices within its network using CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access, with Collision Detection).
  • The device then checks the frame to see if their MAC address matches the destination MAC address. If it does, they accept the frame and process it accordingly. If not, they simply ignore the frame.
  • The destination MAC address then decapsulates the frame as it was earlier encapsulated. It then checks the checksum in order to verify if the data is corrupted or not.

This is how Ethernet in Computer Networks works.

Ethernet Standards

Here are the different standards of Ethernet:

  • Ethernet II: It is a studied version also known as DIX (Digital, Intel, and Xerox), which is rewritten to 802.3. A standard Ethernet network shares data at speeds up to 10 megabits per second (10 Mbps).
  • Fast Ethernet / 100BASE-T / 802.3u: It is designed to increase data sharing speeds when needed, and the speed range is from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps, with only minimal changes to the current cabling infrastructure. There are three types of Fast Ethernet:
    • 100BASE-TX: It is supported by Level 5 UTP cables and is the most popular of its close compatibility with the 10BASE-T Ethernet standard.
    • 100BASE-FX: It is supported by Fiber-optic cables.
    • 100BASE-T4: It is supported by Level 3 UTP cables using two additional wires.
  • Gigabit Ethernet: Gigabit Ethernet, also known as 1000BASE-T or 802.3z/802.3ab, was introduced to meet the need for faster communications with multimedia and Voice over IP (VoIP) applications.
  • 10 Gigabit Ethernet / 802.3ae:  It is the latest Ethernet standard and is ten times faster than Gigabit Ethernet through a nominal rate of 10Gbit/s.

Key Elements of Ethernet Connection

Here are the key elements of Ethernet Connection –

  • Ethernet Protocol: The Ethernet protocol was introduced by Xerox in the 1970s and is a series of standards that handle data transmission between Ethernet elements.
  • Ethernet Port: Ethernet ports or we can say jacks or sockets are open on the computer network infrastructure, and the Ethernet cable plugs into it. Cables with RJ-45 connectors are supported, and most computers connect to the device via an Ethernet connector. An Ethernet network adapter, or Ethernet card, is connected to a computer’s Ethernet port on the motherboard. Routers have multiple Ethernet ports to support a variety of wired network devices.
  • Ethernet adapter: A card or chip plugs into a slot on the motherboard. In the past, these were always used with desktop computers, and now Ethernet is integrated into the chipsets of laptop and desktop motherboards. An Ethernet adapter connects a computer to a local area network (LAN).
  • An Ethernet cable: The network cable connects your computer to a modem, router, or network switch. It consists of RJ45 connections, internal cabling, and a plastic jacket.

Advantages of Ethernet in Computer Network

Some of the advantages of Ethernet are –

  • Ethernet does not require much cost to build, so it is relatively inexpensive compared to other connecting computer systems.
  • In Ethernet, maintenance and administration are easier.
  • The quality of data transfer in the Ethernet network is good.
  • No switch or hub is required in this network.
  • Advanced versions of Ethernet, such as gigabit and wireless transfer data with 1-100 Gbps speeds.

Disadvantages of Ethernet in Computer Network

Some disadvantages associated with Ethernet are –

  • The full-duplex data communication code is not supported by version 100Base-T4.
  • Ethernet is unsuitable for traffic-intensive applications because increasing the traffic rate affects efficiency, i.e., Ethernet becomes slower.
  • Recipients may not be allowed to share any details after receiving the packet.
  • In Ethernet networks, it is difficult to troubleshoot which cable or node within the web is affecting the actual problem.
  • It isn’t easy to set up a wireless Ethernet network without experience in the networking field.
  • It is not suitable for real-time applications because it provides a non-deterministic service.

Many students get confused between the Internet and Ethernet. Let’s compare them.

Difference Between Internet and Ethernet

Below, we have explained the difference between the two in a tabular form based on different factors.

MediumVarious, such as fiber optic, satellite, wireless, etc.Cables, such as twisted pair, coaxial, fiber optic, etc.
SpeedDepends on the bandwidth and latency of the connectionDepends on the type and quality of the cable and the network card
SecurityLess secure, as data can be intercepted or modified by hackers or malicious softwareMore secure, as data is transmitted within a closed network and can be encrypted or authenticated
CostHigher, as it requires paying for an internet service provider (ISP) and a routerLower, as it only requires buying cables and switches

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is Ethernet used for?

Ethernet is used to help devices communicate with each other within a network.

Q2. What is the full form of Ethernet?

Ethernet Stands for Ethernet Local Area Network Standard. It supports different data transfer rates, some of which are 10Mbps, 100Mbps, 1000Mbps, or up to 10 Gbps.

Q3. What is the Ethernet cable?

An Ethernet cable is a type of network cable that connects devices such as computers, routers, and switches. It allows data transmission over a wired network.

Q4. What is standard Ethernet?

Standard Ethernet is a LAN technology that uses 10Base5 coaxial cables and operates at 10 Mbps. It provides service up to the data link layer.


Ethernet is a computer networking technology that allows data transmission between devices in a network using cables or wireless signals. Over time, Ethernet has evolved to achieve speeds and capacities in order to meet application requirements and adapt to various environments. In this blog, we have explained the Ethernet’s history, types, and functioning.

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