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Cisco CCNA Certification: Broadcasts, Unicasts, And Multicasts

When you’re getting started on your CCNA, these terms can get pretty confusing.  Learn how to keep them straight, along with other vital CCNA exam information, from Chris Bryant, CCIE #12933.

When you begin your CCNA studies, you get hit with a lot of different networking terms right away that you might not be familiar with. What makes it a little more confusing is that a lot of these terms sound a lot alike. Here, we're going to discuss the differences between broadcasts, multicasts, and unicasts at both the Data Link (Layer 2) and Network (Layer 3) layers of the OSI model. 

A broadcast is simply a unit of information that every other device on the segment will receive. A broadcast is indicated by having every bit of the address set to its highest possible value. Since a hexadecimal bit's highest value is "f", a hexadecimal broadcast is ff-ff-ff-ff-ff-ff (or FF-FF-FF-FF-FF-FF, as the upper case does not affect hex value). The CCNA exam will demand you be very familiar with hex conversions, so if you're not comfortable with these conversions, get comfortable with them before taking the exam! 

At layer 3, a broadcast is indicated by setting every bit in the 32-bit binary string to "1", making the dotted decimal value Every host on a segment will receive such a broadcast. (Keep in mind that switches will forward a broadcast, but routers do not.) In contrast to a broadcast, a unicast is a packet or frame with only one destination.  

There is a middle ground between broadcasts and unicasts, and that is a multicast. Where a broadcast will be received by all, and a unicast is received by only one host, a multicast will be received by multiple hosts, all belonging to a "multicast group". As you climb the Cisco certification pyramid, you'll be introduced to creating multicast groups and controlling multicast traffic, but for your CCNA studies you need only keep certain multicast groups in mind. 

Class D addresses are reserved for multicasting this range is - The addresses - are reserved for use by network protocols on a local network segment, and like broadcasts, routers will not forward these multicast packets. (Packets with these addresses are sent with a Time To Live of 1.) 

As a CCNA candidate, you should know that OSPF routers use the address to send hellos, EIGRP routers use to send updates, and RIP version 2 uses to send routing updates. RIP version 1 and IGRP both broadcast their updates. 

Multicasting gets a bit more complicated as you go from your CCNA to the CCNP and CCIE, but by simply understanding what multicasting isFree Reprint Articles, you go a long way toward securing the CCNA.

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Chris Bryant, CCIE #12933, is the owner of The Bryant Advantage (, home of free CCNA and CCNP tutorials! For my FREE "How To Pass The CCNA" or "CCNP" ebook, visit the website and download your copies!

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