A device in IP can have both a local address (which uniquely identifies the device on its local segment or LAN) and a network address (which identifies the network to which the device belongs). The local address is more properly known as a data link address because it is contained in the data link layer (Layer 2 of the OSI model) part of the packet header and is read by data-link devices (bridges and all device interfaces, for example). The local address is referred to as the MAC address, because the MAC sub-layer within the data link layer processes addresses for the layer.
To communicate with a device on Ethernet, for example, the Cisco IOS software first must determine the 48-bit MAC or local data-link address of that device. The process of determining the local data-link address from an IP address is called address resolution. The process of determining the IP address from a local data-link address is called reverse address resolution.
The software uses three forms of address resolution: Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), proxy ARP, and Probe (similar to ARP). The software also uses the Reverse Address Resolution Protocol (RARP). ARP, proxy ARP, and RARP are defined in RFCs 826, 1027, and 903, respectively. Probe is a protocol developed by the Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) for use on IEEE-802.3 networks.
ARP is used to associate IP addresses with media or MAC addresses. Taking an IP address as input, ARP determines the associated media address. Once a media or MAC address is determined, the IP address or media address association is stored in an ARP cache for rapid retrieval. Then the IP datagram is encapsulated in a link-layer frame and sent over the network. Encapsulation of IP datagrams and ARP requests and replies on IEEE 802 networks other than Ethernet is specified by the Subnetwork Access Protocol (SNAP).