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How Ethernet Works

Ethernet signals are transmitted from a station serially, one bit at a time, to every other station on the network.

Ethernet uses a broadcast access method called Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) in which every computer on the network 'hears' every transmission, but each computer 'listens' only to transmissions intended for it.

Each computer can send a message anytime it likes without having to wait for network permission. The signal it sends travels to every computer on the network. Every computer hears the message, but only the computer for which the message is intended recognizes it. This computer recognizes the message because the message contains its address. The message also contains the address of the sending computer so the message can be acknowledged.

If two computers send messages at the same moment, a 'collision' occurs, interfering with the signals. A computer can tell if a collision has occurred when it doesn?t hear its own message within a given amount of time. When a collision occurs, each of the colliding computers waits a random amount of time before resending the message.

The process of collision detection and retransmission is handled by the Ethernet adapter itself and doesn't involve the computer. The process of collision resolution takes only a fraction of a second under most circumstances. Collisions are normal and expected events on an Ethernet network. As more computers are added to the network and the traffic level increases, more collisions occur as part of normal operation. However, if the network gets too crowded, collisions increase to the point where they slow down the network considerably.