As I understand it, when Host Alice knows Host Bob's IPv6 address but not its MAC, Alice sends an NDP Neighbor Solicitation (NS) message to the solicited-node multicast address for Bob.

Alice knows Bob's unicast address, so why send the NS to a multicast? What purpose is served by some other hosts possibly receiving the packet?

  • 1
    If Alice could send Bob a NS, then why resolve anything at all? Why not simply communicate directly with Bob? @RonMaupin's answer is spot on. I would also suggest studying up on the roll of Layer2 vs the roll of Layer3, and how they are both important to move packets through a network.
    – Eddie
    Mar 25, 2016 at 21:24

1 Answer 1


I don't think you quite understand that Alice needs Bob's MAC address before she can send anything to him. What RFC 4861, Neighbor Discovery for IP version 6 (IPv6) says:

4.3. Neighbor Solicitation Message Format

Nodes send Neighbor Solicitations to request the link-layer address of a target node while also providing their own link-layer address to the target. Neighbor Solicitations are multicast when the node needs to resolve an address and unicast when the node seeks to verify the reachability of a neighbor.

When used as the equivalent of ARP in IPv4, Alice does not know Bob's MAC address, so Alice can't send anything to Bob's IPv6 address. Alice needs to resolve Bob's IPv6 address to his MAC address in order to be able to send anything to Bob. Alice does this by sending a request to the solicited node multicast address, based on the last 24 bits of Bob's IPv6 address, so it is likely that only Bob will receive the request.

Contrast this to ARP in IPv4 where ARP requests are sent to the broadcast address, interrupting all hosts on the LAN.

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    Ah, you made me realize I was asking the wrong question. Of course a unicast packet needs to be encapsulated in a frame with a destination MAC. Then the real questions are: What destination MAC is used for the frame containing a packet addressed to a multicast address? FFFF.FFFF.FFFF? Why not address the NS packet to the known unicast IP and put that in the broadcast/multicast frame?
    – Jacktose
    Mar 25, 2016 at 21:38
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    The MAC address is the layer-2 version of the layer-3 solicited-node multicast address. IPv6 doesn't have broadcast. This uses the last 24 bits of the IPv6 unicast address, so it is likely to only go to the single host. IPv4 uses the broadcast address which goes to all hosts. Remember that IPv6 hosts can, and will, have multiple IP addresses on an interface. With SLAAC, all the IPv6 addresses on an interface would have the same last 24 bits, allowing one solicited-node multicast address for all the unicast addresses on the interface, reducing the number of multicast groups it must join.
    – Ron Maupin
    Mar 25, 2016 at 21:50
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    Oh, I think I'm getting it. Thanks to you Ron, and Wikipedia. The detail I was missing is that, at layer 2, it's multicast to 3333.xxxx.yyyy, where the last eight hex characters are the last eight hex characters of the IP. In this case, that would be FF (from the solicited-node spec) plus the last six characters of the unicast IP. Right?
    – Jacktose
    Mar 25, 2016 at 21:52
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    You should also look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solicited-node_multicast_address
    – Ron Maupin
    Mar 25, 2016 at 22:19
  • @Ron I want to know with ipv6 multicast is done in l2? Not l3? Am I right?
    – S. M.
    Sep 25, 2021 at 14:55

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