I am not a native English speaker and I know what MAC addresses are and how are they used in networks.

However what I do not understand is where this words came from independently.

What does Media mean in terms of networking and what does media access refer to?

Maybe for an English speaker it would be more easy to make this connections but for someone that is not is not that easy.

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    – Ron Maupin
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 18:15

1 Answer 1


Media or Medium reffers to the communications medium (cable, fiber, radio etc) over which communications happens.

Originally Ethernet used a "Shared medium". That is something (specifically a coaxial cable) where multiple devices can transmit but only one can successfully transmit at a time.

The medium access controllers primary job was to control access to the medium. It would receive a frame from the host computer, wait until the medium was free and attempt to serilaise and transmit the frame, performing backoff and retransmission if needed. It would also deserialise and usually filter incoming frames. Each medium access controller had a unique address known as a MAC address that could be used to identify the source and destination of frames..

With modern links running in full duplex mode there isn't any need for medium access control, the sender can just transmit immediately, but we still call the part of the network controller that handles serialisation, deserialisation and filtering a MAC and we still call it's address a MAC address.

Such is history, it's a bit like the way we still use a floppy disk as the save icon even though hardly anyone uses floppies anymore.

  • Thanks for the explanation. I actually thought that media refers to devices and I was really really confused about the terms. It is clearer to me now what this whole phrase "Media Access Control" means: A way to control who accesses the communication medium (the wire or the electromagnetic frequency) at a specific time. However MAC addresses are still NEEDED today because they help at switching packets in a Local Area network. Is this correct?
    – yoyo_fun
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 16:22
  • This is not completely correct. The MAC is still used at Link level to ensure that the packet is returned to the correct host. The switch simply maintains the the table of which device is on which port, preventing the need to broadcast the packet to all ports as a hub required. Nor does this have anything to do with if a link is full duplex or not. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 16:26

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