Routing of data relies on being able to reach the destination address. There are network addressing systems proposed where the addresses are coordinates, Vivaldi from MIT, for example. The routing in these network topologies has the advantage of knowing when a package gets closer to its destination. In the IP system most commonly used as layer 3 in the OSI model, is there any notion of location in how machines are addressed?

Vivaldi: A Decentralized Network Coordinate System, http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/papers/vivaldi:sigcomm/paper.pdf

Netsukuku, http://netsukuku.freaknet.org/doc/main_doc/netsukuku.pdf

PIC: Practical Internet Coordinates for Distance Estimation, http://rowstron.azurewebsites.net/MS/PIC-ICDCS.pdf

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    – Ron Maupin
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


That depends very much on what you consider as dimensions.

IP uses a paradigm of network part/prefix + host part that could be regarded as dimensions. The network prefix is used to select the next-hop gateway and on the last hop, the host part is used to select the destination host.

If you visualize all networks on one axis and all hosts in each network on the other axis, that's a kind of coordinate system.

Of course, the division between network address and host part is flexible in IP, as defined by the subnet mask or prefix length - a very clever scheme. The prefix length usually varies along the path, from more general, aggregated routes from afar to more precise, refined routes when closing in towards the host.

For instance, your ISP may advertise the route on the Internet. Behind the border, indicates the datacenter with your server in it. Inside the datacenter, addresses the subsection and your allocated address range with your server finally at

Obviously, the IP "coordinate system" is a purely logical one - it as no relation to the actual location. IP routers have to exchange, learn and update their routing tables to be able to route towards any IP address (and not away from it).

The papers you've linked to try to establish a geography-based coordinate system to simplify routing - however, the challenge would be to deploy a rigid scheme that never needs updating, which probably isn't possible in practice. Once people use tunneling (for various reasons) all purely geographical routing fails.

  • I put it to you that it is a coordinate system that maps to a geographical coordinate system / an actual location in the sense that (for most IP addresses) they belong to a physical device or devices that have a specific geographic location. It is just that the paths between physical devices are more important than physical location when directing packets. Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 2:23
  • It could be a geographical coordinate system, but in practice, there is no relationship between addresses and location. Consider two network addresses, and They may be in the same building, or they may be half a world apart. There is no geo relationship, and whatever relationship may be at the moment, it can change at any time.
    – Ron Trunk
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 13:42
  • It seems to me that it would be ideal to use topological addresses that actually address where packages should be transported. The word address itself means "ad" "direct", direct towards. It seems to me that ARPANET was designed without actually planning to scale to the size the internet is today, and that the exponential increase in price-performance of memory over the past 50 years has allowed the internet to compensate for a poorly designed network layer by using resource-expensive routing tables.
    – johan
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 14:45
  • The simplest design from my PoV would be just longitude/latitude based addresses with a unique identifier as well (could be a public key, easily allowing machine-specific encryption as well. )
    – johan
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 14:46
  • @johan actually address where packages should be transported - that's how IP routing works when used correctly. Of course, ARPANET wasn't intended for anything like the Internet we've got today. ARPANET and the early Internet were designed for a few thousand hosts. I wouldn't call it "poorly designed" though - it still runs today's Internet on an incredible increase of scale. If anyone actually had had a much better idea it'd have replaced the routing long ago. Have you thought about roaming users? VPN? But we're drifting off into opinion land...
    – Zac67
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 16:41

In the IP system ... is there any notion of location in how machines are addressed?

In a word, no. An IP address is not a physical location. In fact, otherwise sequential /32's may be miles apart. For example, my DSL connection has a static /32. One might assume -- from Bellsouth's WHOIS records -- everyone in that netblock are in the same general region, but that's not necessarily the case, as the account for whom that address is assigned can be used to login on any DSL port in the network. (I have personally used my account on devices in 3 states spanning a region of over 1000 miles. And it literally takes seconds to logout in one place, login at another, and *poof* that address is now hundreds of miles from where it just was.)

The same sort of portability exists in data center ("cloud") networks. VXLAN can allow what appears to be a continuous layer-2 network to span buildings, countries, and even continents.

It's up to individual networks to adopt their own "address plan". That plan may, or may not, have some relationship to geography -- it's ultimately a personal preference.

Routing on the internet is done between Autonomous Systems using BGP. BGP's primary path selector is "AS path length" - how many AS will the packet have to traverse. Eg. 1-2-2-3 (4) is longer than 1-2-3 (3) -- 4 vs. 3. 1-4-3 is also 3 hops, so which is chosen in many cases comes down to local preference. (although BGP does have numerous selection criteria, because such "ties" come up often.) This does lead to internet traffic rarely following what might otherwise appear to be the most geographically optimal path.

  • not necessarily geographical coordinates, "virtual coordinates" is a term often used. just wonder to what extent the capacity of 32-bit addresses to represent locations in a network topology is actually used.
    – johan
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 1:01

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