Introduction to Subnetting 

Intro to Subnetting by Aaron G. Rombaut

Introduction: Subnetting is a way for network administrators to use available network address space without waste. A general rule of thumb in networking is to remember a subnet = broadcast domain = vlan.

Discussion: An IPv4  address consists of four octets in dotted decimal notation. Each octet contains eight bits ranging in value from 0 to 255. A common IPv4 address many home users may be familiar with is This by itself is called a host or node address. This address is given to a network node on a network and identifies it. It is a made up number given by a network administrator and resides at layer 3 of the OSI model. With the information given, however, we don’t know the network it resides on.

In order to find out the network the host address is on, we need to know the subnet mask. A common subnet mask home users may be familiar with is Once we have the IP address and the subnet mask, it’s simply a matter of performing a binary calculation.

Tip: When you see a ‘255’ in a subnet mask, you carry the octet value from the IP address

Tip: When you see a ‘0’ in a subnet mask, you mark that octet with a ‘0’

Example: Using the IP address and subnet mask, I will demonstrate the tips given.

IP Address:
Subnet Mask:
Network Address:

A more difficult example would be as follows:

IP Address:
Subnet Mask:

The subnet mask given here is a subnet of the previous example. Notice that the last octet of the subnet mask has increased from 0 to 248. This increase indicates that the network administrator has borrowed host bits to make the network smaller.

A visual representation of is nnnnnnnn.nnnnnnnn.nnnnnnnn.hhhhhhhh where ‘n’ represents network bits and ‘h’ represents host bits. A visual representation of the subnetted network’s subnet mask is nnnnnnnn.nnnnnnnn.nnnnnnnn.nnnnnhhh. Notice that in the fourth octet, there are five ‘n’ bits and only three ‘h’ bits? This indicates that the administrator ‘borrowed’ host bits to make a smaller network.

To calculate the Network Address here, the first tip still applies, you still carry the 192.168.1 part of the address since the subnet mask in those lined up octets are 255. Where it gets interesting is the fourth octet. This is actually called the interesting octet.

As mentioned in the beginning, an IP address is made up of four octets in dotted decimal notation. Each octet contains eight bits ranging from 0 to 255. I will break this up to illustrate.

First layout your eight bit placeholders.

_  _  _  _  _  _  _  _

The value of each of these placeholders is as follows, 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1. Since bits are binary, you can only use a ‘1’ or a ‘0’. In order to convert the decimal number 45 given in the example to binary, you simply mark the appropriate value in the placeholder that gives you the sum. For instance, 128 does not go in 45, so you would mark a ‘0’ in the ‘128’ placeholder. 64 also does not go in 45, so again, you would mark a ‘0’. 32 does go into 45, so in this case, you would place a ‘1’ in the 32 placeholder. You continue doing this until you have met the decimal number. If there are any open placeholders to the right, you finish them with ‘0’.

The binary representation for decimal 45 is 00101101. This is the hardest part of learning how to subnet.

For subnet masks, it’s much easier as the bits have to be contiguous. This means that you will not have an octet consisting of 1, 0, and then more ones. Remember the range for an octet is 0 to 255. A ‘0’ octet is where all binary bits are turned off. So, the binary representation of decimal ‘0’ is 00000000. A ‘255’ octet is where all binary bits are turned on. So, the binary representation of decimal ‘255’ is 11111111. Since subnet masks consist of contiguous ‘1’, then there is a finite number of addresses to remember.

Tip: remember the eight permutations for subnet masks (128 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0) (128 + 64 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0) (128 + 64 + 32 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0) (128 + 64 + 32 + 16 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0) (128 + 64 + 32 + 16 + 8 + 0 + 0 + 0) (128 + 64 + 32 + 16 + 8 + 4 + 0 + 0) (128 + 64 + 32 + 16 + 8 + 4 + 2 + 0) (128 + 64 + 32 + 16 + 8 + 4 +2 + 1 )

Putting it all together: So now that we know our binary representation for decimal 45, we also know our binary representation for the subnet mask. Place the binary 45 above the binary 248. From here, you will apply binary AND rules to get the result. The result of this operation is the network (or subnet) address.

00101101 – 48
11111000 – 248

Tip: When you see a ‘1’ and a ‘1’, the result is ‘1’
Tip: When you see a ‘1’ and a ‘0’, the result is ‘0’
Tip: When you see a ‘0’ and a ‘0’, the result is ‘0’

The result of the above calculation is 00101000. Now you convert this back to decimal. 0 + 0 + 32 + 0 + 8 + 0 + 0 + 0 = 40, therefore, the network address is for the IP Address with a subnet mask of Easy, right?

Learning the Magic Number Method

Remember when I said to learn the eight subnet mask permutations? It’s going to be very important for quickly finding subnetting answers. This method does not require you to convert decimal to binary and then back to decimal.

Let’s use the following example:
IP Address:
Subnet Mask:

First, lay out the eight permutations again:
128 192 224 240 248 252 254 255

Next, lay out the octet placeholder values:
128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1

Let me also mention that the tips regarding ‘255’ or ‘0’ in the subnet mask still apply to figuring out the network address.

So, with what we know up to this point, we have the network address as 192.168.20.something. The something in this case is our interesting octet as well. The subnet mask is where we will focus our attention. Notice that the fourth octet in the subnet mask is ‘224’? Now look at what place this is in with regards to an octet, in this case the third place from the left. We always work from left to right, the most significant bit (MSB) to least significant bit (LSB). The third value of the octet is ’32’, so in a zero-based network (the router uses the ‘0’ subnet), you would have:



Basically, you start with ‘0’ and count in intervals from your ‘magic number’. The magic number is the value of the placeholder where your subnet mask is. You are looking for the number before the interesting octet value of the IP Address, in this case ’34’, and the value after. So in this case, ’34’ is between ’32’ and ’64’, therefore our Network Address is
If you are on a test and forget your octet values, you can simply deduct the value of the subnet octet from 256. The reason you use 256 is because there are 256 possible values including zero. In our example, 256 – subnet octet value of 224 = 32. This is our magic number and also the number you increment by. See, the magic number method is tons easier and much faster, especially when you are sitting for a networking certification!

Practice Questions

Decimal to Binary Conversions

Binary to Decimal Conversions

Binary AND Operations





Find the Network Address

IP Address:
Subnet Mask:

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