Classless InterDomain Routing (CIDR)

Once upon a time when the IP addressing scheme was invented, the people who developed this thought it would be enough to have 3 different classes as we have seen so far, class A,B and C networks. There were only three subnet masks:

  • Class A: (16.777.216 addresses)
  • Class B: (65.536 addresses)
  • Class C: (256 addresses)

These networks are also known as classful networks.

When the internet started growing rapidly in the beginning of the 90’s this caused some problems.  Large companies received entire class A networks with millions of addresses. Here’s a list on wikipedia that gives you an idea what kind of companies got these class A networks.

Smaller companies could get a class B network with 65.536 addresses or class C networks with 256 addresses. Many addresses were wasted so something had to be done.

The solution to this problem is classless interdomain routing, in other words we stop working with the classful networks and start working with classless networks.

Classless networks means we don’t use the class A,B or C networks anymore but are free to use any subnet mask we like. Also instead of writing down the subnet mask like we often use a “bit” notation like /24. This represents the number of bits that are used for the subnet mask.

For example:

  • with subnet mask is the same thing as /24.
  • with subnet mask is the same thing as /16.
  • with subnet mask is the same thing as /8.

Here’s a little overview with subnet masks and the CIDR notation:

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Forum Replies

  1. Rene,

    Hello, the command “ip classless” is something I have always seen on Cisco routers but never understood what it does. Can you explain this command?



  2. Hi Rene,

    Question- does the subnet mask dictate the class of the network or the value of the octets? It seems here in this example that the subnet mask would dictate whether it was class A, B or C. However I was recently advised that it is not the subnet mask for example it has been recently stated to me:

    The class of a network is not determined by its subnet mask. The default subnet mask is determined by the class of a network. The class of a network is determined by the first octet of the IP.

    0-127 is considered “class A”.
    128-191 is considered “class B”.

    ... Continue reading in our forum

  3. James,
    Only the first four bits (3 really, since E class isn’t used) in the first octet determine class (as shown in the table below). You are correct in your example about

    Keep in mind, however, that “class” doesn’t really mean anything anymore. This is an outdated term that nobody really uses now. Even Cisco has stopped bothering to test on it!

    Binary (first 4 bits) Class
    0000                   A
    1000                   B
    1100                   C
    1110                   D
    1111                   E

  4. Hi Rene,

    What do you mean by CIDR & VLSM ? The both are same or what is the difference between them.


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