Network Layer – Internetwork Packet Exchange (IPX)

IPX is the routable Network layer protocol of the Novell IPX/SPX protocol suite. Similar to IP, IPX is also connectionless, meaning that it leaves reliability to upper-layer protocols such as SPX. IPX addresses are used to uniquely identify hosts on an IPX network. While an IP address is comprised of 32 bits and is usually represented in dotted-decimal notation, an IPX address is an 80-bit address, represented in hexadecimal.

An IPX address is also made up of two parts – a network address and a host address. The network address is represented by the first 32-bits, while the unique host address is comprised of the final 48 bits. The example below outlines an IPX address.


An administrator defines the network portion of an IPX address. Leading 0’s can be left off the network portion. Because of this, the network above can be more simply referred to as network A. Like IP networks, every IPX network requires a unique network address.

Tip: Remember that the network portion of an IPX address is represented in hexadecimal. Since each hex digit represents 4 bits, it can be comprised of 8 hex digits maximum. Don’t forget that only the characters 0-9 and A-F are valid in hexadecimal.

The host address portion of an IPX address is actually incredibly simple – it’s the MAC address of a given host. Since all MAC addresses are different, the combination of a network number and a MAC address uniquely identifies a host on a given IPX network. Note that this also eliminates the need for a protocol such as TCP/IP’s ARP, since a host’s MAC address is already contained within the full IPX address.

The figure below outlines the fields with an IPX header. Note that this particular diagram, field sizes are displayed in bytes rather than bits.

Figure: IPX Header.

The IPX header fields are described below:

  • Checksum. A computed value that verifies the integrity of the IPX header, similar to a CRC. This was not used in versions of NetWare prior to 4.0, where it was set to all 1’s.
  • Packet Length. This field specifies the complete length of the IPX packet, including data.
  • Transport Control. Similar to a TTL (Time-To-Live), when a router processes a packet, it must increment this TTL by 1. At 16, a packet is removed from the network.
  • Packet Type. This field specifies the upper-layer protocol that data is to be passed to. Common hexadecimal values include 4 (SAP), 5 (SPX), 17 (NCP), 20 (NetBIOS)
  • Destination Network. The 32-bit destination network address.
  • Destination Node. The 48-bit destination node address.
  • Destination Socket. This field specifies the software process address on the destination system, similar to a TCP port number.
  • Source Network. The 32-bit source network address
  • Source Node. The 48-bit source node address.
  • Source Socket. Specifies the software process address on the sending system.
  • Data. The encapsulated data passed down from upper-layer protocols and applications.

Routing protocols such as RIP and NLSP also exist at the Network layer of the NetWare protocol suite. These will be covered in detail in Chapter 8.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.