Data Link Frame


The Frame

This topic discusses in detail what happens to the data link frame as it moves through a network. The information appended to a frame is determined by the protocol being used.

The data link layer prepares the encapsulated data (usually an IPv4 or IPv6 packet) for transport across the local media by encapsulating it with a header and a trailer to create a frame.

The data link protocol is responsible for NIC-to-NIC communications within the same network. Although there are many different data link layer protocols that describe data link layer frames, each frame type has three basic parts:

  • Header
  • Data
  • Trailer

Unlike other encapsulation protocols, the data link layer appends information in the form of a trailer at the end of the frame.

All data link layer protocols encapsulate the data within the data field of the frame. However, the structure of the frame and the fields contained in the header and trailer vary according to the protocol.

There is no one frame structure that meets the needs of all data transportation across all types of media. Depending on the environment, the amount of control information needed in the frame varies to match the access control requirements of the media and logical topology. For example, a WLAN frame must include procedures for collision avoidance and therefore requires additional control information when compared to an Ethernet frame.

As shown in the figure, in a fragile environment, more controls are needed to ensure delivery. The header and trailer fields are larger as more control information is needed.

Frame Fields

Framing breaks the stream into decipherable groupings, with control information inserted in the header and trailer as values in different fields. This format gives the physical signals a structure that are by recognized by nodes and decoded into packets at the destination.

The generic frame fields are shown in the figure. Not all protocols include all these fields. The standards for a specific data link protocol define the actual frame format.

Data link layer protocols add a trailer to the end of each frame. In a process called error detection, the trailer determines if the frame arrived without error. It places a logical or mathematical summary of the bits that comprise the frame in the trailer. The data link layer adds error detection because the signals on the media could be subject to interference, distortion, or loss that would substantially change the bit values that those signals represent.

A transmitting node creates a logical summary of the contents of the frame, known as the cyclic redundancy check (CRC) value. This value is placed in the frame check sequence (FCS) field to represent the contents of the frame. In the Ethernet trailer, the FCS provides a method for the receiving node to determine whether the frame experienced transmission errors.

Layer 2 Addresses

The data link layer provides the addressing used in transporting a frame across a shared local media. Device addresses at this layer are referred to as physical addresses. Data link layer addressing is contained within the frame header and specifies the frame destination node on the local network. It is typically at the beginning of the frame, so the NIC can quickly determine if it matches its own Layer 2 address before accepting the rest of the frame. The frame header may also contain the source address of the frame.

Unlike Layer 3 logical addresses, which are hierarchical, physical addresses do not indicate on what network the device is located. Rather, the physical address is unique to the specific device. A device will still function with the same Layer 2 physical address even if the device moves to another network or subnet. Therefore, Layer 2 addresses are only used to connect devices within the same shared media, on the same IP network.

The figures illustrate the function of the Layer 2 and Layer 3 addresses. As the IP packet travels from host-to-router, router-to-router, and finally router-to-host, at each point along the way the IP packet is encapsulated in a new data link frame. Each data link frame contains the source data link address of the NIC sending the frame, and the destination data link address of the NIC receiving the frame.


The source host encapsulates the Layer 3 IP packet in a Layer 2 frame. In the frame header, the host adds its Layer 2 address as the source and the Layer 2 address for R1 as the destination.


R1 encapsulates the Layer 3 IP packet in a new Layer 2 frame. In the frame header, R1 adds its Layer 2 address as the source and the Layer 2 address for R2 as the destination.