Subnet masks are used by TCP/IP to show which part of an IP address is the network portion and which part is the host. Subnet masks are usually referred to as netmasks. For a pure Class A network, the netmask would be 255.0.0.0; for a Class B network, the netmask would be 255.255.0.0; and for a Class C network, the netmask would be 255.255.255.0. Netmasks can also be used to deviate from the standard classes.
By using customized netmasks, you can subnet your network to fit your needs. For example, your network has a single Class C address. You have a need to subnet your network. Although this is not possible with a normal Class C subnet mask, you can change the mask to break your network into subnets. By changing the last octet to a number greater than zero, you can break the network into as many subnets as you need.
For more information on how to create customized subnet masks, see Day 6, "The Art of Subnet Masking," in Sams Teach Yourself TCP/IP Network Administration in 21 Days. That chapter goes into great detail on how to create custom netmasks and explains how to create an addressing cheat sheet for hosts on each subnet. You can also browse to the Linux Network Administrator's Guide and read about how to create subnets at http://www.tldp.org/LDP/nag2/index.html.
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