A classful network is a network addressing architecture used in the Internet from 1981 until the introduction of Classless Inter-Domain Routing in 1993. The method divides the IP address space for Internet Protocol version 4 into five address classes based on the leading four address bits.
Classful IP Classes are based on the default Class A, B or C (Network) subnet Mask
- Class A: 0 - 127 with a mask of 255.0.0.0 (/8) - Class B: 128 - 191 with a mask of 255.255.0.0 (/16) - Class C: 192 - 223 with a mask of 255.255.255.0 (/24)
All devices in the same routing domain must use the same subnet mask. Since routers running a classful routing protocol do not include subnet mask information with routing updates, the router assumes either its own subnet mask, or defaults to the classful subnet mask.
Classless on the other hand, allows the use of variable length subnet masks, or VLSM, because subnet mask information is included with routing updates. You can have a mixture of different subnet masks in the same routing domain:
- 10.1.0.0/19 - 10.2.0.0/20 - 172.16.8.0/21 - 172.16.16.0/24
Also remember that not all routing protocols support the “Classless” addressing. Take RIP version 1 for example it only supports Classful routing. All others like RIPv2, EIGRP, OSPF and IS-IS support both classful and classless routing.