To hide the diversity of equipment that may be used in a networking environment, TCP/IP defines an abstract interface through which the hardware is accessed. This interface offers a set of operations that is the same for all types of hardware and basically deals with sending and receiving packets.
For each peripheral networking device, a corresponding interface has to be present in the kernel. For example, Ethernet interfaces in Linux are called by such names as eth0 and eth1; PPP (discussed in Chapter 8 ) interfaces are named ppp0 and ppp1; and FDDI interfaces are given names like fddi0 and fddi1. These interface names are used for configuration purposes when you want to specify a particular physical device in a configuration command, and they have no meaning beyond this use.
Before being used by TCP/IP networking, an interface must be assigned an IP address that serves as its identification when communicating with the rest of the world. This address is different from the interface name mentioned previously; if you compare an interface to a door, the address is like the nameplate pinned on it.
Other device parameters may be set, like the maximum size of datagrams that can be processed by a particular piece of hardware, which is referred to as Maximum Transfer Unit (MTU). Other attributes will be introduced later. Fortunately, most attributes have sensible defaults.