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Introduction of Variable Length Subnet Mask (VLSM)

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  • Difficulty Level : Medium
  • Last Updated : 15 Mar, 2023
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Variable Length Subnet Mask (VLSM) is a technique used in IP network design to create subnets with different subnet masks. VLSM allows network administrators to allocate IP addresses more efficiently and effectively, by using smaller subnet masks for subnets with fewer hosts and larger subnet masks for subnets with more hosts.

In a traditional subnetting scheme, a fixed subnet mask is applied to all subnets in the network, which can lead to inefficient use of IP addresses. For example, if a network has two subnets, one with 10 hosts and another with 50 hosts, a traditional subnet mask of would be used for both subnets, which means that each subnet would have 254 available IP addresses. This would result in wasted IP addresses for the smaller subnet.

VLSM allows network administrators to create subnets with different subnet masks to more effectively utilize IP addresses. Using the example above, VLSM could be used to assign a subnet mask of to the smaller subnet with 10 hosts, which would provide 126 available IP addresses, and a subnet mask of to the larger subnet with 50 hosts, which would provide 62 available IP addresses.

VLSM is widely used in modern networks to create subnets of different sizes and to optimize the use of IP addresses.

VLSM stands for Variable Length Subnet Mask where the subnet design uses more than one mask in the same network which means more than one mask is used for different subnets of a single class A, B, C or a network. It is used to increase the usability of subnets as they can be of variable size. It is also defined as the process of subnetting of a subnet. Procedure of implementing VLSM – In VLSM, subnets use block size based on requirement so subnetting is required multiple times. Suppose there is an administrator that has four departments to manage. These are sales and purchase department with 120 computers, development department with 50 computers, accounts department with 26 computers and management department with 5 computers. If the administrator has IP, department wise IPs can be allocated by following these steps:

  1. For each segment select the block size that is greater than or equal to the actual requirement which is the sum of host addresses, broadcast addresses and network addresses. Make a list of subnets possible: table – possible subnets list
  2. Arrange all the segments in descending order based on the block size that is from highest to lowest requirement.
Sales and Purchase: 120
Development: 50
Accounts: 26
Management: 5 
  1. The highest IP available has to be allocated to highest requirement so the sales and purchase department gets which has 126 valid addresses that can easily be available for 120 hosts. The subnet mask used is
  2. The next segment requires an IP to handle 50 hosts. The IP subnet with network number is the next highest which can be assigned to 62 hosts thus fulfilling the requirement of development department. The subnet mask used is
  3. Similarly the next IP subnet can fulfill the requirements of the accounts department as it has 30 valid hosts IP which can be assigned to 26 computers. The mask used is
  4. The last segment requires 5 valid hosts IP which can be fulfilled by the subnet which has the mask as is chosen as per the requirement. The IP with the mask could be chosen but it has 14 valid host IPs and the requirement is less in comparison so the one that is comparable with the requirement is chosen. Thus there is less IP wastage in VLSM as compared to FLSM.

Advantages of VLSM over FLSM –

  1. In Fixed length subnet mask subnetting (FLSM), all subnets are of equal size and have equal number of hosts but in VLSM the size is variable and it can have variable number of hosts thus making the IP addressing more efficient by allowing a routed system of different mask length to suit requirements.
  2. In FLSM there is a wastage of IP addresses but in VLSM there is a minimum wastage of IP addresses.
  3. FLSM is preferred for private IP addresses while for public IP addresses VLSM is the best option.


Complexity: VLSM requires more advanced planning and configuration compared to traditional subnetting, which can increase the complexity of the network design and administration.

Increased management overhead: With VLSM, there may be more subnets and IP addresses to manage, which can increase the management overhead and make it more difficult to troubleshoot network issues.

Potential for fragmentation: If subnets are created with different subnet masks, it can lead to IP address fragmentation, where IP addresses are allocated inefficiently and may not be contiguous.

Compatibility issues: VLSM may not be compatible with older networking equipment or protocols, which can limit its usefulness in certain environments.

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