For some important aspects of Internet engineering, most notably IP Addressing, an understanding of binary arithmetic is critical. Many strange-looking decimal numbers can only be understood by converting them (at least mentally) to binary.

All digital computers represent data as a collection of *bits*.
A bit is the smallest possible unit of information. It can be
in one of two
states - off or on, 0 or 1. The meaning of the bit, which can
represent almost anything, is unimportant at this point.
The thing to remember is that *all* computer data - a text
file on disk, a program in memory, a packet on a network -
is ultimately a collection of bits.

If one bit has two different states, how many states do two bits have? The answer is four. Likewise, three bits have eight states. For example, if a computer display had eight colors available, and you wished to select one of these to draw a diagram in, three bits would be sufficient to represent this information. Each of the eight colors would be assigned to one of the three-bit combinations. Then, you could pick one of the colors by picking the right three-bit combination.

A common and convenient grouping of bits is the *byte* or
*octet*, composed of eight bits. If two bits have four combinations,
and three bits have eight combinations, how many combinations do
eight bits have? If you don't want to
write out all the possible byte patterns,
just multiply eight twos together - one two for each bit.
Two times two is four, so the number of combinations of two bits is four.
Two times two times two is eight, so the number of combinations of three
bits is eight.
Do this eight times - or just compute two to the eighth power -
and you discover that a byte has 256 possible states.

Obviously, if a byte has 256 possible states, its exact state can
be represented by a number from 1 to 256.
However, since zero is a very important number, a byte is more typically
represented by a number from 0 to 255.
This is very common, and with bit pattern `00000000` representing zero,
and bit pattern `11111111` representing 255.
The numbers matching these two patterns, and everything in between, can
be computed by assigning a weight to each bit, multiplying each bit's
value (0 or 1) by its weight, and then adding the totals. For example,
here's how 217 is represented as `11011001` in binary:

The most common bit patterns in Internet engineering are those with a string of one bits, followed by a string of zero bits. Here are all such bytes, along with their decimal representation, computed just like the example using 217.