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What Is a Virtual Address?

Alex Newth
Alex Newth

A virtual address is similar to a house or business address, except it points to the physical location of virtual memory. One reason a virtual address is needed is because virtual memory acts like physical memory, but it is not, and the computer needs to know where the memory can be accessed. Another reason is the address list shows how the memory is being used, which makes a memory partition easier to manage. This also can be used to record network addresses over a virtual network, because there are no other connections to bind the computers.

Many computers have virtual memory that increases the overall amount of memory in the computer, and it comes from physical hardware such as the central processing unit (CPU), even though it is not from a physical memory chip. To help with access, the virtual address list records the virtual memory's origins. By following this list, the computer easily can find the physical location of the memory, which makes computing easier.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

While virtual memory acts like physical memory, the physical area simulating the memory must be accessed to use the virtual memory. This makes a virtual address list necessary if the computer is to know where to find the memory. If the computer cannot find the physical address, then the virtual memory is useless, because nothing can be stored in it.

Memory has different access levels, and a virtual address list details how the memory is currently being used. Most memory in a computer is public, meaning anything can be stored in the memory space, allowing the computer to easily process and store them. If the memory is private or being used for a partition, then the address list will ensure that the computer does not use this memory except for needs that directly reflect the partition’s purpose. For example, if a partition is made for work files, then only work files can be saved in the partition.

The virtual address list normally is used for virtual memory, but it also can be used for a virtual network. This type of network traditionally is not connected with wires or through normal wireless connections but through virtual links that bind the computers together. In this case, the address list represents the physical location of each computer on the network, so the computers can remain connected.

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