What Is IP Address And How It Works

IP Address

No doubt you've heard the term "IP address." Unless you're a techie, though, you may not have more than a shadowy notion of what an IP address actually is or how it works. Let's explore the concept.

Windows IP Address SettingsImage result for IPADDRESS IMAGES

Windows IP Address SettingsAn IP address is a fascinating product of modern computer technology designed to allow one computer (or other digital device) to communicate with another via the Internet. IP addresses allow the location of literally billions of digital devices that are connected to the Internet to be pinpointed and differentiated from other devices. In the same sense that someone needs your mailing address to send you a letter, a remote computer needs your IP address to communicate with your computer.

MAC IP Address Settings

MAC IP Address Settings"IP" stands for Internet Protocol, so an IP address is an Internet Protocol address. What does that mean? An Internet Protocol is a set of rules that govern Internet activity and facilitate completion of a variety of actions on the World Wide Web. Therefore an Internet Protocol address is part of the systematically laid out interconnected grid that governs online communication by identifying both initiating devices and various Internet destinations, thereby making two-way communication possible.

An IPv4 address consists of four numbers, each of which contains one to three digits, with a single dot (.) separating each number or set of digits. Each of the four numbers can range from 0 to 255. Here's an example of what an IP address might look like: This innocuous-looking group of four numbers is the key that empowers you and me to send and retrieve data over our Internet connections, ensuring that our messages, as well as our requests for data and the data we've requested, will reach their correct Internet destinations. Without this numeric protocol, sending and receiving data over the World Wide Web would be impossible.

An IPv6 address consists of eight groups of four hexadecimal digits. If a group consists of four zeros, the notation can be shortened using a colon to replace the zeros.

Dynamic or Static

IP addresses can be either static or dynamic. Static IP addresses never change. They serve as a permanent Internet address and provide a simple and reliable way for remote computers to contact you. Static IP addresses reveal such information as the continent, country, region, and city in which a computer is located; the ISP (Internet Service Provider) that services that particular computer; and such technical information as the precise latitude and longitude of the country, as well as the locale, of the computer. Many websites provide IP address look-up services to their visitors, free of charge. If you're curious about your own IP address, you can locate these websites by performing a Google search.

Dynamic IP addresses are temporary and are assigned (via DHCP) each time a computer joins a network. They are, in effect, borrowed from a pool of IP addresses that are shared among various computers. Since a limited number of static IP addresses are available, many ISPs reserve a portion of their assigned addresses for sharing among their subscribers in this way. This lowers costs and allows them to service far more subscribers than they otherwise could.

Static IP addresses are generally preferable for such uses as VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), online gaming, or any other purpose where users need to make it easy for other computers to locate and connect to them. Easy access can also be facilitated when using a dynamic IP address through the use of a dynamic DNS service, which enables other computers to find you even though you may be using a temporary, one-time IP address. This often entails an extra charge, however, so check with your ISP.

Static IP addresses are considered somewhat less secure than dynamic IP addresses, since they are easier to track for data mining purposes. However, following safe Internet practices can help mitigate this potential problem and keep your computer secure no matter what type of IP address you use.

There's a lot more on what those differences mean in the IP Versions (IPv4 vs IPv6) section below.

What Is an IP Address Used For?

An IP address provides an identity to a networked device. Similar to a home or business address supplying that specific physical location with an identifiable address, devices on a network are differentiated from one another through IP addresses.

If I'm going to send a package to my friend in another country, I have to know the exact destination. It's not enough to just put a package with his name on it through the mail and expect it to reach him. I must instead attach a specific address to it, which you could do by looking it up in a phone book.

This same general process is used when sending data over the internet. However, instead of using a phone book to look up someone's name to find their physical address, your computer uses DNS servers to look up a hostname to find its IP address.

For example, when I enter a website like www.lifewire.com into my browser, my request to load that page is sent to DNS servers that look up that hostname (lifewire.com) to find its corresponding IP address ( Without the IP address attached, my computer will have no clue what it is that I'm after.

Different Types of IP Addresses
Even if you've heard of IP addresses before, you may not realize that there are specific types of IP addresses. While all IP addresses are made up of numbers or letters, not all addresses are used for the same purpose.

There are private IP addresses, public IP addresses, static IP addresses, and dynamic IP addresses. That's quite a variety! Following those links will give you much more information on what they each mean. To add to the complexity, each type of IP address can be an IPv4 address or an IPv6 address—again, more on these at the bottom of this page.

In short, private IP addresses are used "inside" a network, like the one you probably run at home. These types of IP addresses are used to provide a way for your devices to communicate with your router and all the other devices in your private network. Private IP addresses can be set manually or assigned automatically by your router.

Public IP addresses are used on the "outside" of your network and are assigned by your ISP. It's the main address that your home or business network uses to communicate with the rest of the networked devices around the world (i.e. the internet). It provides a way for the devices in your home, for example, to reach your ISP, and therefore the outside world, allowing them to do things like access websites and communicate directly with other people's computers.

Both private IP addresses and public IP addresses are either dynamic or static, which means that, respectively, they either change or they don't.

An IP address that is assigned by a DHCP server is a dynamic IP address. If a device does not have DHCP enabled or does not support it then the IP address must be assigned manually, in which case the IP address is called a static IP address.

How to Find Your IP Address
Different devices and operating systems require unique steps to find the IP address. There are also different steps to take if you're looking for the public IP address provided to you by your ISP, or if you need to see the private IP address that your router handed out.

Public IP Address

There are lots of ways to find your router's public IP address but sites like IP Chicken, WhatsMyIP.org, or WhatIsMyIPAddress.com make this super easy. These sites work on any network-connected device that supports a web browser, like your smartphone, iPod, laptop, desktop, tablet, etc.

Finding the private IP address of the specific device you're on isn't as simple.

Private IP Address

In Windows, you can find your device's IP address via the Command Prompt, using the ipconfig command.

Tip: See How Do I Find My Default Gateway IP Address? if you need to find the IP address of your router, or whatever device that your network uses to access the public internet.

Linux users can launch a terminal window and enter the command hostname -I (that's a capital "i"), ifconfig, or ip addr show.

For macOS, use the command ifconfig to find your local IP address.

iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices show their private IP address through the Settings app in the Wi-Fi menu. To see it, just tap the small "i" button next to the network it's connected to.

You can see the local IP address of an Android device through Settings > Wi-Fi, or through Settings > Wireless Controls > Wi-Fi settings in some Android versions. Just tap on the network you're on to see a new window that shows network information that includes the private IP address.

IP Versions (IPv4 vs IPv6)
There are two versions of IP: IPv4 and IPv6. If you've heard of these terms, you probably know that the former is the older, and now outdated, version while IPv6 is the upgraded IP version.

One reason IPv6 is replacing IPv4 is that it can provide a much larger number of IP addresses than IPv4 allows. With all the devices we have constantly connected to the internet, it's important that there's a unique address available for each one of them.

The way IPv4 addresses are constructed means it's able to provide over 4 billion unique IP addresses (232). While this is a very large number of addresses, it's just not enough for the modern world with all the different devices people are using on the internet.

Think about it—there are several billion people on earth. Even if everyone in the planet had just one device they used to access the internet, IPv4 would still be insufficient to provide an IP address for all of them.

IPv6, on the other hand, supports a whopping 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses (2128). That's 340 with 12 zeroes! This means every person on earth could connect billions of devices to the internet. True, a bit of an overkill, but you can see how effectively IPv6 solves this problem.

Visualizing this helps understand just how many more IP addresses the IPv6 addressing scheme allows over IPv4. Pretend a postage stamp could provide enough space to hold each and every IPv4 address. IPv6, then, to scale, would need the entire solar system to contain all of its addresses.

In addition to the greater supply of IP addresses over IPv4, IPv6 has the added benefit of no more IP address collisions caused by private addresses, auto-configuration, no reason for Network Address Translation (NAT), more efficient routing, easier administration, built-in privacy, and more.

IPv4 displays addresses as a 32-bit numerical number written in decimal format, like or Because there are trillions of possible IPv6 addresses, they must be written in hexadecimal to display them, like 3ffe:1900:4545:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf.


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