Thanks to broadband, internet access is such a seamless process that it’s easy to ignore the mechanics of how online connectivity works. One piece of the puzzle involves your IP address, which facilitates a smooth and efficient connection to websites or online services.
What is an IP address?
So what does IP address stand for exactly? IP is “Internet Protocol”, a set of rules regulating how data is transmitted across networks. A device’s Internet Protocol address refers to the unique identifying number assigned to each web-enabled device.
The purpose of an IP address
To understand the purpose of an IP address, it’s helpful to look at how digital devices communicate over the internet. The word “protocol” refers to how computer programs or specific devices talk to one another. The computer’s networking software follows certain protocols or pre-set standards to transfer data back and forth.
When you connect to the internet, a connection must be established between your computer and the destination you are trying to access. From checking email to online shopping, your computer’s IP address pinpoints your location in the broader network. It essentially serves as an electronic address for online activity, ensuring data is sent to the correct location.
What does an IP address look like?
An IP address consists of a unique series of numbers or characters. For traditional IPv4 addresses, these are formulated into decimal numbers with full stops between four blocks of integers. Each block contains a numerical value between 0 and 255.
An IPv4 address would look something like 126.96.36.199. You might occasionally see a number like this appear in your web browser’s address bar, especially if you’re having connection problems.
IP addresses are formulated this way because their numbers are easier for us to remember. However, computers communicate exclusively through binary code made up of ones and zeros.
A newer format for IP addresses
Nearly 4.3 billion possible combinations are using the public IPv4 standard. With a global population approaching eight billion and with many of us using multiple devices to access the internet, the world needs more IP addresses than IPv4 can offer.
Rather than using the binary system outlined above, the latest IPv6 protocol uses hexadecimal. This includes alphabetic and numerical values, which can be arranged into eight groups to offer trillions of potential IP addresses collectively.
Types of IP addresses
We’ve already discussed the differences between IPv4 and IPv6, which are the different ways of generating unique IP addresses. However, there are other types of IP address to be aware of:
Private IP addresses
When you connect to the internet using a home broadband or business network, your device will have a private IP address. If multiple devices are connected to a single ISP, this will be different for each device. Private IP addresses are used on the local network, so one device can communicate with another.
Public IP addresses
By contrast, your public IP address is unique to each user. It’s the main IP address that connects your network with the internet. It may change depending on the method you are using to go online. If you use public Wi-Fi or a mobile network, your IP address will be different from your home network, even when a smartphone switches between them.
Static IP addresses
If your address is fixed, it’s considered a static IP address. These can be configured manually and will not change unless you want them to. Static IP addresses may be private or public.
Dynamic IP addresses
When you set up a new router, your network will automatically be assigned a dynamic IP address. Internet service providers (ISPs) assign a rotation of addresses, ensuring all users receive a unique number. Like a landline telephone number, an IP address can be re-assigned to someone else if it’s not currently in use.
Read about ip addresses for phones.