IP (Internet Protocol) addresses allow us access to the Internet. However, they don't all provide that access directly. There are two different kinds of IPs: public IP addresses and private IP addresses. Understanding public IPs vs. private IPs can seem difficult, but in this article, we'll explain what private IPs and public IPs are separately, as well as their differences and how they work together to provide Internet access to everyday users.
What is a private IP address?
A private IP address is an address provided by network devices used only in an internal network. Also referred to as a local IP or internal IP, a private IP address is assigned to a single device on a private network - such as your home network - to allow device communication and prevent IP conflict between devices. These IP addresses don't connect to the Internet on their own; instead, they connect to the home network, which has an IP address that does connect to the rest of the Internet.
Routers assign each private IP within the local area network (LAN). It's possible for two devices on two separate networks to have the same private IP, but no two devices the same network can share the same private IP.
Routers can assign private IPs from several private IP address ranges. They are addresses that start with 10.x.x.x, like 10.0.0.1; addresses that start with 192.168.x.x, like 192.168.10.1 and 192.168.12.1; and IPs in the 172.16.0.0 - 172.31.255.255 range.
In order to determine what IP you view, check the numbers in the address. If you check your IP address on your device and you see it looks like one of those numbers, you'll know you're seeing your device's private IP.
What is a public IP address?
Private IPs are used only on local networks and cannot connect to the Internet. On the other hand, the primary purpose of a public IP is to connect to the Internet. Public IPs are assigned to devices on local networks, like routers, by an Internet service provider (ISP).
When you browse the Internet, your public IP is the address that's visible. For this reason, public IPs are also known as external IP addresses. When users want to hide their IP address or keep their IP private, it's the public IP address they are looking to cover; a private IP address never connects to the wider Internet like a public IP does.
Public IPs change based on the network that your device is connected to. You can view your public IP address - and IP address details - on the WhatIsMyIP.com homepage.
Understanding public IP vs. private IP addresses
When considering public vs. private IP addresses, it can be hard to understand the difference between the two since they're both IP addresses and both connected to your Internet experience. However, to differentiate between the two, consider the table below:
|Private IP Address||Public IP Address|
|Used to connect to other devices on the same local area network (LAN)||Used to connect to the Internet in a wide area network (WAN)|
|Assigned by the network device, like the router||Assigned by an Internet service provider|
|Same address usable for multiple devices as long as they're not on the same network||Must be different to avoid IP conflict|
|Found in individual device settings||Found via an online search|
|Access across the local network||Access across the entire Internet|
|Address limited to certain number sets - class A, class B, or class C||Address can be any string of numbers outside those set aside for class A, B, or C|
|Changes based on network connection||Typically changes periodically, since most ISPs use dynamic IP address systems|
Why are there two kinds of IPs?
At the start of the Internet, only IPv4 public IPs were in use. Since far fewer devices connected online, each device received a public address to connect directly. However, as the Internet grew, the limited amount of public IPv4 addresses no longer had the capability to cover all devices.
Because of this issue, NAT emerged. With network address translation (NAT), individual devices, like routers, were able to work as an intermediary between public and private network. NAT established networks represented by a single public IPv4 address, but made up of private IPv4 addresses.
Though IPv6 addresses have become the new solution to IPv4 exhaustion, the public and private addresses of NAT are still used to connect computing devices to each other and to the Internet.
How do I know if my IP address is public or private?
The easiest way to know if your IP address is a public IP or a private IP is by looking at the IP number. If it's within one of the following ranges, it's a private IP address:
- 10.0.0.0 — 10.255.255.255 (Class A)
- 172.16.0.0 — 172.31.255.255 (Class B)
- 192.168.0.0 — 192.168.255.255 (Class C)
If it's any number outside of that range, it's a public IP address.
Though this tells you whether an IP is public or private, note that all devices do have both a public IP and a private IP; it isn't an either-or situation. The ranges above can help you identify which is which.
Frequently asked questions
What is a local IP address?
A local IP address is another term for a private IP address. It's assigned to a device on a local area network (LAN) like your home network and, therefore, it doesn't connect to the Internet directly.
Is a local IP the same as private IP?
Yes, a local IP is the same as a private IP. Both of these are also known as internal IP addresses. Internal IP, local IP, and private IP are all interchangeable terms for the same address - the unique private IP address assigned on a local area network.
Is a public IP better than a private IP?
Neither a public IP nor a private IP is better than the other. Both are necessary to connect to other devices on a network and access the Internet.
How do I determine my public and private IP?
To determine your public IP address, go to the WhatIsMyIP.com homepage. This displays your public IPv4 address, IPv6 address when available, and details about your IP.
To determine your private IP address, you'll likely need to go to your device's settings. However, the location of your private IP varies on each device, so check out specific instructions for your device in order to find your private address.