What Is an IP Address?
IP addresses are essential to the way the Internet operates. They allow us to communicate, connect, and browse online. But the IP system can sometimes seem unclear, and you may not even know exactly what an IP address is. In this easy-to-understand article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about public and private IP addresses in order to know how your own connection operates.
What is an IP address?
In simple terms, an IP (Internet Protocol) address is a uniquely-identifying string of numbers assigned to each Internet-connected device or any device connected to a network. The address identifies and allows these devices to communicate with each other, either on an internal or external computer network. Any device that transmits or receives network traffic gets an IP. 192.168.10.1 is an IP address example; any device with that IP can communicate with other devices across the same network.
How do IP addresses work?
When a device connects to a network, the network assigns an IP to the device. It's usually assigned by a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server, router, or Internet service provider (ISP). In any IP system within a network, the device which assigns the IP governs it, whether that be your router or your Internet service provider.
Your Internet activity then goes through your Internet service provider and routes back to you via the IP address assigned to you. Your address isn't permanent, though; it can change based on your connection and the network you choose to connect to.
All governing devices, whether DHCP server, router, or Internet service provider, all use some sort of IP address management (IPAM) to prevent the assignment of the same Internet Protocol address to multiple devices. When there exists two devices with the same IP on the same network, an IP conflict prevents data from correct transmission and reception on these devices.
Your Internet Protocol address works, theoretically, as a digital version of your home address. It’s like how you need a home address to receive mail, and the sender must have your correct home number and zip code; you need an Internet Protocol address to connect to the Internet, and any device trying to connect to yours needs the proper IP for a successful connection.
However, this analogy only works up to a point. Though two different houses don’t share a home address, devices from different networks can. For example, 192.168.1.1 and 192.168.1.254 are both private IP addresses used on many devices across many different networks.
As long as the devices are on different networks, it’s possible for two devices to have the same IP. Within the same network, though, they would be unable to transmit and receive data properly as explained above.
What does an IP address tell you?
An Internet Protocol address contains a lot of information. However, its main purpose is simply to identify your device and your network across different Internet connections.
An IP can indicate which Internet service provider you use and your Internet speed. It also reveals information about your general location. It could indicate your country, state, city, or postal region.
However, you can’t find someone’s exact location from their IP. The information is intended for other devices and networks to identify your device, not for others to track you down. In many cases, the geolocation data associated with an IP address isn’t even completely accurate because each IP geolocation database keeps different records.
Types of IP addresses
It can be difficult for a beginner to fully understand the IP system. If you’re just learning about Internet Protocol addresses, read below. We'll explain IP address terms and types of IP addresses that will help your understanding.
- IPv4 IP address - IPv4 addresses refer to Internet Protocol version 4 IP addresses. They are the standard IP, containing 32 bits in dotted decimal notation. You can see your IPv4 address on WhatIsMyIP.com.
- IPv6 IP address – IPv6 is version 6 of the IP system, making it the most up-to-date version. It can be thought of as a long IP address, as it contains 128 bits as well as both letters and numbers.
- Public IP or external IP address – Your Internet service provider assigns your public IP, which allows you to connect to the Internet. This is the address that's visible when you go online.
- Private IP address – A private IP allows your device to communicate locally on a network. Your WiFi router assigns your private IP.
- Static IP address – A static IP is manually assigned by an Internet service provider. They do not change, unlike dynamic IPs.
- Dynamic IP address – Dynamic IPs are assigned by networks. Unlike static IPs, they change periodically depending on the lease time.
- Dedicated IP address – Dedicated IPs are website IP addresses. They allow users to run their own FTP servers and access their site via the IP alone.
- Loopback IP address – A loopback IP is reserved specifically to allow a device to send and receive its own data packets. 127.0.0.1 is an example of one of these addresses.
- Shared IP address – Shared IPs are another type of website IP. Websites hosted from web hosting providers on the same server use shared IPs.
What is my public IP address?
Your public IP address is the Internet Protocol address logged by various servers or devices when you connect via an Internet connection. All web servers, email servers, and other servers directly accessible from the Internet are candidates for a public IP address.
It’s different from your device’s private IP address, which is individually assigned to each device you use. Your public IP is what the rest of the Internet sees. However, its visibility isn’t a privacy concern; you can’t be tracked by your Internet Protocol address.
Two devices with the same public IP can’t both exist on the Internet. That is why the public and private addressing system is necessary. It allows for each of the devices to locate each other while online in order to connect and exchange information.
Your ISP assigns your public IP as soon as you get an Internet connection. This means you lack control over your specific address assignment.
This difference between your public and private addresses is the reason why you may see a different IP address on the WhatIsMyIP.com home page when looking up your IP than you do when using the ipconfig or ifconfig commands. The home page displays your public IP; the commands may display your private IP.
What is my private IP address?
Your private IP address changes depending on what device you're using on your network. Your router assigns each device on your network a private IP to communicate. Private IPs come in three classes: class A, class B, and class C, depending on how big your network is.
You can use the ipconfig or ifconfig commands on your computer to check your private Internet Protocol address. If on a mobile device or tablet, check the device settings. Learn how to check your device's private IP address in order to find out your local address.
How to hide your IP address
Though you’re not in control of your public IP, you can change it in order to gain privacy or even anonymity online. There are several ways to hide your IP address in order to increase anonymity, security, and privacy online.
Using a virtual private network (VPN) masks your IP address by routing your connection through their servers, which makes your IP address appear as the server’s IP instead of your own. They also provide greater network security in general and help protect against dangers like IP spoofing. You can also use a proxy server, which performs a similar function; either will mask your IP, which helps with privacy, data protection, and evading network blocks.
You can also contact your Internet service provider in order to change your IP address. This will ensure that all future activity is associated with your new IP rather than your old IP. If you're on a budget, unplugging your router or using a privacy browser like Tor browser allows you to change or mask your IP while browsing online.
Frequently asked questions
Can I change my Internet Protocol address?
Yes, you can change your IP. You can change it by simply switching networks, but you can also change your IP on the same network by using a free VPN or proxy. Browsers like Tor also disassociate your IP from your user, which helps promote privacy and anonymity.
Does an Internet Protocol address change with location?
Your IP changes based on your network, which means that yes, it can change with location.
Can someone track me with my Internet Protocol address?
Someone cannot find your exact location with your IP, so in that sense, no, you cannot be tracked. However, your Internet Protocol address is associated with all of your online activity. Websites and Internet service providers are able to see your activity and may be able to identify you with your IP address.