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What is an IP address?

July 22, 2021
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Tanya Valdez is a Technical Writer at Constellix. She makes the information-transfer material digestible through her own transfer of information to our customers and readers. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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A major player in DNS is the IP address. It is one of the cornerstones of the internet that keeps devices connected.

IP Address Definition

We’ve all heard the term, but what is an IP address? Houses need addresses to be located and verified in order to receive mail and utility services. Websites and internet-connected devices such as computers and routers also have unique numbers that help them communicate with other online devices. The IP part of the identifier stands for Internet Protocol. This is the method by which data is sent between online devices. 

IP addresses provide the identification required for devices to send data over the internet or a local network. 

Does my IP Address Change When I Move Locations?

IP addresses do not move around with your gadgets. They are linked to the network you are connected to and are based on location. Most local devices such as your printer and modem, use dynamic IP addresses by default. Disconnecting and reconnecting the modem can change your current dynamic IP address. However, businesses typically purchase static IP addresses from their internet service provider (ISP) to avoid an address change (more on IP address types will be discussed later in this resource).

The same goes for mobile devices. You may be on a business trip or down the street working from a coffee shop. You are using a different IP address based on your current location. The establishment’s ISP assigns you with a new IP address to use on their connection. 

Devices come preset with software that contains rules for them to connect to the internet and swap information and data back and forth. This is all part of the internet of things or IoT.

Types of IP Addresses

From what we’ve discussed thus far, you are probably assuming there are different types of IP addresses and that is a safe assumption. There are different versions, types, and categories of IP addresses. It may sound confusing, but don’t worry. I’ll break it down for you. 

IP Address Types

There are four main IP address categories:

  • Public
  • Private
  • Dynamic
  • Static

Public IP Addresses

This is the primary address that your entire network is associated with and is provided by your ISP. 

Private IP Addresses

While there is one primary address, each machine that connects to your home internet network is assigned a private IP address. These gadgets include smartphones, tablets, computers, and Bluetooth devices. With the ever-growing IoT with smart devices, such as speakers, TVs, thermostats, and lightbulbs, IP addresses are needed to properly identify each.

Average number of Devices per household 2021

Tech Byte: In 2020, the average number of connected devices per household was 10 and an estimated 35 billion will be installed around the world by 2021.  

Dynamic IP Addresses

Dynamic IP addresses are public network identifications that are active for a specific time and then expire once that time is up. They are temporary, always changing, and cost-effective for businesses and the ISP since they do not have to run special protocols to keep a network’s IP address the same if, for example, they move. It is also beneficial for the user because new devices can be connected much easier since most routers will assign IP addresses automatically using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). 

Static IP addresses

Static IP addresses are public identifiers that do not change. Once the ISP assigns a static IP address to a network, it will remain consistent. These are typically used by individuals and businesses that have devices that are tied to websites or email addresses, such as network printers. Static IP addresses make it easier to work from home using a virtual private network (VPN) to remotely access your organization’s files. Having a static identifier allows other devices to find them on the web.

Website IP Address Types

There are two types of website IP addresses: public and local

Shared IP addresses

Shared IP addresses are not unique and are shared with other websites on a particular webserver. This is commonly used for smaller websites that do not have many files or pages. The downside of a shared IP address is that the actions of one site owner can tarnish an IP’s reputation. If an IP address was involved in sending SPAM emails and was blacklisted as a result, the other websites’ emails will suffer as well.

Dedicated IP addresses

Dedicated IP addresses are unique and assigned to only one website. These are commonly used by e-commerce sites or large websites in order to maintain control over their IP’s reputation. Since e-commerce sites have to use SSL (secure sockets layer), a dedicated IP address is typically used in conjunction.  

IP Address Versions: IPv4 and IPv6

IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are two versions of the Internet Protocol. IPv4 is the original 32-bit IP address scheme that is running out of addresses. To support the growing amount of connected devices, IPv6 was developed. IPv6 is a 128-bit address that comes with many benefits. It eliminates the need for NAT (Network Address Translation), more efficient routing, auto-configuration capabilities, and allows for easier administration. See our What is IPv6 resource for more information on IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.  

IP Address Classification

There are four different types of IP address classifications. The way the address will be used determines its addressing method

Unicasting addressing

This is the most common classification as it refers to a single sender and receiver. It can be used for both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.

Broadcast addressing

Broadcast addressing is strictly for IPv4 addresses and allows for data management for all destinations on a network with a single transmission operation. IPv6 does not support broadcast addressing but instead uses multicast addressing to handle this function.

Multicast IP addresses

This addressing method is available for both IPv4 and IPv6 and allows a host to send a network packet (unit of data) to a group of hosts within the IP network using a special IP multicast group address. In this one-to-many communication, only the hosts that require the data will process the packet. The others will discard it.

Anycast addressing

In anycast addressing, a single-destination IP address is shared by multiple machines. The host that will receive the requested information is based on location. The router will send it to the closest receiver on the network. Anycast addressing is available for both IPv4 and IPv6.

IP Address Example

An IP address consists of a string of numbers separated by periods. Much like house addresses, they are not random. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) produces and allots IP addresses. 

IP Address - ICANN - Set up to assist in accessibility and security for the internet

IP addresses are expressed as a set of four numbers, with each ranging from 0 to 255. Here are a few IP address examples:

IP address example - DNS - Constellix

What Is My IP?

There is more than one way to locate your IP address. The quickest way is to do a Google search for “what is my IP address.” The search engine will provide you with your public IP address. There are a couple of ways that you can obtain your local IP address for your router.

Finding My IP for Windows Users

For Windows users, you can access it in your settings under Network & Internet. Then, select if you are connected wirelessly or via an ethernet cable to obtain the proper information. Optionally, you can run a command and enter ipconfig at the command prompt or in the Run box. The generated window will include your IP address as part of the returned information.

Finding My IP for Mac Users

Mac users can locate the IP address by accessing the network connection in System Preferences from the Apple menu. You can also find it by running a command in the MacOS Terminal and enter the command ipconfig getifaddr en1 for a wired Ethernet connection or ipconfig getifaddr en0 to get the IP address of a wireless connection.

You might be wondering why you would need to know your IP address. This information might be necessary when troubleshooting internet issues. You also need it to utilize remote services to control machines on your network. The setup of some devices requires you to know it as well. More information can be found on our What Is My IP Address resource page.

IP Addresses Give Devices an Identity

The IoT continues to grow and to keep up, the IPv6 was developed. There are different versions, types, and categories of IP addresses depending on how they will need to connect. They work much like home addresses with house numbers, streets, and zip codes to properly send and receive information. IP addresses are the way devices are identified in order to connect to the internet. 

If you found this useful, why not share it? If there’s a topic you’d like to know more about, reach out and let me know. I’ll do my best to bring you the content you’re looking for!

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