What Is An IP Adress

An IP address is a unique identifier that denotes a device on the internet or a local network. The set of rules governing the format of data sent via the internet or local network is referred to as Internet Protocol. Want to know more about this? Then read our in-depth guide explaining everything about this topic.

Ben Grindlow

Ben Grindlow is the founder of ProXPN, a company that provides reviews about VPN products and services. Ben's interest in cybersecurity and privacy led him to start ProXPN, which has become one of the most well-respected VPN providers in the world. Ben is passionate about his work, and he is constantly exploring new ways to improve ProXPN's in-depth guides.

Last updated: 9:09AM 7/5/2022

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The internet is huge. It is estimated that there are over 10 billion devices connected to it, from mobile phones to wireless printers, and that number increases every day. If we are to be able to find anything on there, our computers need a way to navigate this. This is where IP addresses come in.

“IP address” is probably a term you have heard a lot if you regularly use a computer to connect to the internet, but you may not be completely sure about what exactly they are, or what they do. This page will hopefully answer your questions.

It will cover:

  • What IP addresses are and what they are used for.
  • How IP addresses work.
  • Different types of IP addresses.
  • Ways to hide, or change, your IP address.

What is an IP address used for and how do IP addresses work?

As the name would suggest, an IP address, like your mailing address or street address, is in theory, the unique address for your computer or device. Everything that connects to the internet has an IP address, as without it there is no way for the website you have accessed to return the requested data to you. No device will have the exact same IP address as you.

(These websites also have IP addresses, or rather the server or computer that hosts them has an IP address while the website will typically be found on a specific port on that computer.)

When you type in a web address, the Internet service provider looks up the destination address, or ‘domain name’, finds the corresponding IP address, and returns it. The web browser then sends the request straight to that IP address.

So, what is an IP address?

In simple terms, an IP address is an alphanumeric string that identifies internet-connected devices or computers. This allows a device to be found so that it can receive data, allowing you to browse the internet.

‘IP address’ stands for ‘Internet Protocol address’ and these addresses are vital for the operation of the internet. Even Internet of Things devices have IP addresses when they are connected to a computer network.

The best comparison is perhaps a telephone number. When you make a phone call, you dial the number of the person you are trying to contact so that you can exchange information – in this case, sound. On the internet, you send a request to see a web page to a ‘number’ and the server sends back information about what the web page looks like.

In practice, due to the large number of devices connected to the internet, it is currently very difficult for each device to have a unique address as there are a limited number of addresses available. To get around this, often your wifi router will have an IP address and your home network will have a subnet mask, but more on this later.

What types of IP addresses exist?

There are two main internet protocols for IP addresses, and several different properties an IP address can have. The two protocols are IPv4 and IPv6.

IPv4

IPv4 is the most common form of an IP address ad probably the version people think of when they think of IP addresses. It consists of four 8-bit binary numbers for a total of 32 bits, with each number separated by periods. These numbers translate into base ten as values between 0 and 255. This gives an address space of 232, or around 4.3 billion potential addresses.

Examples of IP addresses (IPv4):

  • 193.78.232.12
  • 82.168.12.13
  • 185.65.205.10

This protocol is the most likely one to be used on your home network. However, there is a push to move to IPv6 as it has more available address space. 4.3 billion potential addresses are not enough for the estimated ten billion devices connected to the internet.

IPv6

While IPv6 has been around for a few years, uptake has been slow. This is because IPv6 is not backwardly compatible with IPv4, and so any computer with an IPv6 address must, currently also have an IPv4 address. That said, space on the IP4 protocol is rapidly diminishing and so the new protocol is being used more and more.

IPv6 has the same purpose as IPv4 and works in fundamentally similar ways but instead of four 8-bit digits, IPv6 uses eight groups of four hexadecimal digits. Hexadecimal is a similar system but in base sixteen. As we only have ten numeric symbols (0-9), the letters A-F are used to represent the higher values.

Example of a valid IPv6 address:

  • 2001:0eb9:85a3:0000:1219:8a2e:0380:7344

IPv6 addresses consist of 128 bits, allowing for many more unique combinations. This is about 34, but with 38 zeros behind them.

Local or public IP address

An IP address can be a private IP address or a public IP address. Private IP addresses are used to connect devices to a local network, such as your home network. Public IP addresses are used when a local network connects to the internet. Your home IP address will allow devices on the internet to find your network, and then your network router will direct the query to the correct device using its private IP address.

Static or dynamic IP address

Similarly, IP addresses can also be a static IP address or a dynamic IP address.

A static ip address does not change. This makes it useful for several applications such as websites and printers, where multiple different devices need to be able to find the IP address in question. Pages on the world wide web will all use static ip addresses as it makes it easy for other devices to find them. Just imagine how frustrating it would be if you navigated to a web page but your internet service provider could not find the website because the IP address had changed. Using a static address ensures that the website always has the same address.

Dynamic addresses, meanwhile, do change. Every time a device that uses a dynamic IP address connects to the internet, a new IP address is assigned automatically by a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). Dynamic IP addresses tend to be more secure as they make the device harder for a third-party device to find, and are generally easier to set up.

How is an IP address assigned?

Your network router assigns the IP addresses on your local network and therefore your local IP address.

Public IP addresses are more complicated. How your public IP address is assigned and what precisely it looks like depends on your ISP and the location from where you are connecting, rather than the device itself.

How do I find my IP address?

Discovering your public ip address is simple. All you need to do is google “What is my IP” and your public IP address will be returned.

Your private IP address, used on your local network, can be found in WiFi settings on your computer, or any other connected devices and looking at the properties.

You can find your local IP address by opening your WiFi setting on your computer, tablet, or smartphone and looking at the properties.

How can I hide my IP address?

Hiding public IP addresses helps with privacy online and increases the security of connected devices; therefore is it obvious why many people wish to hide their IP addresses online. There are a number of methods to do this, with three of the most common listed below.

Use a VPN

‘VPN’ stands for Virtual Private Network and is the most common and probably the best method of hiding IP addresses.

They work through a VPN server. Instead of using your own IP address to connect to the internet, you connect to the VPN server which then connects you to the internet. This gives you a secure tunnel, making it much more difficult for a third party to discover the information you are sending or receiving. This covers accessing websites, online gaming, downloading videos, or sending and receiving emails.

A VPN in another country can also be used to spoof your geographical location and gain access to services or websites that are only available in certain countries.

VPNs are often used by employees to access a company network when they are working remotely.

Use a Proxy

A proxy server can also be used to hide your IP address. A network packet would be sent from your local wi-fi network to the proxy server, before being sent on to the global internet.

This functions as a kind of intermediate station between your device and the internet. Packets sent or received are routed through the proxy server. Any website would see the IP address of the proxy server instead of your real IP address.

The main issue with using a proxy is that the speed of your internet connection is slower as your internet traffic has to travel to a third party. In addition, this only works if you are visiting a website that uses the HTTPS protocol instead of the HTTP protocol. HTTPS is the secure version of the HTTP protocol and is widely used, but not universal. You can tell which protocol is being used by looking at the start of the URL.

Use Tor

Finally, Tor (‘The Onion Route’) can be used to hide your IP address.

Connecting via Tor means that your traffic is encrypted and then redirected via multiple servers. Each server forms a layer or encryption, hence the name of the program. This means that third parties cannot look up your IP address. There is, however, research to suggest that transferring bitcoin over Tor allows you to be tracked.

How can I change my IP address?

It is not possible to choose specific public ip addresses, but you can cause it to change in a couple of ways.

Switching your ISP

Your Internet service provider is the one who sets your public IP address, and therefore if you change your ISP you will receive a new IP address. However, this is a lot of hassle and not easy to repeat regularly.

Restart your router

If your internet service provider used dynamic IP addresses, then you can change your IP address by turning off your router. How long it will need to remain off for depends on your ISP, but it is usually between one and ten hours, but when you turn it back on, you might have a new IP address assigned. This is not, however, guaranteed.

Frequently asked questions

An IP address often called an Internet Protocol address, is a string of digits that identifies any device on a network. Computers use IP addresses to communicate with one another over the internet and across other networks.

IP stands for “Internet Protocol,” which is a set of rules that govern the format of data transferred via the internet or local network. IP addresses, in essence, are identifiers that allow information to be transmitted between devices on a network: they include location data and enable devices to be reached for communication.

  1. Go to your phone’s settings menu.
  2. Choose “About device.”
  3. Click on “Status.”
  4. Here you’ll find information about your device, such as the IP address.

The IP address is what directs internet traffic to your computer. To put it another way, it does not reveal your location. If someone gets your IP address, they may find out a little bit about your internet service, such as which provider you use to connect to the internet, but they cannot find you, your home, or your workplace.

The most popular methods for concealing your IP address include using a virtual private network (VPN) or a proxy server. VPNs are the most frequent tools utilized by customers to hide their IP addresses.

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