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 IP addresses in order to know how your own connection operates.

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 assigned IP. 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 IPAM (IP Address Management) 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 router or ISP assigns IP addresses to each device on the network. 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, and 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 IP 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, here are a few types of IP addresses and IP terms that will help your understanding. * Public and private IP addresses – Your Internet service provider assigns your network a public IP for Internet connection. The device assigned your public IP is likely your WiFi router. The WiFi router then assigns separate private, or internal, Internet Protocol addresses to each device when connecting to WiFi. Private IPs communicate locally within your home network. * Static IP and dynamic IP addresses – IPs are either static or dynamic. ISPs manually assign static IPs, and they never changes. On the other hand, networks assign dynamic IPs. They change periodically depending on the lease time. * IPv4 and IPv6 addresses – IPv4 and IPv6 refer to Internet Protocol version 4 and version 6 of the Internet Protocol address system, respectively. IPv6 is an updated system that’s currently replacing IPv4 as we run out of IPv4 addresses. You may have an IPv4 or an IPv6. But having one over the other does not affect the user much. * Shared and dedicated IP addresses - These are website IP addresses. Websites hosting from web hosting providers on the same server use shared IP addresses. However, some websites prefer dedicated IPs, which allow them to run their own FTP servers and access their site via the IP alone. * Lease time – Though this isn't a type of Internet Protocol address, it's relevant; the lease time is how long it takes for your dynamic IP to expire. After the “lease” expires, the network conclusively assigns a new one.