IP (Internet Protocol) Address
What is an IP address?
An Internet Protocol address, or IP address, is a complex string of numbers that represents computers, servers and other devices connected to the internet or a local network. These identifying numbers allow machines to find, request and exchange information.
The IP address serves as a form of identification for hardware devices. It also provides information on the geographic location of the device. The IP address ensures that network administrators are able to get data to the right place.
It’s not just users’ computers or routers that get assigned IP addresses. When you make a website, your site receives an IP address from the web hosting server on which it resides.
What an IP address looks like
IP addresses are managed on a global level by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Originally, IP addresses were represented as 32-bit numbers. They consisted of a string of four numbers—between 0 and 255—which were separated by periods.
This was referred to as IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) addresses. In an effort to prevent the internet from running out of IP addresses, the IANA started issuing IPv6 addresses.
Since the mid-2000s, network administrators have been assigning IPv6 addresses to new devices. IPv6 addresses are represented as 128-bit numbers. They consist of eight fields separated by colons. The fields must contain a hexadecimal number, which may include letters.
Domain names vs. IP addresses
The difference between an IP address and a domain name can be compared to the difference between a physical address and the name of a location respectively. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to pick a place to meet for dinner. Which are you more likely to say?
“Why don’t we go to 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036?”
“Why don’t we go to Bubba Gump Shrimp?”
Technically, you can input some IP addresses into your address bar and it will take you to the corresponding domain. However, IP addresses are not as memorable as a website’s URL.
Types of IP addresses
There are three ways to classify IP addresses. Let’s review them below:
Public vs. private IP addresses
When you connect to the web through an internet service plan, you’ll get both a public and private IP address. A public IP address is assigned by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and is associated with your network. Any device that connects to your network via the same router will share a public IP address.
A private IP address is assigned by the network router. Unlike a public IP address, which applies to all devices on the network, each internet-connected device gets its own private IP address.
Dynamic vs. static IP addresses
A dynamic IP address refers to an address that will change over time. These types of IP addresses are most common, useful and cost-effective for ISPs. As customers join and leave their services, they can reassign previously used IP addresses to new ones.
A static IP address will remain the same over time. Unlike dynamic IP addresses that are automatically assigned through a provider, static ones need to be purchased. Although they’re not as commonly used, they come in handy if you host your own server for websites and email.
Shared vs. dedicated IP addresses
When a user signs up through a web hosting provider, they receive either a shared or dedicated IP address. The former is shared by all the websites that reside on the same hosting server.
Meanwhile, the latter is specific to a single website. Users have to upgrade to dedicated hosting plans to get a unique identifier.
A lot of web builders may include free web hosting as a part of their platform's infrastructure.
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How does an IP address work?
IP addresses give all internet devices the ability to communicate with one another and exchange information. Any device that connects to the internet will be assigned a public and private IP address. For example, your device will get a different IP address for every network it connects to whether that is at home, in the office or on the road. Your IP address will also differ if you connect to your normal network via a VPN.
At home, you work on a wireless network provided by an internet service provider (ISP), while in the office, you use your company’s network. Once you’ve found the network you want to connect to, you need to request access and may need to provide a password.
The network then grants your device access to the internet and assigns it an IP address.
Next, the ISP or network administrator will assign the device you’re on an IP address. So, when you’re online, every request you make or information you send goes through your ISP, and vice versa. The only way this is possible is through your IP address.
How to find your device’s IP address
If you want to find your IP address, there are a number of ways to locate this type of information on your device. The first option is to “ask” Google by doing a search for what is my IP address? At the top of the search results page, you’ll see a box that says what’s my IP address alongside your router’s public IP address.
The second option is using https://whatismyipaddress.com/. When you go to What Is My IP Address, it will automatically show your device’s public IP address and whether you have an IPv4 or IPv6 address. It will also provide other relevant details, such as your ISP and the physical location of your device.
When we refer to devices here, we’re talking about the routing device that you connect to the Internet through. This is why your public IP address will be the same for all the devices that connect through it. You can test this out by opening What Is My IP Address on both your computer and smartphone.
A third option is to use your computer’s command prompt. If you want to know what your device’s private IP address is, you will have to open the command prompt on your device. For Mac users, open the Terminal app. Type the command ifconfig to retrieve it. For Windows users, do a search for cmd. The command prompt will open. Type ipconfig.
The final option for finding your IP address is searching in network settings. You can also find your private IP address by going to your system or network preferences. Select the network you’re using and the device will show your IP address at the top.
How to look up your website’s IP address
You use the website https://www.whatsmydns.net/ to look up your website’s IP address. First, you will need to type your site URL into the search bar. Then, you will need to select “A” from the dropdown menu. This refers to the A Record on your Domain Name System (DNS). The A Record indicates the IP address of a given domain.
Finally, you can run the search, keeping in mind that the DNS Checker will provide you with a long list of name servers around the world. Next to each location you should see the same public IP address listed.
How to hide an IP address
A VPN (virtual private network) offers private network services to users that want to protect their online privacy and secure their data. In essence, it’s an encrypted tunnel that enables users to privately transmit and receive data when using a public network.
A VPN provides this protection by hiding the IP address. As a result, you will not be able to use any of the public IP services above to detect your address while you’re connected to a VPN. That said, when you turn off the VPN, your public IP address will be available again.
Learn more about how to host a website with our guide.