IP addresses are everywhere on the Internet. Every device you use at home, in the office, even the smartphone in your pocket has one. Yet, we may not know exactly what an IP address is. In today’s edition of ExpressBasics, we’ll understand what IP addresses are, how they work, and how you can find yours.
What is an IP address?
As Kaspersky defines it, “IP addresses are the identifier that allows information to be sent between devices on a network: they contain location information and make devices accessible for communication. The internet needs a way to differentiate between different computers, routers, and websites. IP addresses provide a way to do this and are an essential part of how the internet works.
Simply put, an IP address is like an Internet address that can be used to uniquely identify a particular device connected to a network, in this case, the entire web. “IP” stands for Internet Protocol, a set of rules that govern the format of data sent over the Internet.
IP addresses are listed as four decimal numbers, separated by periods. A typical IP address looks like this – 188.8.131.52.
Here, the first half of the address (192.164.50) represents what is called the network part while the second half (56) is what is called the host part. While the former specifies the unique number assigned to your network, the latter is the part of the IP address that you assign to each host or device on your network.
Imagine these point and number combinations being a unique postcode or a latitude-longitude combination that can be used to locate your city or exact location on Google Maps, respectively. If a website has your IP address (which it will unless you’re using a VPN), it also knows where you’re accessing the webpage from. This is how websites learn your location, which is often used to then redirect you to more region-specific pages or switch languages accordingly.
Public vs Private IP Addresses
A public IP address is an address that can be accessed directly on the Internet. This address is assigned to your network router by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and is different from your private IP addresses. The devices you use on your home Wi-Fi network all have a private IP address. These are only visible to the router and remain hidden when you connect to the internet.
How to know your IP address
Knowing your own IP address is essential if, for example, you want to host a LAN network in your home or office. There are many ways to find your IP address, the easiest of which is to simply search “What is my IP?” on Google. This will quickly show you your public IP address.
To find out your private IP address, you will need to follow a few more steps.
In Windows, you can access your network properties in Settings/Network and Internet/Wi-Fi/ (name of your Wi-Fi). You will find your IP address towards the bottom of the page.
On macOS, you can click on the Apple logo, go to System Preferences/Network. Here, select the network you are already connected to and under “Status” you will see the private IP address.
On Android, you can find out your IP address by going to Settings/About phone/Status/IP address. On iOS, you can go to Settings/WiFi and select the information icon to the right of the connected network and find your IP address there.
IPv4 and IPv6 addresses
The IP addresses we process are generally IPv4 addresses. It is an old protocol that uses 32 binary bits and provides a total of 4.29 billion possible unique addresses. Concerns about the number of “depleted” IP addresses led to the development of IPv6. IPv6 addresses are designated by eight groups of numbers and generally look like this: 2601:7c1:100:ef69:b5ed:ed57:dbc0:2c1e.
IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses instead, theoretically allowing 2^128 combinations or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses. Yes, that’s enough not to run out for a very, very long time.
However, as mentioned by CommentGeek, the impending shortage of IPv4 addresses “has ended up being alleviated to a great extent” because people have started using private IP addresses behind their routers. This is why a full transition to IPv6 has not yet taken place.