Understanding How an IP Address Works

Website Development
Understanding How an IP Address Works
Article by Maria Martin
Last Updated: August 27, 2022

An IP (internet protocol) address is the unique address identifying a particular device connected to the internet or a local network. This is how an IP address works. In a nutshell, it governs the data format being received and sent via the network.

This identifier of data transmitted among devices within a network contains the location information, enabling gadgets to be accessible for communication. IP addresses work to provide a way to differentiate various computers, websites, and routers. This function of IP addresses is essential in making the internet operate.

Mathematically formulated and provided by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), an IP address works to maintain a secure internet connection and allow its use by all parties with access to that specific network.

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How Does an IP Address Work?

IP addresses work in the same manner as languages do. They communicate via a set of guidelines to pass information. Devices connected using the same protocol find and exchange data with each other. It is like speaking the same language through which computers, regardless of location, send and receive information.

Behind the scenes, an IP address works following these processes:

  • A computing device connects to a local network that is, in turn, connected to the internet. This grants the computer access to the internet.
  • Your internet service provider (ISP) assigns your gadgets unique IP addresses. If you are home, you will have your private network. At work, you will use the shared company network on dedicated web hosting or VPS hosting.
  • All your internet activities will go through the ISP, which will reroute them back to you via an IP address.

Note that IP addresses can change. One way to do this is by turning off your modem and then switching it back on. You can also ask your internet provider to change it for you deliberately.

When you are traveling and using your mobile phone, you will have to connect to the internet via personal data. You also have the option to use a WiFi connection at a hotel or coffee shop. In both cases, your IP address changes. Utilizing cloud adoption, it connects through the address assigned by your mobile data provider or the hotel’s or cafeteria’s ISP.

Types of IP Addresses

As suggested by the process of how an IP address works, it has different categories and subtypes under each category. Some are permanent and others temporary:

Consumer IP Addresses

A consumer IP address is what individuals and businesses connect to and is related to their network location. These are the two kinds of consumer IP addresses:

1.1 Private IP Address

All devices connected to an internet network use a private IP address. These include smartphones, tablets, personal computers, and Bluetooth-enabled gadgets like speakers, smart TVs, and printers.

The number of private IP addresses in a single household increases as the internet of things (IoT) grows. This is because your router or modem has to recognize your devices separately. Your router must generate distinct private IP addresses as unique identifiers of every tech item. These will differentiate them as they connect to your home internet.

1.2 Public IP Address

This is the primary address associated with your whole extensive internet network. While every connected device uses its own unique IP address, each is also a part of the main IP address of your network.

An ISP has an extensive pool of IP addresses distributed to users. Your private IP is located within this bigger web of addresses, i.e., your public IP address. There are two types of public IP addresses:

1.2.1 Dynamic IP Addresses

As the name implies, a dynamic IP address changes regularly and automatically.

ISPs automatically assign a unique IP address to every customer. However, they will periodically reassign these addresses and put older ones back into their repository of IP addresses. The reason behind this practice is cost-savings for the internet company.

For instance, a client moves into a new home. The ISP will not have to exhaust resources to perform meticulous actions to re-establish the client’s IP address. Instead, the internet provider will only have to allow regular IP address movement automation.

In addition, there are safety benefits. Changing IP addresses contributes to fending off network interface attacks from malicious intruders.

1.2.2 Static IP Addresses

Unlike a dynamic IP address, a static IP address remains constant. On the one hand, most private internet users and companies do not use or need this form of public IP address.

On the other hand, a static IP address is crucial for corporations planning to host their own server. This ensures that emails, web pages, and other data tied to the static IP will have the same address. This is critical for organizations that need to monitor devices attached to their network for security purposes. A static IP address will enable them to locate these devices easily.

Website IP Addresses

Many website owners do not host their own server. They depend on web hosting to run their site. These are the two subcategories of website IP addresses:

2.1 Shared IP addresses

When a website relies on a shared hosting plan provided by a web hosting company, it will be hosted using the same server. This is typically the case for personal and SME websites with manageable traffic volumes. The site itself houses a limited number of pages and sections. This website format has a shared IP address.

2.1 Dedicated IP addresses

You have the option to purchase a web hosting plan with one dedicated IP address or more.

A dedicated IP grants user access to your website via a specific IP address alone rather than via a regular domain name. This is beneficial for corporate websites, which multiple people use to transfer and share files within an organization securely.

Dedicated IP addresses allow easier acquisition of a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate for data encryption and authentication. Through a dedicated IP, users can also run the company’s file transfer protocol (FTP) server for safe uploading and downloading of documents.

Where to Find Your IP Address

You can look up your router’s public IP address by searching “what is my IP address?” on Google. This is the simplest way to check public IP addresses, as the search engine will show the answer at the top of the results page. You will receive only an approximation of location, though, instead of the device's precise location.

It is a different scenario for finding your private IP address. And it will vary according to the operating system.

For Windows, you can use the command prompt and key in cmd on the Windows search bar. It will redirect you to a pop-up box where you have to enter ipconfig. This will provide you with the IP information you need.

On Mac, you simply have to go to the system preferences and then select the network to display this information.

For iOS on iPhones and Apple tablets, go to the settings page and select WiFi. Click on the icon i enclosed in a circle beside the network. Your IP address should appear on the dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) tab.

Protecting Your IP Address

Keep your IP address secure from cyberattacks through the following practices:

Hiding Your IP Address

Protect your online identity and other personal information by keeping your IP address concealed and using:

  • A proxy server: This is an intermediary server rerouting traffic from your computer.
  • A virtual private network (VPN): It conceals your geographical location, making your devices appear connected to a local network.

Changing the privacy settings of your apps

Instant messaging (IM) and other communication apps installed on your device are typical tools for cyber intruders to hack into your IP. Update your application settings to enable only known connections to reach you.

Creating a Unique Password

Your internet password is the only guard restricting other people from accessing your network and devices. Change the ISP-provided default password into a unique passcode that is difficult to guess and recall. If possible, frequently change your passwords.

Using a Robust Antivirus Solution

Install the latest version of comprehensive antivirus software and ensure you keep it up-to-date. Antivirus protection blocks viruses and securely stores passwords and confidential documents. It encrypts data exchange happening via your network, too.

Blocking Malicious Content

Keep an eye out for phishing emails and refrain from clicking on suspicious links. Connecting to unreliable sites makes your device location and IP address vulnerable to attackers.

Final Thoughts on How an IP Address Works

Whether you are a frequent casual internet user or a business owner, understanding how an IP address works can benefit you, your data, and information security.

IP addresses work to identify devices and are unique to each device within an IP range or subnet. They come in handy when troubleshooting internet-related errors and tracing intruders. That is why managing and securing your IP address is critical to safeguarding devices and servers.

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