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What is an IP Address?

What does IP stand for?

IP stands for Internet Protocol, which is a set of standardised rules with which computers are able to send and receive messages or data to each other across networks. Essentially, it is the principle that governs and facilitates how data is transmitted on the World Wide Web.

Computers, however, need to have something to help them pinpoint the source and destination of the data or messages, in order to efficiently transmit them. This is where an IP address comes into play.

An IP address is a unique string of numbers that serves as a locator tag and is assigned to each computer or device that is connected to any network that is, in turn, connected to the internet. For example, the IP address of your home computer could be 173.26.267.0 while your mobile phone is 197.222.32.74. If your printer and television are also connected to the internet, then they will have their own IP addresses, as well. So essentially, both the source and destination devices of transmitted data each have its own IP address.

Fun fact: If you are using a router (otherwise known as a residential gateway device), then you will probably only have one public IP address, while the computers and devices connected to your router will each have their own private IP address.

How does an IP Address Works?

The internet (or World Wide Web) is much like a postal system. It holds millions of different types of data such as emails, web pages, and all kinds of multimedia.

In the post office, a letter or a package should have information about the sender and intended recipient so the postman knows how to sort them and where each letter or parcel should be sent to. The same goes for internet data. There should be information about its source and destination in order for the network to be able to transmit the data through the internet. IP addresses serve as locators and give the data being transmitted direction.

IP Address vs. Domain Names

Both IP addresses and domain names help us find specific locations in the World Wide Web. However, these two are not exactly the same.

An IP address is a string of numbers designed to be read by computers that points to a location of a device connected to the internet. A domain name, on the other hand, is a string of numbers and letters designed to be read by humans that puts a name to the location of a device connected to the internet. Simply put, a website is like a physical house or building, the IP address is like its GPS coordinates, while the domain name is its street address.

Another difference between the two is that there are IP addresses that can change at any time while domain names don’t. Once you register a domain name, you can’t change it. You can, however, register another domain name and migrate an already live site to it.

Dynamic vs. Static

There are two types of IP addresses:

  1. Static IP Address
  2. Dynamic IP Address

A dynamic IP address is one that can change at any time. This IP address is issued to you from a pool of available IP addresses allocated by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) Server. They are usually used for computers that do not need to have the same IP address all the time such as, for instance, computers that are not hosting websites on them. Your computer automatically receives this address as it logs on to the network and keeps it for some amount of time, usually the length of a particular session on the internet. After that, it goes back into the pool of available IP addresses for other people to use. Think of it as a pay phone versus a land line. If you need to run your own email server or web server, however, it would be best to have a static IP that's dedicated to your service.

A static IP address, on the other hand, is fixed and it never changes. This type of IP address is dedicated to a single site or service, and provides greater stability for exchanging information. If you want your own stable web-based resource, then a static IP is a must.

IPv4, IPv6, and Internet Stream Protocol

Basically, there are two standards for IP addresses: IPv4 and IPv6.

IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) is the standard that was first used when the internet was just starting and most computer networks were private. It uses a string of 32 binary bits that is expressed by four clusters of numbers that are separated by dots. Each number cluster is a representation of an 8-digit binary number called an octet. All machines with IP addresses today have IPv4 addresses.

  • e.g. 173.26.267.0

IPV6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is the other newer standard for allocating IP addresses to machines connected to the internet. It uses a string of 128 binary bits that is expressed by 8 groups of hexadecimal numbers that are separated by colons.

  • e.g. 1080:0000:0000:0000:0000:0034:0000:417A

Most often though, just to save space, the zeros IPv6 addresses are reduced or left out but the colons remain to mark the omitted part.

  • e.g. 1080:0:0:0:0:34:0:417A
  • e.g. 1080::34:0:417A

IPv6 was implemented to pacify the worrying notion that the internet will become too congested and that IP addresses will run out. With IPv4, there are only over 4 billion possible unique numerical combinations while with IPv6, there are approximately 79 octillion (or 340 trillion trillion trillion) possible unique IP addresses.

Fun fact: A computer network that is capable of processing both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic is called a dual stack network. In this type of network, all the nodes are programmed to prefer IPv6 by default. However, in the event that the traffic it receives is only IPv4, it will still be able to process the transmitted data.

Another Internet Protocol worth mentioning is the Internet Stream Protocol (otherwise known as the “almost” IPv5.) It was an experimental internet protocol that was introduced by computer network engineer Danny Cohen on December 1973. Its use was never really released to the public but it is considered to be the precursor of IPv6 and the technology behind VOIP (Voice over IP).

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