What is an IP Address?
The IP address is the unique set of numbers separated by periods (i.e. 126.96.36.199) that identifies every device connected to the Internet.
Every device connected to the Internet – whether computer, tablet, network hardware, even some TVs – is assigned a unique address.
Similar to how someone would need to know your address to send you a letter, a remote computer needs to know your device’s IP address to send and receive information from your computer.
The word IP stands for Internet Protocol, the set of rules that defines how data can be transferred between computers and all devices on a network.
The IP address of the sender and recipient is included in every data packet sent via the internet.
In addition to identifying these two specific parties, it also identifies the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can be used to pinpoint the geographic locations of these individuals and to link the users to their web activity.
Accurate addresses are critical for the internet and its users – and these numbers are set to skyrocket. According to the Cisco VNI Project, there will be 19 billion networked devices globally by 2017 - nearly three devices for every person on the globe – and the number of internet users will be 3.6 billion, up from 2.3 billion users in 2012.
And each device connected to the Internet – whether a computer, tablet, some TVs, and even the “machine-to-machine” (M2M) category of computers interconnected without human assistance – has to have its unique address.
IP V4 vs. IP V6 & How IP Addresses Look Like
IP addresses are created according to either the IP version 4 or IP version 6 standard.
For IP version 4, the most commonly used format for consumer devices, an address is composed of four numbered segments, each separated by periods, and looks something like 188.8.131.52.
These digits are what we see as humans. A computer – and the Internet – sees this after it has been transformed into a binary number. Each number segment is represented by its eight digit binary code, making the whole IP address into a 32 digit binary number. All together, the IPv4 system provides 232 or around 4.3 billion unique IP addresses.
Given the rapid growth of the number of devices on the internet, computer scientists realized that these 4.3 billion IP addresses would not be sufficient.
To solve the looming shortage, they developed IPv6 with a 128 bit system. This is made up of eight groups of four hexadecimal symbols separated by colons.
A hexadecimal is a 16 base positional numbering system that combines numbers and letters. The new IPv6 addresses look like 2001:0db8:85a3:0042:1000:8a2e:0370:7334. More importantly, it enables a phenomenal 2128 unique IP addresses (more than 7.9×1028 times as many as IPv4) – ensuring that there will be enough IP addresses for a long time to come for both consumers and online technologies.
Figure 1. IPv4 Address
Figure 2. IPv6 Address
How Does Your Computer Get Its IP Address?
IP addresses can be either dynamic or static.
Static IP addresses are fixed to the specific device. Static IP addresses are manually assigned by an administrator. Before when the Internet was not as popular (in the 1990’s), every computer was assigned a static IP address. Today, dynamic IP addresses are more commonly used for individual users.
Dynamic IP addresses are assigned by a server using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). Dynamic IP addresses are temporary and can change each time the device connects to the internet.
Changing IP addresses with the DHCP protocol allows an ISP (Internet Service Provider) to distribute a limited pool of IP addresses each time a device connects to the Internet.
This frees the ISP from recording the specific IP address for each device and also enables it to service more customers with fewer IP addresses. In terms of privacy for the end computer users, there is little practical difference between fixed or dynamic IP addresses as ISPs are required to keep logs of their customers' internet activities.
Want to Hide Your IP Address and Surf the Web Anonymously?
Both services allow you to surf the Web anonymously by masking your IP address and making the request on your behalf under the proxy server or the VPN server’s IP address.
However, for secure browsing, VPN service is recommended as it creates a secure tunnel between your device and the VPN server. This encrypts all of the Internet communications between your device and the VPN server, making it extremely difficult for anyone to sniff your Internet traffic or find out your IP address.