Who Owns IP Addresses?
An IP address serves as the physical address of a device that is connected to the internet or a network in some degree. This device could be anything from a desktop computer or a laptop to a printer or a server. IP addresses are an integral part of internet and network communication and are vital to facilitate the transferal of data. Think of an IP address like a Zip Code – to send and receive mail, a Zip Code is required so the postman or woman knows exactly which address you live at! When transferring data, an IP address acts as a Zip Code and allows the location of a device to be identified.
IP addresses are assigned by various bodies and organizations and each device that is connected to the internet should have its own IP address. Who owns an IP address, however? Who distributes an IP address and how are they managed?
IPv4 & IPv6
IP Addresses are created using both IPv4 and IPv6 – These two protocols define how IP Addresses are created and distributed. IPv4 was the original protocol and used a 4-block numbering system for IP Addresses – This system, however, had its limitations and can only create a limited number of total IP addresses. IPv6 was then created which facilitated a host of new IP addresses and improved the methodology and functionality of this system. While this system does not donate ownership of an IP address, they are important for their creation and distribution.
Private and Public addresses, ICANN and IANA
In essence, every IP address that is used on the internet has a registered owner. Initially, IP addresses are created and distributed via ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). ICANN is responsible for the distribution and maintenance of IP addresses and other internet naming facilities and initially, owns each IP address. This organization then distributes IP address to businesses and organizations lower down in the chain such as IANA (and ISP’s (Internet Service providers).
The IANA has a list of several blocks of IP addresses that are reserved for certain functions such as multicasting or simply for future use. Examples of these blocks include 127.0.0.0/8 which are reserved for Loopback functions and 0.0.0.0/8 which is reserved for IANA local identification. Other organizations that own block of IP addresses include ISP providers like AT&T Global Network Services, the US Department of Defense and worldwide regional areas such as ARIN.
These organizations are then responsible for the distribution of their allocated IP addresses to their users and customers. For example, an Internet Service Provider will distribute public IP addresses to their customers – Each customer may be given a single IP address or can opt to pay for several. Generally, public IP addresses remain the property of the original provider – It is only private IP addresses that are owned by the registered user.
This may seem confusing, but all you have to remember is: ICANN creates and distributes IP addresses to secondary organizations. Those organizations (such as Internet service providers) then distribute IP addresses to the public but retain ownership.