What is My IP Address and Why Should I Care?


All devices that are connected to the Internet have a unique number assigned to them. This number is known as the device’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. It is the way the device is identified as it moves about the Internet and connects to websites and other devices.

What is an IP Address?



The majority of computer networks, including the Internet, employ Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) to enable communication between network-attached devices and computers. They are two distinct entities but are often used together, and the term TCP/IP is the de-facto standard for describing the protocols.

Let’s take a little dive into the functionality that TCP/IP provides. There are four layers and each has its own set of protocols. They are:

  • The datalink layer is made up of protocols and methods that only work on a link. In network terms, a link connects hosts or nodes on a network. Ethernet is an example of a protocol that operates in the datalink layer.


  • The network layer is used to connect networks and transport data packets across network boundaries. The Internet Protocol (IP) and Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) are used in this layer.

  • Next is the transport layer. It controls the communication between hosts. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) are two of the possible protocols used in this layer.

  • The application layer is made up of many protocols including File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), and HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP). This layer is responsible for standardizing how applications exchange data.

So the acronym TCP/IP comes from the protocols used in two layers.

  • TCP is the element that breaks up a file or transmission into packets to be sent over the Internet. It also reassembles the packets when their destination is reached.

  • IP handles the address of each data packet. The address ensures that the data is sent to the correct destination.

Differences in IP Addresses


IP addresses come in a variety of flavors. Here are the main distinguishing characteristics that differentiate IP addresses.


IPv4 and IPv6

These two versions of IP are currently used for the purposes of location addressing and identification.

An IPv4 address is comprised of 32 bits and is expressed in decimal format. You are probably familiar with IP addresses that look like this:

196.243.122.3.

There is a limit of 4,294,967,296 unique addresses that can be constructed using the IPv4 protocol.

An IPv6 address uses 128 bits which exponentially increases the number of unique addresses it can create to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. Addresses are expressed in hexadecimal format like this:

2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334.

The main reason that IPv6 is around is that IPv4 cannot supply enough IP addresses for all of the world’s network-attached devices. Though not directly compatible, the two protocols can operate together.


Dynamic and Static

Here is the other big difference in the type of IP address that you might be using when you connect to the Internet. A static IP address will not change between network connections. Your home Internet connection may be a static IP that is tied to your router. Dynamic IP addresses are assigned by your ISP when you connect and can change over time.

There are some business advantages to having a static IP, but in the end, it is just used to connect you to the Internet, so either type will work.

What is my IP address?


There are various ways to find your IP address depending on the operating system that your device employs. Since you are on this webpage, you could simply consult the widget at the top of the screen. It displays your IP address as well as some information that can be obtained from that address, such as your physical location. More on that fact later in this article.

Here is one way of finding your IP address on some of the more popular computing platforms. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list and there may be other ways to obtain the same information.

Windows
Launch the command prompt.
Enter the ipconfig command.
Your IP address is shown as your IPv4 address in the command output.

macOS
Open System Preferences.
Choose the network panel.
Select your connection and click on the advanced button.
Click on the TCP/IP tab to display your IP address.

iOS
Select Settings.
Tap on WiFi Network.
Tap on the network connection.
Your IP address is now displayed.

Android
Select Apps -> Settings -> Wireless & networks.
Select the network you are currently using.
The IP address and other network information will be displayed.

How Does a Device Obtain an IP Address?


Let’s take a look at how the devices in your home obtain their IP addresses. Your ISP assigns a public IP address to your router. This address may change over time, although you may be able to obtain a static IP address if you need one. The router then shares this public IP address with all of the computers and network-connected devices in the home.

Each device is assigned a local IP address that allows them to communicate amongst themselves. These addresses are not used when accessing the Internet. All of the devices in your home accessing the Internet through your router will have the same public IP address. In this way, all traffic is sent back to your router and then to the individual device that is using the network.

What You Need to Know About Your IP Address


As long as you are connected to the Internet you probably don’t think much about your IP address. It’s not like you might have to give it to a cab driver to get you home after a long night of partying. You really don’t need to know your IP address except in some configuration scenarios.

But your IP address is important to others. Why is that, you might ask. Well, the answer is that your ISP can track your online movements through your IP address. They can track the websites that you visit, the amount of time you spend there, and the kind of activity you perform when on a particular site.

Perhaps this doesn’t concern you. But tracking your online activity can be used to produce targeted advertising with which you may not want to be bothered. Identifying the sites and activity you are performing may lead to your ISP throttling your connection speed under certain circumstances. And then there is the situation where your ISP blocks you from accessing torrent sites or other geo-regulated websites.

Your IP address can be used to identify where you have been and what you have done on the Internet. Even if you never have any reason to be concerned about this, there is something that just doesn’t seem right about giving anyone this level of information about ourselves.

This is why you might consider using a VPN to keep your online movements private. A VPN masks your IP address by assigning another from the VPN server. In this way, you can get around restrictions enforced by your ISP and maintain privacy over your online activity.

To see this in action, take a look at your IP address. Now, fire up a VPN service and connect to a VPN server. When you query your IP address again, you will see it has changed. Now you can surf in anonymity without any prying eyes following you around.


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