What is an IP address?

 Data center racks with cables and servers
Data center racks with cables and servers

An IP address can be seen as a string of numbers associated with a specific computer. It can also be seen as a visual passport that guides information in a computer to its rightful destination. The power of an IP address is so vast that it's one of the main elements of the internet. Just as your postal code is the key factor to receiving any order made online or letters from family and friends to your doorpost, the same way an IP address is like a string of secret codes that allows the computer to send and receive data. This article will explore and review the concept of an IP address to help you have a deeper understanding.

What is an IP address

An IP address which stands for internet protocol address is a digital code that is generated through a hierarchical system that involves the RIRs, IANA, and ISPs which allows computers to send and receive information. These are not just random codes, they are commonly expressed as numbers, for example, 192.558.1.28 (A typical example of an IP address). They are produced mathematically by IANA.

Just like a home address, an IP address is associated with a specific computer. As houses have different addresses the same way no computer has the same IP address. The IP address of a computer is different from a web server or even a smartphone, this is done to enable it to reach its intended target. Imagine having to send a letter to a friend but it ends up on a stranger's door post. Now, to avoid such misconception you will need to provide the delivery man with your friend's accurate postal code to ensure your letter gets to your friend.

Similarly, an IP address gets your data across the internet acting like a postal address. You should know that just like a spider web every device that connects to the internet including your business smartphone, laptop, PC, Smart TV, Smart thermostats, etc. has an IP address assigned to it. You might be wondering "But why? Does it mean I'm being watched through my devices?" Of course not, the reason an IP address is assigned to those devices even to your favorite website is to enable them to communicate effectively by sending and receiving the right information, and also ensuring information reaches the right destination.

Importance of an IP address

The importance of an IP address is so vast. It's far beyond the numbers and dots you see. It's like a digital signpost connecting us all.

Identification: One of the main importance of an IP address is the identification it offers. Every person's fingerprint is unique and is used for identification, the same way every device's IP address is unique and used for identification. These dots and digits enable the internet to identify between devices right from the IP address assigned to them.

Security and control: Some of the common security threats like hijacking, DDoS attacks, etc., can be prevented through the recognition of a trusted IP address. IP addresses are similar to firewalls or VPNs; they also function in monitoring and filtering traffic to fight against any form of malicious activity.

Content delivery: A content-delivery network (CDN) relies completely on an IP address for the optimization of web content.

Establishing a connection: An IP address ensures that information is headed to the right path and that everything is headed to the intended destination. Imagine how browsing, online transactions, etc. will turn out without an IP address.

Geolocation: Ever wondered how someone gained insight into the location of your device? Well, an IP address offers insight into the geographical location of any device. "Does it mean with my device IP address I can retrieve my lost phone? You can say that. With a device IP address, you can retrieve the device once it's lost by tracking its location. Also, an IP address ensures that information provided by servers and websites is based on your region's language preference, even the advert you see.

What is the role of an IP address

An IP address plays various roles beyond its numerical composition.

It helps in routing data packets: This is one of the primary roles of an IP address. It ensures the routing of data packets across the internet. What does it mean exactly? When you send anything be it mail or engage in any online activity data gotten from the source are broken down and labeled with its IP address.

It plays an effective role in establishing communication: They help devices communicate with each other to guide information from sender to receiver.

Establish online transactions: When it comes to e-commerce an IP address plays an important role in enabling secure online transactions and also to detect fraudulent activity.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and remote access: An IP address ensures privacy and also allows users to access remote networks from any location.

Components of an IP address

These components work in harmony to provide valuable information.

IPv4 and IPv6: First and foremost IP address is categorized into 2; IPv4 which stands for Internet Protocol version 4 and IPv6 which stands for Internet Protocol version 6.

Internet protocol version 4 for example is made up of numbers in four sets and separated by periods (.). While Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is more advanced for example, 2001:0ed8:46a5:0000:0000:8b2e:0374:5334. Other than being made up of four sets of numbers, they are made of longer and more complex combinations of numbers and letters separated by colons.

Network ID and Host ID: IPv4 addresses are divided into two parts; Network ID which represents the network the device belongs to. For example 192.168 and the Host ID which represents the device that is hosting the network for example 1.2.

Subnet mask: This is used to determine the range of IP addresses within a network. This serves as an identity that helps to determine which portion of an address belongs to the network and the host.

Class and address range: IPv4 is divided into various classes for example:

  • Class A: Used for large networks

  • Class B: Used for medium network

  • Class C: Used for a small network

  • Class D: Used for multicast groups

  • Class E: Reserved for experimental purposes.

IPv6 prefix length: For IPv6 the prefix length helps us to know the number of addresses that are for the network.

Global routing prefix (IPv6): This prefix serves as the main part of an IPv6 that shows the network it belongs to.

Interface identifier: This is also seen as the Host ID.

Types of IP address

There are four main types of IP addresses;

Private IP address: This is used within a local network. This type of IP address ensures that every device connected to your router has a private IP address. This generates and makes sure that each connected device has a unique private IP address, for example, 192.643.8.0.

Public IP address: This is an IP address that is associated with a whole network. This number is assigned to a device connected to the internet, this address is provided by your ISP (internet service provider) to your router. This address is still recognizable and accessible to the public.

Dynamic IP address: A dynamic IP address is an address assigned by an ISP (internet service provider). They are assigned to devices like computers, routers, smartphones, etc. This IP address is very secure as it changes periodically each time it connects to a network making it difficult to track or hack such a device.

Static IP address: Unlike the dynamic IP address that changes, a static IP address is fixed, it remains constant and doesn't change. This IP address is manually configured. Businesses hardly need a static IP address unless they want to host their server and want other devices to find them constantly on the web.

How does an IP address work?

An IP address acts as a guidepost that ensures data packets find their way through the internet maze. Firstly, your device connects to the internet indirectly by connecting to a device network that is already connected to the internet.

Once connected to the internet your device attaches its IP address as the "sender" and the device or recipient's IP address as the "destination." This tells the internet where to get data and where it needs to go. If you are at home the network will be your ISP ( internet service provider). At work, it will be labeled the company's network.

The routers read the IP address destination, this directs the IP address on each packet to the best path to travel through the web of network routers

Your internet activity goes to the ISP however, once you turn off and on your router, your IP address can change automatically. The routers ensure that the packets get to the intended destination; they also make sure that the device is receiving the correct ones.

How to look up IP addresses

There are various ways to check your IP address and the simplest one is through a search on Google by typing "What is my IP address" This will display your public IP address.

To find your device IP address for iPhone users:

-Go to Settings

-Select 'Wifi' and click the 'i' in the enclosed circle () next to the network you have.

There you will find the IP address under the DHCP tab.

To find your device IP address using the command prompt:

-On your keyboard open the 'start' menu.

-Open the command prompt by typing 'cmd'.

-In the 'cmd' window, type 'ipconfig' and then press enter.

The IP address associated with the device will be displayed.

To find the IP address of a website using the command prompt:

-On your keyboard open the 'start' menu.

-Open the command prompt by typing 'cmd'.

-In the 'cmd' window, type 'nslookup www.thedomianname.com' and then press enter.

The IP address associated with the website will be displayed.

To find the IP address of a website using Terminal (Macos/Linux):

-Open the terminal by searching in the menu on the application

-Type 'nslookup www.thedomainname.com press enter and the IP address of the domain will be displayed.

IP address security threats

Online stalking: This involves tracking down your IP address by looking up your online activities, hackers or criminals can use this to track down someone by stalking their online activities. Once they have your IP address they can go to an IP address tracking site and type your IP address to get your location. They can use this to attack or impersonate you.

Tracking down your location: When a hacker knows your IP address they can hunt down your location using geolocation technology.

Attacking your network: One of the popular forms of attack is DDos attacks. This type of attack is usually against businesses and video game services.

Hacking your device: With your IP address and port access criminals and hackers can gain access to your device and steal your information and also install malware on your device.

How to protect and hide your IP address

You can protect and hide your IP address

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPNs): A virtual private network (VPN) hides your IP address making it safe for your online activities. You can use a VPN when you are using public wifi, traveling, working remotely, or want some privacy.

Some popular VPN networks include:

Using a proxy server: With a proxy server your IP address remains hidden and the internet sees only your proxy server and not your IP address. One of the things you should be aware of when using a proxy server is that there are chances that someone can spy on you, so you need to be careful.


An IP address is the digital identifier of your device or website. Understanding the types and components of an IP address helps individuals, network administrators, and IT professionals to manage and configure IP addresses effectively. It's also important that you protect your IP address from hackers and criminals by using proxy servers and VPNs.

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