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What is an IP address?

What is an IP address?

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Last updated: 21 May 2021

Chances are you’ve heard of an IP address, and unless you’re a tech minded person the chances are you’ve never really cast it much thought.

We’ve put together a quick guide to explain exactly what IP addresses are, how they work, and why they're so important.

What an IP address does

IP addresses enable computers to communicate with one another. They allow the geographical location of billions of devices that have internet access to be pinpointed and told apart from other devices. They act as kind of an online address, in the same way that you need your address to receive a letter, a computer needs your IP address to connect to your computer.

How an IP address works

IP stands for Internet Protocol which is essentially a set of rules and laws that dictate activity on the internet allow for the execution of a whole range of actions on the internet. In a nutshell it’s like an interconnected grid that governs any online communication by analysing sender and recipient destinations and making two-way conversation between the devices possible.

What is IPv4?

Ipv4 was the original standard for IP addressed and was essentially a series of numbers separated into four different blocks an example would be, each block has a value anywhere between 0 and 255 which means each block has a maximum of 256 different values meaning a total of 4 billion different IP addresses. With over 7 billion people in the world, many of whom use various internet devices this is clearly not enough, so different methods are needed.

What is a dynamic IP address?

One solution to this issue is the dynamic IP address, this essentially means issuing IP addresses on a rotation. When an IP address is not in use it is essentially re-commissioned and assigned to a device which is using the internet. This means that dynamic IP addresses assign the next available IP address rather than you keep the same one.

The opposite of this is the static IP address. You can request this with most broadband deals which means it never changes. These are generally available to businesses, but if you are willing to pay then you can get one for domestic use as well.

What are subnets?

Another solution is the subnet which is a network within a network. Essentially this divides connections, so IP addresses can be recycled. An example would be one with several internet devices, rather than allocating each device it gives them all one IP address. The IP address is then given to the router which establishes its own network and dishes out IP addresses to all receiving devices.

What is IPv6?

The newest solution to the issue of IP addresses is IPv6, this uses a different system with vastly more combinations than its predecessor Ipv4. It employs a hexadecimal system as opposed to the previously used binary. Whereas binary only has two states the hexadecimal system has 16, so an Ipv6 address is eight groups of 4 in Hexadecimal. This means that the total number of potential combinations comes in at around 340 Decillion, or in layman’s terms, 36,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. It’s safe to say we won’t be running out anytime soon.

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Fergus Cole

Author: Fergus Cole

Fergus is a journalist specialising in the personal finance, energy and broadband sectors. He also has a passion for travel and adventure so tries to make the most of this in any spare time he gets.