We’re always hearing things about IP addresses, especially when movies tackle the inherently complex world of technology. We discuss what IP addresses are and dispel some myths.
Your computer, as well as any other device that connects to the Internet, has an IP address. What you probably already know is that each IP address is specific to you. No other device on the Internet has the same IP address as you.
What is an IP address used for?
Quite simply, an IP address is needed so the rest of the Internet can identify you and knows how to send you information. It acts like a postal address. Without a postal address, the postman doesn’t know where to deliver your mail. Without an IP address, the Internet doesn’t know where to send the data your computer needs or has requested.
Basically, without an IP address, you cannot connect to anything on the Internet. Most people will get their IP address from their Internet Service Provider (ISP) who are the guys you pay your Internet bills to!
I heard something about public and internal IPs…?
If – like most home users – you connect to the Internet via a network router (e.g. a home Wi-Fi network router that all the devices in the home connect to) then your computer actually has two IP addresses. A local (internal) IP address and a public (external) IP address.
Your local IP address is provided to your computer by your router (e.g. your home Wi-Fi router) and is used solely to identify your computer locally (i.e. in your house.) As long as this local IP address is different to every other device connected in that particular network you should be fine. Because this is only a local IP address, it is entirely possible (actually, inevitable) that your local IP address is the same as another device on another network. But because you are on different networks, it doesn’t matter.
When you go online, you are given a public IP address, which is provided by your Internet Service Provider. All devices on a network will share the same public IP address. This IP address is different to all other devices on the Internet, except the devices connected to the network you’re on.
So if you have a computer and a tablet at the same house and they both connect to your Wi-Fi network, each will have its own local IP address provided by the router, and they will also have the same public IP address that is different from any other device on the Internet.
If you plug into the Internet directly via the modem and there is no network, then you won’t have a local IP address, just a public IP address.
When we (and others) discuss IP addresses, we’re usually referring to the public IP address provided to you by your Internet Service Provider. This is the address the rest of the Internet needs to identify you.
Do I always have the same IP address?
For public IP addresses, most Internet Service Providers use something called dynamic IP addresses. This means the Internet Service Provider lends you an IP address each time your computer (or router) goes online, and this IP address can be different each time.
The opposite of this is a static IP address where your computer always has the same IP address, but these are rare when compared to dynamic IP addresses.
Your local IP address also changes, probably more frequently. Each time you connect to your router you may be assigned a different local IP address from it.
What about IPV4 and 6?
Currently we still deal with IP version 4. But not for much longer. We’re running out of IP version 4 (IPV4) addresses and we’re in the process of converting to IPV6, which provides a significantly larger amount of available addresses.
An IPV4 address looks like –
An example IPV6 address looks like –
How do I find out my IP address?
For your internal IP address, for Windows users just type CMD in the Run box or at the search box on the start menu/screen, and then type IPCONFIG. You can get your local IPV4 and 6 addresses from the information that pops up on that screen.
For your public IP address, the easiest way is just to go to Google and type “my IP”. There are loads of websites that can provide that information. Alternatively you can go to your routers admin settings and get it from there. Instructions vary depending on your router.
Can people trace my physical location via my IP address?
Yes and no. If you’re worried that any Tom, Dick and Harry who manages to obtain your IP address can track you, then you needn’t be worried at all. They can’t. We used the analogy earlier that IP addresses are like postal addresses, but unlike postal addresses, they don’t give your specific location away.
What people can obtain from your IP address is your ISP and possibly what country or city you live in (or near.) Not very helpful.
Your ISP – who most likely gave you the IP address – do know where you live, but they don’t just give that information out to people who ask. Unless a court demands that information be handed over to authorities, the ISP won’t give out your actual address.
So while someone could track you with your IP address, they’d need cooperation from your ISP, which they are unlikely to get without the help of a court. To everyone else, your IP address tells them very little.
In fact social media features like Facebook’s ‘check in’ feature are much more likely to give away your physical location than your IP address.
Anything else you want to know about IP addresses? Just ask.