What Is the Purpose of an Internet Protocol Address (IP Address)?

What Is the Purpose of an Internet Protocol Address (IP Address)?

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These days, almost everything is connected to the internet. Our phones, our computers, and even our appliances are internet-connected. The number of connected devices will only grow. 

The number of internet-connected devices worldwide has grown exponentially in the last 10 years and is projected to continue booming.

As of 2019, there are over 26 billion internet-connected devices in the world. There are projected to be over 75 billion devices by 2025.

What Is the Purpose of an Internet Protocol Address (IP Address)?

Every one of these billions of devices has what's called an IP address. But what is the purpose of an internet protocol address (IP address)? Let's take a closer look.

What is an IP Address?

Before we tackle the purpose of an IP address, let's take a closer look at what an IP address is. Simply put, an IP address is a string of numbers that is assigned to any device connected to the internet. This means that your laptop, your printer, your cellphone, and even your smartwatch all have their own IP address.

This address serves a similar function as the address on your home does. It identifies the device, and it makes it possible to locate the device. This allows other devices on the same network to connect to that device.

Besides internet-connected devices, every website also has its own IP address. Websites just use their names (like “Amazon.com” or “google.com”) to direct users to their sites rather than their IP addresses.

How do IP Addresses Work?

When you connect a device to the internet, it's assigned a unique IP address. 

Many people assume that their IP address always stays the same. In reality, it changes all the time.

For example, if you take your MacBook from your house and go to get some work done at the coffee shop, you'll have a different Mac IP address at the coffee shop than at home. In fact, you'll even get a different IP address if you just turn your internet router off and back on.

You don't need to do anything to make this change. Instead, your device automatically makes the change at each location. 

When you log on to the internet at home, an IP address is automatically assigned to your device. This IP address typically comes from your internet service provider or ISP. Each ISP owns a certain number of IP addresses, so it assigns one when a device connects to its network. 

What About Static IP Addresses?

The situation described above–where your IP address changes based on where you're located–applies to dynamic IP addresses. There is such a thing as a static IP address, which does not change. These are only used in certain situations, though.

For instance, websites use static IP addresses. This makes it possible for users to consistently connect to them. A static IP address is unnecessary for most devices. For the average user, you can continue allowing a dynamic IP address to automatically be assigned to your devices. 

IP4 vs IP6

Originally, all IP addresses were IP4. This means they are composed of a string of four numbers, each 1 to 3 digits, and separated by a period. 

With this configuration, there are a possible 4.3 billion unique combinations. At the dawn of the internet, this was plenty. Now there are over 20 billion devices connected to the internet, however, it's not nearly enough.

This led to the creation of IP6. IP6 is basically the same as IP4, but with six numbers instead of 4. This creates a much larger number of combinations, which will be important as the number of internet-connected devices continues to grow. 

Should I Hide My IP Address?

As we mentioned above, your IP address is the identifier that other devices use to find your device. But what if you don't want to be found, or only want to be found by certain devices?

Your IP address can be used in a variety of ways to track your activity online. This can allow companies to target ads to you or can allow law enforcement to uncover your search history.

It can also provide hackers access to your device. By following your activities through your IP address, hackers might even identify your actual identity. 

When you are using your computer at home, this might be less of a concern. Most people have a certain level of security on their home WiFi that protects them against these kinds of attacks. 

When you use public WiFi, however, it's a different story. Public WiFi is less secure than your home's WiFi, which can open up your device to attacks. 

There are a few ways you can hide your IP address, including by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or using a Proxy Server. These services generate a different IP address that serves as a mask for your real IP address. This allows your device to continue communicating with other devices on the network while still protecting it against information breaches.

Answering the Question, “What is the Purpose of an Internet Protocol Address (IP Address)?”

If you've wondered, “What is the purpose of an internet protocol address (IP address)?”, now you know. Essentially, the IP address is one of the most important features of the internet that make our modern connected lifestyle work. IP addresses allow your phone, laptop, printer, car, lighbulbs, and watch to all be connected, making our lives seamless  

Of course, all of those internet-connected devices cost money. Looking for some money-saving tips? Check out the rest of our blog for ideas. 

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