What Is an IP Address?

IP addresses are an integral part of the internet that mostly works behind the scenes. For that reason, most people don’t understand what they are or how they work.

While the average internet user often doesn’t think about how this combination of numbers and letters affects their browsing, it’s a necessary part of the internet functioning properly. IP stands for internet protocol, which is the

“set of rules governing the format of data sent over the Internet or other network.” 

In other words, an IP address is how different devices communicate through the internet. The internet needs a way to differentiate between different devices and websites. To do that, each of these has a unique identifier similarly to a Mobile Ad Identifier.


Common IP Address Examples:

  • Four sets of numbers that are separated by periods
  • Each set includes one to three digits
  • Each set is between 0 and 255 

While most IP addresses have the same standard format, there are a few different types of IP addresses that you should know about.


Public vs Private

There are a range of different categories of IP Addresses that each include a couple of differentiators. Every internet user will have two types of IP addresses: their public IP address and their private IP address.

Public IP 

Your whole home internet network is associated with your public IP address. While each of your connected devices has their own IP address, all of them are also connected to the main public IP address associated with your home network.

Your public IP address is provided to your router by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). They usually have a large group of IP addresses they’ve purchased and distributed amongst their customers. This is the address that all the connecting devices outside of your home internet will use to recognize your network and any devices that are connected to it. Your Public IP is the main address that is associated with all of your internet activity.

If you'd like to know what your Public IP is, you can simply Google "find my ip."

Private IP

Your phones, tablets, laptops, and any other devices that connect to your home internet has a Private IP. Your internet router uses these private IP addresses to identify each of these devices separately, and in some cases, these devices also need a way to recognize each other. For example, when you connect your AirPods with your iPhone, the devices need to recognize each other. Your router will generate private IP addresses which are unique identifiers for each product that helps differentiate them on your home internet network. Once you name your device, like John's AirPods, your network will also be able to use that as an identifier.


Static vs Dynamic

Public IP addresses also have their own two main varieties which are Static and Dynamic.

Static IP

A network is assigned a Static IP only once, and for the most part it will stay the same over the span of months or even years. The main use case for having a Static IP is if you plan to host your own server. If you’ll be hosting and maintaining your own server, then a static IP address will ensure that any email addresses or websites associated with that network will be connected to a consistent IP address.

In most cases, it’s easier and more convenient to go with a web hosting company that already owns both the servers and the resources needed in order to maintain them on a regular basis.

Dynamic IP

Most internet users will be given a dynamic IP address from their Internet Service Provider.  ISP's often buy a large group of  IP addresses and then automatically provide them to each of their customers much like when you are given a phone number with a SIM card. Changing IP addresses for customers results in a more secure network for customers. When your IP address regularly changes, it becomes much harder for hackers to break into your network.


Dedicated vs Shared

When you create a website using a web hosting service, you might come across two types of website IP address options.

Dedicated IP

Dedicated IP Addresses give you the option of s visiting your website using only the IP address, instead of using a domain name. This is useful if you want to build, test, and access your website before you purchase a domain or while you are transferring one. A dedicated IP address can also let you build out your own FTP server which makes it easier to share files within your organization.

Shared IP

The most common hosting plans that website owners have share IP addresses on a server with others. This means your website shares an IP address with a large group of other websites instead of having one solely for yourself.


IPv4 vs IPv6

There are also two versions of IP addresses available to internet users.


IPv4 which stands for internet protocol version 4 is the most common version of an IP address. Any IP that you will see resembling XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX is an IPv4 IP address.


IPv6 was designed to introduce a greater pool of potential IP addresses since IPv4 is not infinite. IPv6 is 128-bit protocol address construction in comparison to the 32-bit IP of IPv4. Instead of part of the address being split by periods, they’re separated by colons. IPv6 addresses can also include both alphabetical and numerical digits which can look like the following: 1002:0bd7:74a2:0000:0000:9e3a:0730:3772. The development of IPv6 means there can be a ton more unique IP addresses for more for the future.