What is an IP address?
An Internet Protocol (IP) address is essentially a unique identification number for machines connected to any network. You could view this as a mailing address, just for your online activity. Since they were first developed in the 1970s, IP addresses have evolved to define how devices interact on the internet. IP addresses are like GPS locations for devices (including servers) on any network. Whether you’re simply surfing the web, watching a video on YouTube, or booking your next holiday, IP addresses are certainly involved. Read more about IP addresses on Wikipedia.
How does an IP address work?
IP addresses are typically assigned to devices by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Since ISPs provide you with access to the internet, it’s their responsibility to assign an IP address to your device. For instance, if AT&T or COX is your ISP, they’re responsible for assigning IPs to your devices. When you attempt to connect to their internet, your online activity first goes to your ISP and is immediately routed to your device via your IP address. Note that while IPv4 offers a limited number of addresses that can be assigned, this is not the case with IPv6. Here is an article by HowToGeek exlaining how IP addresses work.
IPv6 and IPv4
IPv6 was designed to be the next-generation protocol that fixes the limitations and flaws in IPv4. Sadly, since these two protocols cannot communicate with each other, IPv4 will not become obsolete anytime soon. Here are the key differences between these two protocols –
- Address style – IPv4 addresses are numeric and have their binary bits separated by dots (.). Meanwhile, IPv6 addresses are alphanumeric and separated by columns (:).
- Size of IP addresses – IPv4 addresses are 32-bits by design, while IPv6 addresses are 128-bit.
- Checksum – IPv4 has checksum fields, while IPv6 offers none.
- Security – Security is built into the IPv6 protocol, whereas, with IPv4, security is dependent on the application.
- Mobile compatibility – IPv4’s use of the dot-decimal notation makes it less suitable for mobile networks. IPv6’s representation in hexadecimal, colon-separated notation makes it more suitable for mobile networks.
- Sample address – IPv4 – 127.0.0.1, and IPv6 – 2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:ff00:0042:7879
However, both protocols can exist simultaneously on a network.
How to check my IP address
Checking your IP address is easy. If you’re attempting to check from your smartphone or computer, you could either use this website or one of the “What’s my IP” websites. You can also just type “My IP” on Google, and it’ll show your IP address. However, remember that Google will always show your IPv6 if your network supports both IPv4 and IPv6. To check your IPv4, you will have to use an IP lookup website.
How to change my IP address
Changing your IP address isn’t as difficult as many may think. Here are three easy ways to change yours –
- Change your network or reset your router – Switching between network providers can seamlessly help you change your IP address. For instance, turning off your wifi and using your mobile data immediately changes your IP address. Similarly, resetting your router will force your ISP to reassign a new IP address to your device.
- Use a VPN – A Virtual Private Network (VPN) offers a reliable way to change or mask your IP address, making it extremely difficult for third parties, including your ISP, to monitor your online activity. VPNs offer many benefits that include protecting your identity online and allowing you access geo-blocked content from streaming platforms like Netflix.
- Contact your ISP – You can also contact your ISP to change your IP address for you.
- Use the Tor Browser – Every time you open the Tor browser, you are assigned a different IP address. All websites that you visit via the Tor browser will see the assigned IP instead of your real IP address.
Your device uses either a static IP or a dynamic IP addressing system when you connect to the internet. With static IP addresses, you essentially use the same address every time you connect to the internet. However, dynamic IP addresses are temporary and assigned every time a device connects to the network. Static IP addresses are also called dedicated IPs and can be reserved for a single entity like a business to use.
Can my IP address reveal my exact location?
No, and it would be really scary if it could. Your IP address can reveal the registered location, and other information about your Internet Service Provider, but it’s highly unlikely that it will reveal your exact location. You can check your IP address on multiple websites, and chances are that all of these websites will show different locations. However, some details like your Country, and State can be identified by your IP address.