Securing access to the internet is one of the easiest things to do today. If you’re using the internet daily, then you must have heard the term IP address. But have you ever wondered what is it?
Internet connections consist of complex mechanisms and processes that usually occur away from your sight. A part of this intricate setup is the IP address. An IP address helps you troubleshoot various complexities confronting your internet connection from time to time. Also, if you wish to have an interplay of multiple connections through servers, knowledge of IP address is a must. In this article, we bring you an insight on IP address and its functioning.
What’s an IP Address?
An IP address is a series of numbers assigned to a device or a network that connects to the internet. It acts as the unique identity of the device. An example of an IP address is 192.168.1.34. These numbers are interpreted as octets (pair of eight) of binary numbers by the computer and they range from 0 to 255. This is because 255 is the maximum binary octet formulation that can be reached by the computer (255 = 11111111).
The first three sets of numbers in an IP address signify the network ID. It is the identification code given to the network on which your device is registered. For example, in IP 126.96.36.199, the numbers 172.156.1 constitute the network ID. It gets completed by placing a 0 in the end. So, the complete one will look like 188.8.131.52.
The last part of the address is classified as the Host ID. This part is tagged as a unique identification of the device that you access the internet through. Therefore, the digits “22” constitute the Host ID.
The structure of the network and host IDs is not always the same.
The number of digits or characters in both of them changes with different classes of IP addresses. The break-down of network IDs in different types of IP addresses is as follows.
- Class A IP address- First group of numbers (Large Networks)
- Class B IP address- First two group of numbers (Medium Networks)
- Class C- First three groups of numbers. (Small Networks)
Version 4 vs. Version 6
The usual form of IP address, which contains four sets of numbers is called a version 4 IP address. It is also called a 32-bit IP address since the maximum it can house is four sets of octets. The number of possible combinations in Version 4 addresses stretches up to approximately 4.29 Billion.
With the rising number of internet users all across the globe, this number surely seems to run out at some point. Thus, the standards formulation body for IP suits, Internet Engineering Task Force, came out with a contingency plan to cater to the shortage of version4 IP addresses. It formulated a new set of characters which consisted of alphabets and numerals for IP addresses. The new version was named as the version 6 IP address.
Instead of separating a set of digits through dots, version 6 IP address uses the colon. It has got eight groups which house a mix of alphabets and numerals. In each group, 4 hexadecimal digits depict 16 binary digits. So, that makes it a 128-bit IP address (16 x 8). An example of a version 6 IP address is-
- 2601 : 7c1 : 100 : ef69 : b5ed : ed57 : dbc0 : 2c1e
How Does an IP Address Work?
Devices and networks connected to the internet leverage the IP address to identify and pull up the data that you require.
The internet is an intermix of different connections. The basic building blocks that every device requires to access the internet include an Internet Protocol and a data communication system. So, for the devices to be able to communicate with each other, the IP address serves as the principal component for identification and further progressions.
For example, As soon as you google something or type a domain name, your device scrambles to identify and locate the source where you can get that data from. For this, it first reaches out to the network it is registered on. Subsequently, the network reaches out to the server on which different websites containing heaps of data are located. The relevant data that you require is reverted to your screen through the same route.
Importantly, this exchange happens because each of the involved components has a unique IP address associated with it. The device identified the network and the network identified the server because of their IP addresses. That is the reason why your search results showed up on your screen instead of anybody else’s.
How Does Your Device Get an IP Address?
If IP addresses are so important, then how does your device get one? Let’s find it out.
The Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) is a global standards organization that oversees the allocation of IP addresses. From the IANA, various IP addresses reach out to five different Regional Internet Registries (RIR) that allocate and register IP addresses to Internet Service Providers in their specific regions.
From there, these are allocated to different networks. Essentially, this IP address is called the public IP address. It is also by other names like a gateway, router address, and default route. This default address comes into play when data is intended to be sent to a network different - rather than the one on which your device is registered.
In your home network that has multiple device connections, you must have a router connected to the internet via modem. It can either be separate or a combination of modem and router. A router is a connecting link between the devices on your network and other devices on the internet.
When you wish to open a certain website, you are essentially sending a request to that website’s IP address. This request travels through the router and is delivered to the web server on which that website is registered. In return, the server gives back the information to your router, and then, it finally reaches you.
Every router is configured to have a private IP address. When your device gets connected to a network for the first time, it sends an encoded message requesting an IP address. This message reaches the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) located on the router, which decodes it and allocates an IP address to your device from the available pool.
Besides, a DHCP not only assigns an IP address to your device but also assigns other important network configurations to it. This IP address is called a Private IP address. When it comes to private IP addresses today, you’re most likely to get a dynamic one. These addresses can manifest change without letting ISPs adjust it every time you change your location.
Another important thing to note is that these private IP addresses are put out to your devices on lease. Once it completes its tenure, you are required to renew them to enjoy uninterrupted internet access.
From Smart speakers to smart headphones and smartwatches, every device that is connected to your router will house a discrete private IP address.
A Subnet Mask is importantly a number which the device uses to decipher the network ID and the host ID from the IP address. In a common context, a subnet mask usually includes only two numbers, 255 and 0. The place where the digits change is the point of distinction between a Network and a Host ID. For example, the subnet mask for 192.168.1.34 will be something like 255.255.255.0. Here, the number 255 is replaced by 0 in the last part, so that is the host ID whereas the first three parts constitute the network ID. As the class of networks varies (From class A to C) the subnet mask also changes. A subnet mask is again a 32-bit number.
Subnetting is a process of dividing a given IP address into smaller networks called subnets. Subnets are evolved by accepting bits from the host part of the IP address. The network of these subnets remains the same i.e. the original network on which the device is registered. Subnetting offers the possibility of adding new networks without the need to approach the ISP for a discrete IP address. It also helps large business organizations inefficient management of their internet traffic and concealing the complexity associated with their network. Besides, subnetting also plays an important role in addressing the shortage of IP addresses.
Unlike humans, internet devices find it easier to communicate with numbers. For a convenient exchange of data, devices must be able to identify data sources through their IP addresses and not by their domain names. This is what a Domain Name System (DNS) seeks to deliver. It identifies typical website names and converts them into IP addresses.
All this is done with the help of a large directory. The names of each website are present along with specific IP addresses. This directory of IP addresses is called a DNS Server.
Internet Service Providers are registered with one or more DNS Servers. Whenever you search for a website, the router connects to the DNS Server, which finds the matching IP address of the website. And finally, you get to see what you searched for.
Uses of IP Address
Now that you know all the technicalities associated with IP addresses, let’s account for their uses. The principle use, of course, is the identification of devices. Though this identification depends on the nature of the IP address, it is an essential prerequisite for establishing a connection.
In the case of Public IP addresses, a complete network is identified. They are used by Internet service providers to monitor and detect different illegal and prohibited activities.
In the case of private IP addresses, the identification is intra-server. This means all the devices working on a particular router identify each other through private IP addresses. For this reason, your smart headphones can recognize your phone for connecting.
Cautions Related to IP Address
With a good internet connection comes additional responsibility. IP addresses are prone to hacking. In many instances, hackers have not only leveraged the internet for downloading content by using someone else’s IP address but also have attacked the entire network for malpractices. Even data related to your location can be easily deciphered once someone gets access to your IP address.
To safeguard your interest, you can hide your IP address with the help of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It helps in redirecting traffic to your device through a separate server. Another way is by changing the password of your router. The default router password is easily prone to hacking and given the important role of routers in channelizing information, you wouldn’t want to get it hacked.
IP addresses constitute the lifeline of internet connections worldwide. Businesses, powerhouses, corporations, governance all of them are putting to use the advantages of the internet today. To maintain the seamlessness, it is important to secure IP addresses from potential cyber threats. People who use the internet for routine non-technical or casual operations may find the aspect of IP address a little off the book.
Aspects like these work in an unknown territory keeping the operations as smooth as possible. However, with a little insight, they can go on and change the name of their private IP and substitute it with easily identifiable names. In this way, they can maintain better connectivity on the go.
For tech freaks and officials though, IP address is an important concept. It helps in identifying problems confronted by users in accessing the internet and troubleshooting the same. Also, they can reach out to anyone who has conducted any malicious activity by identifying the IP address.
Refer to our guide on IP address for a better and comprehensive understanding.