What is an IP Address?

Have you ever wondered what an IP address is, and what it does?

What is an IP Address?

Before we understand what an IP address is and does, we must first know what IP stands for. IP is an acronym for Internet Protocol. It is the primary protocol that the internet uses to communicate within its network. Encapsulated in network packets or datagrams, information is transmitted through the Internet Protocol Suite. This is basically how we are able to send and receive and transmit information through the internet.

Because data is sent and received, the system needs an address to help it identify where the data should go. This is basically what an IP address is.

Understanding IP Addresses

Each machine connected to a network is assigned a numerical label or IP address to enable it to use the Internet Protocol for communication. It has two main functions: location addressing and host or network interface identification.

In technical terms, an IP Address is a 32-bit binary number stored in text files and displayed in notations that are used to locate a device connected to a network. Because of the steady growth of the internet, there is a foreseen problem of having no more available addresses in the future. The IP version 6 was developed in 1995 to replace the standard 32-bit number with 128 bits for longer sustainability. This change will, however, cause a disruption with the world’s communication system.

Internet Assigned Numbers Authority

An authority called the IANA or Internet Assigned Numbers Authority manages these IP address space allocations throughout the world. They delegate five regional Internet registries or RIRs in order to allocate specific IP Addresses blocks to local service providers or internet registries. They make sure that every IP address is unique and not duplicated around the world.

Two standards for IP addresses are currently in use. The IP version 4 is the one which uses a 32-bit combination of binary numbers which are expressed by 4 numbers that are separated by dots. This is the standard which is said to be quickly depleting and is being transformed into the new IP standard.

This new standard is called the IP version 6 which contains 128 binary bits to create a single unique address. It is expressed by 8 groups of hexadecimal numbers which are separated by colons.

When the IP version 4 was formulated, the internet was not as large as it is today. The IPv4 only has under 232 possible combinations, giving only under 4.3 billion unique addresses available for all the internet users around the globe. The IPv6 has raised that to 2128 possible addresses.

Static and Dynamic IP Addresses

A computer’s IP address can either be static or dynamic. A static address is acquired when you configure the address yourself by editing your computer’s network settings. This may cause problems if you do not have enough understanding of the TCP/IP. Dynamic addresses are the most common. These are assigned by the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol or DHCP. A dynamic address, however, is only active for a limited time, after which you would have to renew the lease on the IP address.

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Virginia E. Lucas
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