What is an IP Address?

IP ID’ed

So, what is this IP address the everyone talks about?  The IP address is a unique number  each computer on the internet is assigned.  It is used like a street address for your computer so other computers know where to send data if they want to talk to your computer, and so the network knows what streets (aka routes) to use to get from one computer to another.

Dynamic vs Static

IP’s are usually assigned automatically by a server when you connect to a network. This type of address is called a dynamic IP address and the process that is used to assign the address is called DHCP.  DHCP enables computers to move around between networks easily because it will automatically change the IP for your computer over time and when the computer changes locations.  A static IP address is often used on printers, servers, and other equipment that don’t move around much.  They are manually configured on systems and remain fixed until someone manually changes them.

Two Versions of IP

Currently, there are 2 versions of IP addresses.  IP version 4 and IP version 6.  Both IPv4 and IPv6 serve the same purpose, are sub-netted the same way, and are routed in the same way.  Basically, the only reason we have IPv6 is because the internet is so popular and there are enough devices on the internet today to use up all of the IPv4 addresses.  IPv6 deals with this by having WAY more addresses in it.

IPv4 Quick Breakdown

IPv4 is what most of the internet uses today and is most likely what you are using right now.  It is written as four numbers separated by periods.  An IPv4 address will look something like 192.168.1.1 or 10.20.30.40.  Each of the four numbers will be between 0 and 255.

IPv6 Quick Breakdown

IPv6 is a new IP system that the internet is moving to.  Only certain sites support IPv6 right now but more and more are adding support every day.  IPv6 addresses consist of eight groups of four hex digits separated by colons.  For reference hex digits are “0” through “F” where “F” represents the value 15.  So, IPv6 addresses look something like 2607:f298:0001:0107:0000:0000:0fe1:39bb.

You may have noticed right away is that this is obnoxiously long!  To try to help with that, there are 2 shorthand tricks used with IPv6.  First, leading zeros in a 4 digit section can be dropped (so 0001 can be written as 1).  Second, multiple all zero sections can be smushed together and written as “::” (So “:0000:0000:” becomes “::”).  Note, that this can only be done once for any given IPv6 Address.  So the IP above can be shortened a little by writing it as 2607:f298:1:107::fe1:39bb, which helps a little.

The End

IP addresses are a simple concept (one machine, one number) but there is so much to understand about how IP’s are structured and used in networking.  Hopefully this quick outline helped you get a grounded understanding of what IP addresses are.  If you have any questions drop them in the comments so we can help!

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