What is an IP address?
An Internet protocol (IP) address is your address on the Web. It might be the address of your Internet-connected device (computer, smartphone, tablet, router, etc.), your Internet service provider (ISP), or the VPN server you’re connected to. Usually, an IP address is a sequence of numbers that can look like that: 192.168.X.X. But there are other formats of IP addresses as well.
Electronic devices use IP addresses to communicate to other devices or websites: IP addresses indicate where on the network a device is located. That’s how your message is sent directly to the recipient.
A device can obtain an IP address from a router via DHCP or can be configured manually. The IP address of the router is assigned by the Internet provider.
What can my IP address reveal about me?
Every time you go online, you expose your IP to the websites you visit and the service providers you use. Knowing your IP address, one can get some information about you. However, in most situations this information isn’t enough to identify you.
IP addresses can’t reveal your exact location. Normally, residential traffic goes to the Internet from a public IP address that belongs to an ISP and is often shared between lots of clients. When you make an IP address location lookup on a “What is my IP” page, you see exactly that address. Thus, to be precise, the IP address you see is not yours, but your ISP's.
Your public IP address reveals the location of your Internet service provider — the organization name, postal address, and contact information. This address might be close to yours — so someone might know your country and city. But IP addresses will never reveal your name, phone number, or other precise personal information.
How can my IP address be used?
Your IP may be used both in positive and negative ways.
On the one hand, websites may detect your location and provide you a more personalized experience on the Web — automatically select the most appropriate language, currency, or country for shipping.
In addition, IP addresses are widely used to prevent card fraud. While traveling, you may notice that your bank card isn’t accepted for online purchases anymore. The likely reason is that your IP address doesn’t match the country where your card was issued.
On the other hand, your IP address may be used to show you ads based on your location. Some websites may get blocked for you.
How can I hide my IP address?
If you don’t want your IP address to be abused by big corporations and advertisers, use a VPN (virtual private network). VPN services effectively replace your IP address with one of their servers, making websites think you’re in another country.
This drastically increases your privacy: your geolocation isn’t exposed to anyone. Besides, you can access websites, watch films and TV shows, view content, and listen to music that might be blocked for you based on your IP address.
How do I find my IP address?
To find your public IP address, you can just scroll up to the “What is my IP address” title on the top of the page.
If you’d like to know your private IP address, follow the instructions for your platform:
In the task bar, click Wi-Fi (or Ethernet, depending on your connection type). Select your network.
Open your network’s properties by clicking the (i) icon or Properties. Scroll down to its IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
Open System Preferences, then click Network.
Select Wi-Fi (or Ethernet, depending on your connection type). Your IP address will be displayed under the connection status.
Go to Settings > Network & internet > Wi-Fi.
Select your Wi-Fi network and scroll down to its IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
Go to Settings and select Wi-Fi.
Tap on the network you’re connected to and scroll down to its IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
What is a public IP address?
Private addresses are not globally routable and not unique across the world, so can’t be used to deliver data on the Web. As private IP addresses are restrained from accessing the Web, you need a public IP address to go online.
Like postal addresses, public IP addresses are unique and can be used to deliver information anywhere.
Public IP addresses are assigned to you by your ISP. In a typical home network, the router with a public IP address serves as a gateway between your devices and the Internet and manages all connections on your network on their behalf.
What is a private IP address?
Usually, when you connect your computer, smartphone, tablet, or TV to the router, it automatically assigns the device a private IP address. This allows it to communicate with other devices on the local network.
Such addresses are widely used in home and corporate networks: they add security by making the traffic difficult to intercept.
A private IP address cannot be used to connect to the Internet. For a device with a private IP address to access the Web, its request must go through a router that uses a public IP address.
Private IP addresses are invisible to the outer world. “What is my IP” pages usually show you the IP address of your router.
IPv4 vs. IPv6: what’s the difference?
IPv4 addresses are finite
Internet protocol version 4 is the most popular protocol as of now. An IPv4 address record consists of four numbers from 0 to 255, separated by dots.
This format assumes 4.3 billion combinations. This is not much in the digital age: as the number of devices is growing every day, IPv4 addresses are running out. The problem became especially acute with the advent of the Internet of Things. Now even car alarms, TVs, smart fridges, and medical devices have access to the Internet and thus, need an IP address.
How restrictions are handled
There were multiple attempts to solve the problem of the IPv4 address shortage.
One of them was to use dynamic IP addresses, which were assigned to the device only when it was connected to the network. Once the device was disconnected, its IP address was given to another device. Now smartphones demand an almost constant network connection, and many services require a permanent static IP address. Dynamic IPs are therefore no longer covering the needs of users.
The most common solution now is using private IP addresses. Instead of leasing a globally routable IP address to each device, a special device called router gives them addresses valid only within a local network. The router has a role of a gateway between the devices and the Internet. The whole traffic to the outside world goes through it and the clients within the local network share a single public IP address to access the Web.
IPv6 addresses won’t run out
The introduction of a new Internet protocol has improved the situation. Four times the length of IPv4 addresses, an IPv6 address consists of eight groups of four characters from 0 to 9 and Latin letters from a to e, separated by colons. Here’s an example of an IPv6 address:
It is assumed that people can never run out of IPv6 addresses. With the introduction of IPv6 addresses, it is now possible to assign a unique address to every device in a house.
Why isn’t IPv6 widely used yet?
Although IPv6 seems to solve the IPv4 address scarcity problem, not all websites and providers support it — and there are reasons why.
IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are not backward compatible: you cannot access IPv4 websites with IPv6, and vice versa.
Not all ISPs support IPv6 yet, but they all support IPv4.
Not all websites support IPv6.
IPv6 is a technology that requires considerable technical skill and investment of time. In addition to configuring the protocol, you also have to reconfigure the firewall and devices on the network.