I know we have all heard the words “IP Address”, but what do they actually mean? And what do they actually do? First, the “IP” part of IP address stands for “Internet Protocol”, and the “address” refers to a unique number that gets linked to all online activity you do. Think of this as a return address on a letter you send out, it’s a way to identify who you are and where you came from.
From that point on, it gets very confusing and technical. IT is an in-depth complicated world that I am not going to pretend I know enough about to explain. What I can explain is why all of this should matter to you? We are all connected to the internet in one way or another almost 24/7. Whether this is through your watch, phone, tablet, computer, car, etc.
So without further ado, let’s get to the basics and hopefully explain why all of this should matter to you.
Don’t Let Anyone Tell You You’re Not Connected
Your computer or other device is connected to the internet one way or another. When you want to go online to shop, chat, or check your email you send out a request to the correct destination and receive a response.
The network you are on may be your internet service provider (ISP) at home, your company’s network, a coffee shop or book store, or other networks. But with billions of computers and devices on the internet, you might wonder how is yours able to jump into the internet and receive your data so quickly. An image of merging onto a busy highway from a stopped car may come to mind.
IPv4 vs. IPv6
The internet has run out of internet addresses… in a way at least. The last available blocks of IPv4 addresses have been allocated (the number such as 188.8.131.52). New technology has been rolled out called IPv6. This offers more addresses as it is not only numerical but alphanumeric.
As most of the available IP addresses have been switched to the IPv6 system, there are still some IPv4 left around. IPv6 does not work on some server systems, but by now, most (if not all) servers have been changed or updated to handle the new IP address system.
This brings more functionality in addition to more IP addresses (340 undecillion) which allows more bandwidth-intensive flows. IPv6 allows devices to stay connected to several networks simultaneously. IPv6 also allows for end to end encryption for a more robust security system of your network. Among other very technical reasons, IPv6 is here to stay, but it is important to know the two different IP addresses and some differences.
Rules on Rules
To make sure your computer is accessing the internet correctly there are thousands of protocols built into the software of your computer to ensure it is connected to the internet and to swap information back and forth. One of these protocols is in charge of addressing, delivering, and routing all online requests. This protocol will attach an electronic return address to all online activity. This is an instance of where your IP address comes into play.
When you are at home your IP address is assigned to you by your ISP since they are the ones providing you with the internet. Your activity goes through them and they route the returning information back to you. Do not take this IP address as your one sole IP address and get too attached to it. Your IP address can change, even the one you have grown so comfortable with at home. Your IP address can change upon your request or even as simply as turning your router off and back on.
Don’t Get Too Attached
If you are lucky enough to go on vacation or travel your home IP address does not follow you, it stays at home and patiently waits for your return. This is because you are using another network to access the internet. This even happens when you go to a coffee shop or even go to work. These are all different ways you access the internet and will all have different IP addresses.
The best part (as I am sure you are aware), this all happens automatically, you do not have to go through the process of changing your IP address every time you move to another ISP. Open your computer, flip the big “ON” switch to the internet and you will be generated a temporary IP address and you can begin surfing.
Don’t Believe Me?
If you want to fact check this, please do. I think everyone should know how they are accessing the internet and understand what is going on. Some people freak out over being tracked on the internet either by the government or companies and don’t trust anyone. They don’t trust anyone because they do not understand what is going on themselves.
Next time you are on your computer and paddling out to begin surfing the net (like right now!), take a second and go to whatismyipaddress.com and check out your IP address at home, then check again in a coffee shop, and again at work. You will see this IP address changed over and over again.
People fear what they do not understand and the internet is a pretty scary place like I mentioned earlier, it is a very complex and confusing realm of information. Take some time and understand how you are being identified on the internet and how your devices connect to the internet. This information can go a long way as you continue through life accessing the internet for work, school, pleasure, and whatever else you are searching for.