What is an IP Address?

Help your business get found online by understand IP Addresses.

One of the most crucial progress points for the internet was the creation of Internet Protocols (IPs) and IP addresses. In all likelihood, these are terms you’ve heard multiple times, regarding computers and networks, without taking the time to dig into what they mean or how they work.

If that is you, don’t fret. Most computer users wouldn’t be able to provide an in-depth definition either. Find out below how they work and how they affect your business online.

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Internet protocols

A computer is hardwired to obey a list of built-in commands, rules, and standards, known as protocols, to communicate and identify with other computers, or connect to the internet. One such protocol is known as the Internet Protocol. This is accountable for:

  • Addressing online requests
  • Delivering online requests
  • Routing online requests

With every request, the Internet Protocol sends an electronic source address, known as your IP address, so the requested information can appear on the screen.

IP address and letters

At their essence, IP addresses signify where your current device exists on the internet. Every computational device on this network uses a distinctive identifier or unique number, which is required to send messages to computers that exist outside your local network.

If you wish to send a letter to your sweetheart by mail, you have to write their name and address on the center of the envelope, with your name and address on the upper left-hand side of the envelope. These two bits of information act in the same way online, with IP addresses. These serve dual facilitative purposes:

  • The destination address – Signals to the mail service where you want the letter to go, and to whom it should be given.
  • The return address – Signals to the receiver the location to which they may address their reply. It also signals to the mail service where to return the letter if it cannot be delivered or received.

IP addresses

You won’t find two computers connected to the internet using the same IP address. But unlike physical addresses, a computer’s IP address is not geographically based or linked. Instead, its location is based on a string of numerical digits and dots that are known as an IP address. These ordinal addresses signal to the devices responsible for passing along the information, letting them know two things:

  • Who is the one sending information?
  • To whom are they sending these commands?

Sending a message via the internet without this source IP address would be similar to sending out an SOS emergency signal, while lost at sea, without including your GPS location. Even if emergency services receive the distress beacon, there is little they can do since the ocean is so vast and we are so small. In a sea of billions of messages and other forms of data being sent out daily, your specific dispatch would be useless.

States of IP addresses

An IP address can appear in one of two states, dynamic or static.

  • Dynamic IP address – The vast majority of IP addresses most commonly used are in a dynamic state. This means the IP address is neither fixed nor owned; it is temporarily leased out through a leasing system known as the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and internet service providers. These lease requests and grants happen rapidly, and in an automated fashion, so when one lease expires, your computer instantly requests a new one. Although a rare occurrence, if two computers are assigned the same IP address, one connects to a different IP address immediately.
  • Static IP address – A static address can only be given by configuring and editing your computer’s network settings. This is not a common method and is only advised for people well versed in TCP and IP.

The two types of IP address systems

At their most basic, computers communicate commands or protocols via binary code, which is simply a series of 1s and 0s, that are then transmitted and converted into a series of electrical impulses. These binary coded IP addresses act as a passport through the internet, granting access and serving as identification to foreign computers.

The most common default IP address looks like this: This figure would be pronounced, “one nine two dot one six eight dot one dot one.”

IPv4 32 bit binary address

Before the internet began to flourish, the vast majority of networks were private from others around the world. In the beginning, the IP addresses used by computers were known as IP Version 4 (IPv4) and look like the figure above. At the time, there were more than enough possible combinations of unique binary sequences.

  • A standard IPv4 address consists of thirty-two 1s and 0s
  • There are 232 possible combinations, the limit of which is a represented as the figure 232
  • 232 = 4,294,967,296 unique available addresses

At a time when the internet was in its infancy, this number seemed plenty big enough. But, by the late 90’s, computer scientists realized that a possible cap to addresses lurked on the horizon. Over time, this bottleneck worsened since internet use is now practically commonplace around the globe, and because most users have multiple devices that each require an unique IP address.

IPv6 128 bit binary address

One of the solutions for this foreseen IP address drought was to introduce a far more complex binary sequence in the form of 128 bit IP. This looked like eight groups of hexadecimal numbers separated by colons. Hexadecimal numbers are a relatively complicated numerical system used to represent larger numbers. While you do not need to know the ins and outs of what they mean, you should be aware that they use letters as symbols to represent larger numbers.

So an IPv6 would look like: F890:0000:0100:0900:0202:B3GF:E10E:1026

  • AN IPv6 is represented by 128 1s and 0s
  • There are 2128 possible combinations, which means the limit to this figure is represented by 2128
  • 2128 = 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 unique available addresses

IPs and the DNS

While IPs were exceedingly useful tools for allowing computers to communicate within a network, they weren’t exactly human-friendly. For machines, random digital sequences are their love language; for human brains, however, memorization of large and complex numbers is not so simple a feat for even the smartest of our kind. This became even more substantial a task as more computers joined the burgeoning network.

Attempting to organize these unique IP addresses as one would a phone book wasn’t economical. The solution computer scientists offered up was the Domain Name System, wherein synonyms (domain names) would serve as one of a kind cognomen for an IP address.  

  • Each domain name would be added to a domain name system, which would be regulated by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).
  • Each domain name would be unique and associated with an IP address.
  • Each domain name would be rented for a temporary time period, which could be renewed.

A domain name would look like apple.com, with apple functioning as the domain and .com acting as its paired top-level domain.

Top-level domains

A top-level domain is regularly referred to as a domain name extension and is what is entered directly after the domain name. Initially, 6 TLDs were created for specific purposes. Understanding what a domain name extension is and the different types help you choose the right one for your website. The most common options are listed below:

  1. .com – Commercial entities and businesses
  2. .gov – Governmental functions, places, and personnel
  3. .mil – Military personnel, including the four branches of the military and coast guard
  4. .org – Organizations and non-profit entities
  5. .edu – Educational institutions that are accredited
  6. .net – Network operators and Internets service providers

Over time, some of these TLDs remained rigid, while others opened up and turned into general namespaces. As with 32 bit IPs, these original TLDs offered an expansive list of available domain names in the beginning, but grew limited over time. As a result, more generic top-level domains (gTLDs) were added to the growing network. Presently, Domain.com offers more than 300 gTLDs.

IPs and the Domain Name System servers

When covering IP addresses, it’s important to know what is the DNS. DNS resolution is the process for when a domain name gets translated by your computer into an IP address. For this to occur, a DNS query must be sent out by the computer, which  then funnels through four separate DNS servers on the journey to its target goal. These four stages are:

  1. DNS recursor – A web server receives all requests from applications and begins the search for the proper address. Using the information available, the DNS recursor sorts this query and sends it along its proper path.  
  2. Root name server – The first phase of name conversion into IP address.
  3. Top Level Domain name server – This server moves the process along, sorting according to the domain’s extension.
  4. Authoritative name server – The final stop of this request, this locates the domain’s linked IP address, translates it, returns the message to the recursor, and then completes its command.

Domain names and business

There may be some of you reading this who have yet to register a domain name and create a website for your business. For small businesses especially, having a website helps you in three key ways:

  • People’s shopping habits have changed – With the rise of Amazon and e-commerce, shoppers are choosing the convenience of shopping from their couch at increasing rates.  Malls are dying, and while foot traffic and window shopping once might have been the lifeblood of a small retail store, that is no longer the case. Now, the lifeblood is virtual foot traffic.
  • People’s searching habits have changed – Many consumers have embraced social polling and reviewing models of websites, such as Yelp, Facebook and Reddit. By having a social presence, you have the opportunity to display who you are and what good or service your business provides. You get to make the first impression to hopefully entice curious customers to sample your product or service.
  • If they do not know about you, they will choose someone else – If you don’t have a website, it could mean lost business. You are forgoing the various opportunities to get your business name out there on the web. Millennials, especially, expect a legitimate business to have a website, and might be turned off by the lack of one.

As an accredited domain provider, Domain.com offers top-level domains, web hosting, website builders, and email productivity tools to help you get your idea or your business online.

Learn how IP addresses help your business on the internet

IP addresses are the passports assigned to every device that connects to the internet. They aid in command resolution, addressing, and sourcing of data. The translation of IP addresses into domain names fundamentally altered the nature of the internet and helped open the floodgates. If you have any questions about IPs, web hosting, premium domain names, or any other web-related topic, our experts at domain.com standby ready to assist.

Online success starts with a great domain; get yours today at Domain.com.

Kristin Crabb
Kristin Crabb

Content Marketing Strategist working in the digital marketing industry. Skilled in SEO-focused content creation, keyword research and competitive analysis, interactive content, web content optimization, and landing page creation.

Kristin Crabb
Kristin Crabb

Content Marketing Strategist working in the digital marketing industry. Skilled in SEO-focused content creation, keyword research and competitive analysis, interactive content, web content optimization, and landing page creation.