IP Address is an identifier that defines your device’s location

IP Address is an identifier that defines your device’s location over the network. It acts like the return address that goes on a letter to ensure it is delivered to its rightful owner.

Without an IP address, a computer or other Internet-connected devices can’t communicate with each other. They need to have a unique identifier to identify them, just as homes need mailing addresses to receive mail. IP addresses allow your devices to send messages to each other, and they also tell websites and streaming services where you are located.

Your public-facing IP address is usually the one that applies to your router and all the devices that connect to it. Knowing your public-facing IP address can help you open ports used for online gaming, email and web servers, and media streaming, among other things. Your logical IP address can change from time to time depending on how you connect to the Internet, for instance by connecting to different hotspots. The DHCP protocol that a network administrator sets up in a router or server allows it to assign a new logical IP address each time you connect to the Internet using your laptop or mobile phone (see also MAC address).

An IP address is part of the TCP/IP networking 192.168.o.1 login admin standard, which governs how applications like computers and smartphones communicate across networks. TCP/IP manages how information is broken into smaller packets that are transmitted over the Internet, then reassembled in the correct order at the destination network to reach its intended recipients. Each packet includes a header that includes the destination address, which the router uses to determine where to forward it. The header also carries other information, such as the originating device’s IP address.

Each network has its own IP address allocation. A network that uses IPv4 can only contain about 4.3 billion devices, since the original 32-bit version of the protocol was limited to 232 addresses. The latest version, IPv6, has 128-bits and can handle far more devices.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, a group of international representatives, is responsible for assigning blocks of IP addresses to regional Internet registries. These registries then give the blocks to Internet service providers, who assign individual devices with those addresses. Many ISPs use a workaround called Network Address Translation (NAT) to mask their devices’ private IP addresses, so that the outside world can’t see which local network they are connected to and what devices are on them.

As an added privacy protection, you can hide your IP address from the public by using a VPN. However, that does not hide your MAC address or your internal router’s IP address, which can still be discovered by a petty stalker or a draconian government seeking to censor activist sites and journalists. Your MAC address and IP address can also be tracked by social media sites, forums and chatrooms where you participate, and cybercriminals can use them to hack into your home network or to gain access to your email and other private communications.

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