what is my ip This is a strange question on most people’s mind, yet it is one of the top ten most searched questions on Google.
Those who know what an IP address is will already know that most of these searches are coming from people who understand what they are looking for. But a more pertinent question for the rest of us might be: What is an IP Address?
There are billions of computing devices around the world that connect to the Internet. To communicate, each device needs an address, just like our homes.
Our home address is usually structured along the lines of “number, street, city, postcode, country”. And our entire postal delivery network is based on this system.
Our digital world is similar, and has an address system that allows network traffic to move around the Internet. So, an IP (Internet Protocol) address – which also has its own underlying structure – is basically a numerical address for an endpoint on the Internet.
an online content delivery system
Similar to postal addresses, IP addresses are assigned to each recipient in a worldwide infrastructure. The recipient can be a single device such as a laptop, phone, tablet or even your air-conditioner controller – but it can also be a network entry point for a larger organization.
Since its inception, IP was designed with simplicity and efficiency in mind. This is why it has been effective in handling Internet traffic, starting from a four-node network in the late 1960s to billions of devices today.
An IP address is a number in binary format, which means that it consists of 32 digits (or bits) consisting of 1’s and 0’s. Addresses are typically grouped as four 8-bit numbers, so each number is eight digits that are either 1 or 0.
But we usually see IP addresses in a decimal format, with a value between 00000000-11111111 becoming a number between 0 and 255. Therefore the entire IP address space ranges from 0.0.0.0 to 255.255.255.255.
See an example below, using the IP address of one of the servers that host theconversation.com.
IP addresses are centrally managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which assigns them to one of five regional registries: Africa, Americas, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe-West/Central Asia.
Not all addresses are available for anyone to use. Many are reserved for specific purposes. For example, three ranges of addresses (10.0.0.0—10.255.255.255, 192.168.0.0—192.168.255.255 and 172.16.0.0—172.31.255.2255) are reserved for private networks such as your home.
Other large blocks of addresses are assigned to specific organizations. The US Department of Defense “owns” the “6” prefix (6.xyz) as well as 11 others.
IPv6: a new frontier
IPv4 (version 4) is the most widely used version of IP in the world right now. Dating back to the 1980s, it has a capacity of over four billion unique addresses – which was considered sufficient at the time.
But this space is being exhausted due to wasteful use (such as organizations being allocated excessively large IP address space), and exponential growth of users.
For now, IPv4 is still here. But its demise has been predicted for a long time and it will ultimately not be fit for purpose. However, there are technical solutions.
The most useful are network address translation (more on this later) and a newer version of IP: version 6. Although IPv6 is newer than IPv4, it is not really “new”. It was originally proposed about 25 years ago.
Read more: Here’s why the Internet will always have enough space for all of our devices
Changes to IPv6 offer a variety of benefits, even if they are fundamentally transparent to consumers. The most significant change with IPv6 is the increase in the size of IP addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits.
Version 6 increases the total number of unique IP addresses on offer, some to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456. Even with the rapid increase in device usage, this address pool should last us a long time.
efficient use of addresses
As mentioned above, private addresses can be used for different devices inside an organization (or home). But private addresses cannot be used on the Internet, so these devices are “hidden” behind a public/external IP address.
This public address is capable of supporting hundreds of thousands of devices for a large organization. But a router is needed to connect the network to the Internet. The router translates several internal private addresses that are hidden behind public IP addresses (or several of them).
When data is delivered to a private organization or home network, the router forwards the traffic to a specific internal computer using that computer’s private IP address.
The process of routing multiple devices through the same IP address is called a “nesting” network. And the technology it uses is called Network Address Translation (NAT).
IP and download speed
You might not be using IP addresses in your daily life. But to access a website our computers need to “see” the IP address of that site. All this happens in the background.
Once our computer obtains the IP address of the website, our browser will connect to the address, request website data from the server and load the page.
In the image above, you will see four different addresses. This allows the servers distributing the content to distribute the workload among the four servers. Some websites go further and use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs).
Read more: Rapid global Internet outages: why so many sites went down – and what is a CDN, anyway?
CDNs host copies of web content in servers around the world. This means that the requested content can be delivered from a location that is geographically close to the user who is trying to access it. This reduces the time taken to load the page.
future of ip
IPv6 is slowly rolling out in ISP networks and large organizations, but home users and small companies will still use IPv4 for the foreseeable future.
The increased number of Internet-connected devices will certainly test our home routers – with an estimated 25 billion devices predicted globally within the next decade. Fortunately, even with this anticipated explosion, IPv4 at home will be able to cope.
Meanwhile, if you want to know your public IP address, just search for “what is my IP address” and Google (as well as many other search engines) will provide your public IP address. If you want to check your private IP address, it will take a little more effort.