Photo courtesy of Flickr: Mikael Altemark
We take so many things for granted in life – air, food, water, the Internet. We go through life not asking how things work until they stop working. Think about it – do you know how something as simple as a light bulb works? I sure as heck don't. How about your beloved Internet? Ask yourself this: how do IP addresses work and what kind of sorcery lets me use them to look at cats wearing funny costumes? No clue? Don't worry – I have all the answers right here in this magical tome.
IP address is short for Internet protocol and the simplest way to think of an IP addy (as us hip kids call it) is to think of a physical address where you would receive some mail. Every computer connected to a network has this address, or unique identifier – sort of like a computer's social security number.
When computers connect to the Internet, they use their assigned IP addresses to locate and communicate with one another.
The Internet Protocol portion of the phrase IP address can be defined as a group of rules used to govern Internet activity and allow bi-partisan communication to occur between two or more computers or destinations on the WWW or World Wide Web.
IP addresses come in two flavors – static and dynamic. As the name implies, as a Static IP does not change, but remains constant, like a house made of concrete. A Dynamic IP address, meanwhile, is more like a Winnebago, bopping from place to place and changing its address every time you go onto the Internet. This article explains the difference between – and benefit of – each type.
What IP Addresses Are Made Of
Unlike boys, who are made of snails and puppy dog tails, an IP address is made up of numbers. Specifically, each IP has four numbers, separated by a dot (.) or period. Each set of the four numbers consists of a one to three digit number, ranging from 0 to 255. For instance, an IP address may look like: 188.8.131.52.
Hidden within these four groups of numbers are some precious nuggets of information, including the country, region, and city the signal originates from, the ISP or Internet Service Provider that gives that computer Internet access, and even the longitude and latitude for all you map buffs out there.
Websites on the Internet work in a similar fashion, relying on a DNS or domain name system, which basically translates IP addresses into text (that way you can type in www.example.com to reach a website instead of 184.108.40.206 – although you could technically type both). For more information on how domain names and IP addresses are assigned, and for more information on Internet protocol in general, visit the ICANN website.
How Do I Find My IP Address?
Finding your IP address is fairly simple. There are two websites I suggest you try to help in that endeavor. The first is WhatisMyIP. To use it, simply go to the website and you will be presented with your IP address, alongside some information pertaining to it.
Another great, informative site is Info Sniper, which shows you your IP, relevant information, and even lets you view Google, Yahoo, and Windows Live maps.
The inner workings of our beloved Internet are really fascinating – from its humble beginning to its hidden underworld, known as the "deep web".
Check out this article on HowStuffWorks for a basic explanation of how the Internet infrastructure works.