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Demystifying IP Addresses: A Thorough Guide on How This Crucial Technology Works

Have you ever wondered what exactly an IP address is and how it enables devices to communicate on networks? If so, you‘ve come to the right place!

IP addresses play a fundamental role in networking, but their function is often shrouded in some mystery. This comprehensive guide will provide you with a complete overview of IP addressing to demystify this foundational technology. Let‘s get started!

The Origins and History of IP Addressing

To understand IP addresses, we first need to briefly cover their origins. IP addressing was standardized in 1981 with the publication of RFC 791 which introduced the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4). This milestone was the culmination of pioneering work done by Vint Cerf and others throughout the 1970s to create a universal addressing system to facilitate communication between disparate networks.

IPv4 went on to become the backbone protocol of the Internet supporting its explosive growth over subsequent decades. However, exponential growth eventually led to the IPv4 address space being fully allocated by IANA in 2011. This IP address exhaustion necessitated the development of IPv6, the next generation protocol with 128-bit addresses and over 340 undecillion possible addresses.

While IPv6 adoption is still underway, it provides the addressing capacity needed to sustain the Internet‘s growth for decades to come. Understanding both IPv4 and IPv6 is critical as we are currently in a transition period toward broader IPv6 deployment.

IP Address Functions: Identification and Routing

So what exactly does an IP address do? IP addresses serve two primary functions:

Identification – They assign a unique identifier to each device connected to a network or the Internet. This allows individual hosts or nodes to be differentiated from one another.

Routing – IP addresses allow data packets to be properly directed to the right destination. Packets contain source and destination IP addresses which routers in between use to forward packets hop-by-hop until they reach their target.

IP addresses operate at Layer 3 (Network Layer) of the OSI Model. They provide logical addressing that abstracts the underlying physical network, allowing diverse networks to interconnect. This establishes end-to-end communication between hosts.

IP Address Structure Explained

IP addresses are actually 32-bit (for IPv4) or 128-bit (for IPv6) binary numbers. However, they are commonly represented in human-readable dotted decimal or hexadecimal notation for accessibility.

Here‘s an example IPv4 address:

This IP address consists of four octets (8-bit segments) ranging from 0 to 255 – separated by dots.

Each octet represents a byte of the overall 32-bit binary address. This structure allows for over 4 billion possible addresses (2^32).

IPv6 addresses use 128-bit addresses and hexadecimal notation – allowing for 340 undecillion possible addresses!

Public vs. Private IP Addresses

There are two broad categories of IP addresses:

Public IP Addresses – These are globally routable addresses used to communicate with other devices over the Internet. Your ISP assigns you a public IP which represents your device on the public Internet.

Private IP Addresses – These are used for devices on a local private network, like your home network. Typical private IP ranges include 192.168.x.x, 172.16.x.x, and 10.x.x.x. These allow local communication between your devices.

When your computer accesses the wider Internet, the router performs Network Address Translation (NAT), mapping private IPs to the public IP on the fly.

Introducing Subnets and CIDR Notation

IP networks are further divided into smaller subgroups called subnetworks or subnets. This allows a unified network to be split into smaller logical networks.

Subnets are denoted using a subnet mask defining the network ID portion of the IP address vs the host ID. This allows routing to be directed to the subnet level.

CIDR notation is a compact way to represent networks and subnets. It combines the base IP address with the prefix length denoting the number of shared initial bits that identify the network.

For example, denotes a subnet with 192.168.1 as the network ID and any value between 0-255 for the host ID.

IP Address Classes

There are five IP address classes in IPv4:

Class A

  • First octet – Network ID
  • Range – 1-127
  • Default subnet mask –
  • Supports 16 million hosts

Class B

  • First two octets – Network ID
  • Range 128-191
  • Default subnet mask –
  • Supports 65,000 hosts

Class C

  • First three octets – Network ID
  • Range – 192-223
  • Default subnet mask –
  • Supports 254 hosts

Class D – Reserved for multicast groups

Class E – Reserved for experimental/future use

These classes allocate different sized blocks suited for different network sizes. Class C is commonly used for small organizations and home networks.

How IP Addresses Map to Domain Names

Humans prefer using human-readable domain names, but networking devices rely on numerical IP addresses. The Domain Name System (DNS) provides the mapping between domain names and their corresponding IP addresses.

When you enter a domain name in your browser, a DNS lookup occurs in the background:

  1. Your computer queries a DNS server (local or public resolvers like Google or Cloudflare DNS).
  2. The DNS server consults its records and returns the IP address associated with that domain.
  3. Your browser initiates a connection to that destination IP to load the website.
  4. The website data is delivered back over the network via IP routing all the way to your computer.

This allows you to use memorable domain names while computers handle IP communication behind the scenes.

Uncovering Your IP Address

To find your public IP, search "What is my IP" in Google. To find your private IP:


  • Press Win + R
  • Type cmd and press Enter
  • Type ipconfig in Command Prompt
  • Look for "IPv4 Address"


  • Open Terminal
  • Type ifconfig
  • Look for "inet" address


  • Go to Wi-Fi Settings
  • Tap your connected network
  • IP will be listed at the bottom

Your private IP identifies you on your local network, while your public IP represents you on the broader Internet.

Hiding Your Real IP Address

There are ways to hide or mask your public IP address for increased privacy and security:

VPN – Encrypts your traffic and routes it through a VPN server so your real IP is hidden.

Proxy Server – Routes your traffic through a proxy, masking your original IP address.

TOR – Encrypts and bounces your traffic through multiple relays for deep anonymization.

These tools all route your connection through an intermediary, concealing your true IP address effectively.

Security Implications of Your IP

There are some security risks associated with IP exposure to keep in mind:

  • Leaking your IP can give away clues about your physical location.
  • DDoS attacks can bombard and overwhelm your IP, disrupting access.
  • Attackers can spoof or forge IPs for social engineering and hacking.
  • Dynamic IP assignment makes targeting attacks more difficult than static IPs.
  • Firewalls filter traffic from authorized IP address ranges as a security measure.

Migrating to IPv6

The IPv4 address space is now fully depleted. IPv6 aims to be the long-term successor with its expansive capacity. However, IPv6 adoption is still ongoing.

Many networks employ dual-stack which runs IPv4 and IPv6 in parallel during the transition. But in the long run, IPv6 will replace IPv4 as the new standard for networking & communication.

Final Takeaways

I hope this guide shed light on what IP addresses are and how they work under the hood! Here are some key takeaways:

  • IP addresses enable devices to communicate by providing unique identifiers and facilitating data routing.
  • IPv4 provides ~4 billion addresses while IPv6 provides 340 undecillion addresses.
  • Subnets and CIDR notation allow networks to be divided into smaller logical groups.
  • DNS maps human-readable domains to underlying IP addresses.
  • You can mask your public IP using a VPN, proxy server, or Tor for increased privacy.
  • Be mindful of the security implications surrounding IP exposure.

Understanding IP addresses is crucial for anyone working in technology or using the Internet. Let me know if you have any other questions!


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