What Is an IP Address?

IP addresses establish your presence on the internet, somewhat like your home address. Here’s what to know about keeping your IP address safe to maintain your privacy.
John Gormally, Author
Catherine McNally, Editor
Last updated Aug 5, 2022

An internet protocol (IP) address is somewhat like a house address. Just like navigating to someone's home requires an address, data packets, similar to cars, need a source and the destination address to move information from one to the other.

Here’s what you should know about your IP address, what information it reveals, and how to hide it to maintain online privacy.

In this article
What is an IP address?
What is an IP address used for?
How to find your IP address
What information is included in your IP address?
What can someone do with your IP address?
How to protect your IP address
IP address FAQs
Bottom line

What is an internet protocol address?

Your house has a physical address to receive mail, your computer has an IP address to send and receive data from the internet.

IP addresses have two parts: the network ID and the host ID.

  • Network ID: Usually made up of the first three numbers of the IP address
  • Host ID: Usually the fourth number in the IP address

So with an IP address of 192.168.1.1:

  • 192.168.1 is the network ID
  • The final .1 is the host ID

These numbers are unique to every device communicating on the Internet. Although duplication of IP addresses can happen, your internet service provider (ISP) is responsible for not sending you someone else's.

Types of IP addresses

IP addresses come in many flavors, but each one serves a distinct purpose. Here are some of the more common types of IP addresses and their uses.

Static vs. dynamic IP address

IP addresses are issued either as static or dynamic. Static addresses are a fixed address that never change. Dynamic addresses are leased to you for some time before it changes.

Think of a static IP address as a house number that never changes. Dynamic IP addresses would be similar to a hotel room. You keep the room for a period of time. Once you depart, the hotel room is rented to someone else. Dynamic IP addresses work the same way.

Local vs. public IP address

A local or private IP address is like giving every room in your house a separate address, but instead of a room with an address, all your connected devices get a specific IP address.

Local IP addresses are assigned internally by your router, and no devices or people outside your home network will know what your local IP addresses are. This is just like how someone from another place wouldn’t be able to send packages directly to your son or daughter’s room because that number isn’t known to Amazon or U.S. Postal Service.

Your internet service provider (ISP) assigns your router a public IP address, and your ISP is given a list of IP addresses it can assign out to its customers by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Public IP addresses are needed to communicate, or send and receive data, over the internet. 

What does an IP address look like?

The format for an address, either local or public, looks something like this:

  • 29.211.120.1
  • 172.29.1.1

IPv6 vs. IPv4 addresses

You may notice that you've been assigned an IP version 4 (IPv4) address and an IP version 6 (IPv6) address. What's the difference? 

IPv4 addresses are the original version of internet protocol created in 1983 and are still widely used today. IPv4 uses a 32-bit address scheme, which means it can store more than 4 billion unique IP addresses.

Due to a shortage of IPv4 addresses, your ISP may issue only one public IP address per home.

The shortage of available IPv4 addresses is one of the reasons why IPv6 addresses were created. IPv6 uses a 128-bit address scheme, so you can imagine it can store more IP addresses at once — 340 undecillion, to be exact. 

IPv6 is also called IPng, or IP next generation.

What is an IP address used for?

The IP address allows for two-way communication between locations over the internet. Every website, including Amazon.com, Microsoft.com, and ESPN.com, has an IP address. If you type the name of the website, your ISP has a list of public IP addresses matching the name of the site you want to connect to. This is called the domain name services, or DNS.

This service saves you valuable keystrokes. Instead of typing in “http://209.192.122.11/index.html,” you can type in “CNN.com.”

Websites can also use your IP address to customize specific content based on your recent searches or browser searches. For example, travel sites and online stores offer local suggestions for products and tour sites based on the geolocation of your IP address.

How to find your IP address

To find your public IP address, open your internet browser and type in WhatIsMyIPAddress.com.

If the WhatIsMyIPAddress site is unavailable or you prefer a more manual approach, there are few options for you to look up your IP address on your device.

How to find your local IP address on Windows

Accessing your IP address is relatively easy to do. Here are the steps for each version of Windows.

Windows 8:

  1. Click on the Start menu, type network, and select Network Connection Settings.
  2. In the Connections menu, click Network.
  3. You’ll see your IP address under Properties.

Windows 10 and 11:

  1. Go to the Start menu search bar, type in cmd, and select the Command Prompt app.
  2. In the Command Prompt, type ipconfig and hit Enter.
  3. Your local IPv4 and IPv6 addresses will be displayed on the screen.

How to find your local IP address on a Mac

Locating an IP address on a Mac slightly differs from on a Windows machine.

  1. Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
  2. Click Network.
  3. Choose your active network connection from the menu on the left, shown by a green dot.
  4. Your local IP address will be shown under Status.

What information is included in your IP address?

IP addresses issued by internet providers include information about the network you belong to and information about your location — but before you worry, the information isn’t exact and is actually associated with your ISP. This includes the following information about your ISP:

  • Your ISP’s name
  • The city it’s in
  • The zip code it’s in

This information can give others a general idea of where you live, but without other information, it remains difficult to pinpoint your exact home address.

Expert tip:

If you have connection problems, always check your IP address to ensure you get a full address from the provider.

What can someone do with your IP address?

Having an IP address is the lifeblood of connection to the internet. Security issues could occur if someone has discovered your IP address linked to your cable modem or home internet router.

  • Find your general location. This includes your state and possibly the city you’re in.
  • Shut down your internet. Hackers can run denial-of-service (DoS) attacks against your specific IP, which prevents you from communicating with the internet.
  • Show you personalized ads. Advertisers can use your IP address to send you ads targeted to your location.
  • Show you malicious ads. If a hacker controls your device or home router, they can insert web code into your browser or redirect your connections anywhere in the world they want.
  • Collect sensitive data. Can hackers read your email? Crack your password? Yes, once hackers intercept your data, they could access personal information.
  • Impersonate you. Once the hacker figures out your IP address, they can perform a man-in-the-middle attack by basically terminating your internet connection, then impersonating you by taking your IP address and using the internet for fraudulent reasons.
  • See your online activity. While you’re connected to your work network, your employer could use your IP address to check in on what you do online.

How can someone find your IP address?

There are so many ways for hackers to obtain your address. Here are some methods they could use to discover your IP address and begin monitoring web traffic:

  • Connecting to your Wi-Fi: People walking around or driving around your neighborhood could look for any open internet access points. Once a hacker connects to your network, they will see other machines on the web, including your public IP address issued by the ISP. This is why you should ensure you have a password on your Wi-Fi network.
  • Reading your email header: This used to be a problem before Google and Microsoft stopped including your IP address on your emails. However, if you use a smaller email provider that embeds your IP address into the email header section, you could still be at risk.
  • Borrowing your device: Be wary of allowing others to borrow your phone, computer, and other devices that contain your IP address. It’s as easy as Googling, “What is my IP address?” on your device to reveal your IP.
  • Looking over your shoulder: Shoulder surfing is alive and well in coffee shops and other public spots. Hackers could wait for you to order for a second triple espresso. Once you do, they could quickly hit a few keys and see your IP. While in public, please take your device with you — everywhere.

How to protect your IP address

There is good news: You can protect yourself, your family, and your pet who surfs the internet while you're out.

Set up home router protection

Security starts at the front door (I know, back to the house analogy.) Front doors have locks, and routers have similar security controls:

  • Enable a password for Wi-Fi access
  • Use a different password for your guest network
  • Change all default settings, including the admin username and password, SSID (network name), and the device name.

Use a VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, is also an excellent way to protect your IP address. When you use a VPN client from Bitdefender, NordVPN, and other security vendors, all communication from your laptop or phone is encrypted.

Even if the hacker gained control of your home router or jumped on your WI-FI, your data will be unreadable.

Some recommended VPNs include:

Can incognito mode hide my IP address?

Incognito mode is a way to open a private web browsing session in Google Chrome or another web browser. However, incognito doesn’t hide your IP address.

Change your IP address

Aside from using a VPN or proxy server, you can also manually change your IP address. We've covered the steps for changing your own IP address on iOS, Android, and Windows.

IP address FAQs


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Does every computer have a different IP address?

Yes, every computer, car, smart bulb, cell phone, and other devices connected to the internet have a different IP address.


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Can someone find me with my IP address?

Yes and no — someone could get a geolocation based on your IP address, but most tracing tools are highly inaccurate. A dynamic IP address with a short lease could help reduce the chances someone could pinpoint your location with an IP address geolocation hack.


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Can someone track your IP address?

Yes, hackers can track your IP address if you don’t secure it. But you can protect your IP address with VPN software, and don't leave your devices with anyone you don't know. You should also change the password on your Wi-Fi to protect your home network.

Bottom line

IP addresses are the lifeblood of connectivity to the internet. Without a public IP address issued by an ISP, you’d have no ability to access the internet, send email, or chat with your friends.

Using a router to protect your internal devices by issuing private IP addresses will help safeguard your home network. Other easy ways to protect your online data include setting up Wi-Fi security and using a VPN to hide your IP address.

Your IP address is your digital home on the internet — protect it!

Author Details
John Gormally
John Gormally is a seasoned global cybersecurity expert, freelance writer, and blogger. With a mix of 25 years in technology sales, marketing, and content creating, John enjoys sharing his experiences with the business community through his various writing projects.