IP Address

DEFINITION of 'IP Address'

A unique identifier associated with a computer or network, which allows users to send and receive data. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses can be either static or dynamic, with dynamic being the most common. An IP address is assigned by routers or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) servers.


The development of Internet Protocol has given order to what could have been a chaotic environment. Though some may consider a Wild West, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), often written as TCP/IP to the Internet Protocol suite, created a common language and set of guidelines for how information should be transferred between end-users.

An IP address is similar to the Social Security Number: it is unique to a particular network and essentially allows the Internet to exist. When a website visitor uses a browser to look at an article, for example, the IP address indicates where packets of data should be delivered. The data is transmitted from host networks through routers, with the data sent from router to router until it reaches its final destination. When drawn out this process may look like a family’s cross-country vacation plotted out on a map.

Most IP addresses are broken into four groups, referred to as IPv4, with each segment separated with a period. For example, an IP address may look like, though in reality IP addresses are a base-10 representation of a base-2 number. As the Internet has grown in popularity and has been increasingly commercialized, it became clear that the IPv4 version’s 32-bit addresses were not going to be enough. This is similar to how phone numbers now include area codes and country codes, when at one time there were only a relatively small number of phone numbers in existence. The latest version of Internet Protocol is IPv6. It has eight groups instead of the four provided by IPv4.