Some 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced every day around the globe, and it would be impossible for all that information to be sent and received without an IP address, the unique number assigned to every computer and device connected to the internet.
What are the origins of the IP address system that creates order out of chaos and exactly how does it work?
TCP/IP Allows Us to Communicate on the Internet
The “IP” in IP address stands for “Internet Protocol” and along with TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) is the foundational protocol in the Internet Protocol Suite that allows devices on different networks to communicate with each other.
In the early days of computing there was not a common protocol.
There was no common language. Each network had its own communications protocol using different conventions and formatting standards to send and receive packets, so there was no way to transmit anything between networks,” wrote Vint Cerf, co-designer of TCP/IP.
In 1974, Cerf and Robert Kahn published a paper (“A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication”) in IEEE Transactions on Communications that outlined how TCP could work.
“Later, to better handle the transmission of real-time data, including voice, we split TCP into two parts, one of which we called “Internet Protocol,” or IP for short. The two protocols combined were nicknamed TCP/IP,” Cerf recalled.
When ARPANET, the first wide-area packet-switching network in the world, migrated 400 hosts to TCP/IP in the early 1980s the basis for today’s internet was born.
How IP and TCP Work to Send and Receive Packets
IP’s main function is to address and route data packets. The packets are sent with a header that contains information about the sender, destination and data contained.
Without TCP, data sent via IP could be unordered, corrupted, or lost. TCP helps assure the reliability of the information sent.
If we think of regular snail mail, then the IP is the outside of an envelope with an address of where to send the letter and a return address identifying the sender.
What is inside the envelope, the actual information, and our ability to comprehend it, is the domain of TCP.
TCP/IP allows for two networks to communicate or internetworking which is where we get the name internet from.
How IP Address Numbers Work
For IP to route the packets to the correct device, a unique numerical system was needed (like a telephone number) and after several versions, IPv4 was put in use in 1981 and stuck.
IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses, assigns each connected device a number based on 4.3 billion unique combinations.
There are two ways to view IP addresses – how humans read them and how computers understand them.
To make it simpler for humans, IP addresses appear as four decimal numbers separated by periods. For example, 18.104.22.168 is a typical IP address format.
Each of the four numbers can be between 0 and 255.
To computers the IP address is a 32-bit number subdivided into four bytes, each an octet or 8 bits.
So, 22.214.171.124 is read by the computer as 01001001.01001100.01001001.10011010.
Shift to IPv6
IPv4 was not designed for today’s rapid internet growth and in September 2015, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) handed out is last free IPv4 address available.
In 1999, a new IP address system was put in place, IPv6, and it uses hexadecimal notation which allows for 340 undecillion (1036) combinations.
An IPv6 address may appear as: 2001:0DB8:0234:AB00:0123:ABCD:34EF:0001.
ARIN says: “The technical functionality of the Internet remains the same with both types of addresses, but to keep the Internet growing, organizations will need to transition to IPv6.”
Why Does My IP Address Change?
Unlike your home address, with most Internet Service Providers, your IP address is not static and does not belong to your device.
Your IP address is assigned by the network you are using to connect to the Internet so the address can come from your ISP or your company network or even a wireless network found at Starbucks.
When you travel, your IP address on your laptop will have a different number each time you log on depending on what city you are in.
Working from home you will notice a combination of IP addresses because your router will be assigned an IP address from your ISP for all traffic connected to the internet-facing side of your network
For traffic inside your home, your local network, the router assigns a unique local IP address to each device.
This way your router knows where to send information inside your local network. Your local network, for example may have your laptop, mobile device, and printer connected, each with a unique number.
Local IP addresses always begin with:
- 172.16.x.x through 172.31.x.x
These “non-routable” IP addresses are reserved exclusively for local networks and never used for internet IP addresses.
At PS Lightwave, our technology offers uncompromising connectivity due to facilities-based switched Layer 2 infrastructure providing both dual stack IPv4 and IPv6 compatibility, to meet our client's specific needs, over a transport-class native Ethernet ringed architecture. PS Lightwave typically provides static IP addresses with Internet service.
Contact us today to find out how our all-fiber, privately owned network provides clients with the best network connections to the last mile.
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