What’s an IP address?

IP addresses are unique identifiers used to determine who is who on the Internet, and are linked to domains, to make them easy to remember.

The acronym ‘IP’ refers to Internet Protocol, a collection of regulations that enable devices to communicate via the Internet. Given the vast number of people accessing the Internet on a daily basis, distinct markers are required to monitor individual activities. To address this, the Internet Protocol assigns unique IP numbers to every device accessing the Internet.

A computer’s IP address is like the physical address of a house. If someone calls a pizzeria to order a delivery, they need to provide their physical address. Without that address, the pizza delivery person will have no idea which house to deliver the pizza to.

For example, when a user types a domain name, like google.com, into a web browser, this will initiate a request to Google’s web server asking for content (the Google homepage). Once Google receives the request, it needs to know where to send the website content. For this reason, the request will contain the asker’s IP address. Using the provided IP address, Google can send a response back to the user’s device, which will then display that content in the user’s web browser.

The system that orchestrates all this is called DNS. It works like a phone book for IP addresses so that users can access web services using human-friendly domain names. When a user types a domain name like ‘facebook.com’ into their browser window, this begins a DNS query, which ultimately leads to a DNS server translating the domain name into an IP address.