Every time you connect to the internet and visit a resource online, IP addresses come into play. IP addresses are how devices are identified and how we are able to connect to different locations on the web.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are unique number sets that are assigned to online-capable devices. This is the means by which devices communicate with one another on the internet.
Picture your public IP address like a Post Office address. A PO box is often used in lieu of a home address for privacy or business purposes. As it doesn’t reveal your physical location, you don’t have to worry about listing the PO address publicly. However, the Post Office usually requires you to provide your true physical address to open a PO box. This is done to help prevent mail fraud and the use of the PO box for illegal activity.
IP addresses work in a similar fashion. Every device on the internet needs an address: a public IP and a private IP. Your public IP is like a PO box, while the private IP is like your street address. The public version is used to let you connect to the web without revealing your device's physical location. The private IP is what identifies your actual computer or device when it connects to a network.
There are two different types of IP addresses: IPv4 and IPv6. The IPv4 version is a 32-bit address and is the current standard for IP addresses.
An IPv6 address is a 128-bit address that was developed as a solution to the limited availability of IPv4 addresses. While IPv4 has a maximum capacity of 4,294,967,296 addresses, IPv6 can handle 340 trillion trillion trillion or 340 decillion. In other words, we aren’t likely to run out of IPv6 addresses, ever.
Every website or application you visit online has an IP address. The domain name system (DNS) uses IP addresses to send internet users to their desired location, typically a website, application, or server. People identify online destinations by domain name (example.com), but devices only understand numbers, so each domain name is assigned a unique IP address. It’s this address that allows nameservers to connect you to where you want to go on the internet.
DNS nameservers are able to identify the IP of a domain by its DNS records: A or AAAA records. A records are used to store IPv4 addresses. As you might’ve guessed, AAAA records store the IPv6 address of a domain. Domains can use both records simultaneously, but all domains need an A record as IPv4 is the de facto standard and currently, devices using only IPv6 addresses can’t natively communicate with devices only using IPv4 without dual-stacking.
The TL;DR of it is that an IP address is a unique identifier for devices and is how they are able to communicate with each other and find domains on the web. An IP address can either be in IPv4 or IPv6 format. IPv4 addresses are 32-bit and use DNS A records, while IPv6 addresses are 128-bit and use AAAA records.
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