Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique numerical label that is assigned to each device connected to the internet or a local network. These devices include computers, smartphones, servers, printers, and others that use the Internet Protocol for communication. IP addresses are binary numbers but they are usually written and displayed in decimal or hexadecimal form.
Internet Protocol versions define IP addresses differently. At this time, two versions are commonly used – IPv4 and IPv6. In IPv4, an IP address is a 32-bit number. This means that there are 4 294 967 296 (232) different IPv4 addresses. These addresses are usually displayed as four decimal numbers between 0 to 255 separated by dots. For example, 22.214.171.124.
In the 1990s, it became obvious that IPv4 addresses were running out. In 1998, IPv6 was standardised. It defines an IP address as a 128-bit number, adding 2128 addresses. IPv6 addresses are usually displayed as eight groups of four hexadecimal digits separated by colons. For example, 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334.
An IP address is assigned to each device when it connects to a network. This means that when changing networks (for example connecting to a new Wi-Fi) the device’s IP address also changes. The assigned IP address enables communication with the device. It identifies the device and provides its location on the network. This makes it possible to send information to that device from other devices. This information can be anything – input to a field, webpage’s content, video, email, etc. This makes IP addresses one of the core components of network architecture.
In the time of connected persons, an IP address is often considered personal data. It is one of the online identifiers that refers to information related to an individual’s device. Websites and applications that track the users’ IP addresses generally need to inform the users about the relevant activities in their privacy and cookie policies.