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What is a Network Address?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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A network address is simply a code used by computers as a means of identification. Just like getting information to and from your home requires the postal service to know the house number and street name, a network address accomplishes the same thing for a computer network. Without some way of passing along this information, the idea of the Internet would be almost useless.

Just like the postal service, a computer must know where it is sending information. The network address is a set of unique identifying sets of information that can be used to find the right destination. While many may have heard of such an identifier being used to crack identify theft schemes and other sorts of online crime, that is really just a small part of the overall importance of the address. Nearly all information will require this address.

There are a number of different ways a network address can be configured on a computer. The most common way is to use a protocol known as the Internet Protocol (IP). An address that uses this protocol may also be referred to as an IP address. The information for the IP address is contained in 32 bits. A computer will likely keep the same IP address at least while connected to the Internet, though it may also change periodically, and can be manually reset.

The other type of protocol is known as media access control (MAC). This type of network address has a little more involved simply because it uses 48 bits instead of 32. The information from a MAC number is very useful, and offers clues along the way about the origin of the computer and where it is currently located from a physical standpoint. The IP address can also offer some of these facts as well.

The network address may be used to track someone down who is wanted, but this happens very rarely. In most cases, getting the information as to the physical location of a computer is highly privileged. It will likely require some sort of warrant in order to get access to that type of information.

This ability to track the computer has led some to have security concerns about the amount of privacy a network address offers. While it may be possible for someone to learn who the Internet service provider is and even a city or town, getting any information more specific than that will be very difficult. Unless the consumer is doing something illegal, having a network address is likely nothing to worry about.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon191960 — On Jun 30, 2011

If two emails have almost the same ip address and were sent about a month apart, does that mean it came from the same computer and isp?

Someone is telling me they sent the first email from public computer somewhere and the second email from home.

Only the last two numbers are different: .76 and .86. Is it possible that the two emails were sent from two different geographical locations?

By Markus — On May 03, 2011

@whitesand - How do you have a browser open if there's no connection to the router? Try resetting the router to it's factory settings. Hold then release the button on the back for about 10 seconds. You'll have to reset everything but it should fix the problem.

By MsClean — On May 01, 2011

@Whitesand - Try acquiring your network address using the same steps from the previous post. After you type ipconfig look for a "Default Gateway" address. Type that into your web browser and see if the router's doing DHCP, if not enable it then you'll get your address. Good luck.

By whitesand — On Apr 30, 2011

Help please, I can't get a connection. I keep getting an error message "router network address not assigned". What does it mean? Any ideas how to fix it?

By aviva — On Apr 29, 2011

It's actually really easy to find your network address, though it can be intimidating for first-timers. It works like this: every computer connected to the internet is given an IP address. It's looks like a set of dotted decimal numbers To find your network address just click start, run, then type cmd in the text box. Next a command window will appear. In it type ipconfig and your address will be displayed there.

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