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What is IP or Internet Protocol?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Internet protocol is the set of techniques used by many hosts for transmitting data over the Internet. The current version of the Internet protocol is IPv4, which provides a 32-bit address system.

Internet protocol is a "best effort" system, meaning that no packet of information sent over it is assured to reach its destination in the same condition it was sent. Often other protocols are used in tandem with the Internet protocol for data that for one reason or another must have extremely high fidelity.

Every device connected to a network, be it a local area network (LAN) or the Internet, is given an Internet protocol number. This address is used to identify the device uniquely among all other devices connected to the extended network.

The current version of the Internet protocol (IPv4) allows for in excess of four billion unique addresses. This number is reduced drastically, however, by the practice of webmasters taking addresses in large blocks, the bulk of which remain unused. There is a rather substantial movement to adopt a new version of the Internet protocol (IPv6), which would have two to the one-hundred twenty-eighth power of unique addresses. This number can be represented roughly by a three with thirty-nine zeroes after it.

The reason such a virtually unlimited set of Internet protocol addresses is desirable is because of the onset of small wireless devices. In the past it seemed that four billion addresses would be more than enough, but addresses were used only by computers at the time. In the future, it is conceivable that for every human being on earth there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of devices communicating via wireless networks, each needing its own address in the Internet protocol.

Most human users do not utilize IP addresses directly, instead using words to access the servers and computers they wish to visit. Inputted domain names are connected to their Internet protocol addresses through the domain name system (DNS), which keeps a record of all domain names and the IP address they are related to.

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 anon140876 — On Jan 08, 2011

How do I change my ip address?

By anon101378 — On Aug 03, 2010

Is there more than one IP address for the one system. If yes/no then tell me how?

By anon48846 — On Oct 15, 2009

Is it possible for me to change the IP of my system. If it is possible, how?

By dumesh2001 — On Feb 04, 2009

What is DNS\Gateway? Why is it installed in network.

By dumesh2001 — On Feb 04, 2009

What is ip add. and why is an ip add. installed in network?

By anon6834 — On Jan 10, 2008

How can i get the ip other person during chatting?

By anon3176 — On Aug 15, 2007

An IP address won't get you an exact address. At best, it could give you a specific area or neighborhood. At worst, it could only indicate who their service provider is and in what country.

By anon3171 — On Aug 15, 2007

I have the IP address of my friend, who is in Pakistan. Can i get his address by that IP? If yes then tell me how?

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