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The “IP” part of the P address stands for “Internet Protocol”. The "Address" part refers to a unique number that connects to any online activity you do… like a return address on a letter you send. (All this happens in milliseconds.)
That's the end of today's lesson. At least it should be.
Because after this point, things get complicated fast. And it's confusing. Information technology (IT) is crazy stuff and is best left to those who have to deal with computers and networks.
Still, we're all on the Internet these days, and we're apparently always connected via our personal computers, laptops or mobile devices. And every time you access the Internet, a working IP address is right there for you.
And while there's a lot of vague information (and misinformation) about the IP address, it helps to know the basics.
You have connections.
Your computer is connected to the Internet in one way or another. When you're online for email, shopping, or chat, your request should be sent to the right destination and the answers and information you want should come right back to you.
An IP address plays an important role in this.
You and your computer are actually connecting to the Internet indirectly: First you are connecting to a network that 1) is connected to the Internet, and 2) allows you to access the Internet.
This network can be your home Internet service provider (ISP) or a corporate network at your workplace, or a wireless network at a hotel or cafe on the go. But with millions of computers on the Internet, how can a single computer step in and seamlessly deliver your business or personal emails and more?
Protocols are Protocols
To ensure you can do your business on the Internet, your computer's network software is wired to follow a list of built-in networking standards and rules (yes, protocols) for connecting to the Internet and exchanging information and data.
One of these network protocols on your computer, the Internet Protocol, is responsible for precisely addressing, forwarding, and routing your online requests. It adds an “electronic return address” for you to all your online requests and activities. The address it uses is the IP address of your connection.
Too long, IP address. It was beautiful while it lasted.
When you're at home, your computer is assigned an IP address by your Internet service provider (think Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, or AT&T). It's their job to assign an IP address to your computer, since they're the ones that give you access to the internet. Your internet activity goes through them and they redirect back to you using your IP address.
But don't get hung up on it. Don't tattoo your IP address on your arm because it doesn't really belong to you. It can even change at home if you do something as simple as turning your modem or router on and off. Or you can contact your Internet service provider and they can change it for you.
You cannot take it with you.
Also, if you go on vacation and take your laptop with you, your home IP address will not go with you. It can't, because you'll be using another network to connect to the Internet on vacation.
So when you're at a cafe in another city or state (or just down the road) and you use their WiFi to receive your email, you're using a different (and temporary) IP address. your laptop instantly by the ISP for that coffee shop's Internet provider.
The same thing happens when traveling. As you move from the airport to your hotel to the local coffee shop, your IP address will change each time.
But you don't have to think about it at all or open your computer and flip the keys. It all happens thanks to the smart design behind the Internet, wireless networks, and all the Internet Protocols your computer uses.