What IP Means and How It Works

What Does Internet Protocol Mean and How Does IP Work?

IP Protocol is Important for Networks
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The letters "IP" stand for Internet Protocol. It's the set of rules that govern how packets are transmitted over a network. This is why we see "IP" used in words like IP address and VoIP.

The good news is that you don't have to know anything about what IP means in order to use network devices. For example, your laptop and IP phone use IP addresses but you don't have to deal with the technical side in order to make them work.

However, we'll go through the technical side of it to get an understanding of what IP actually means and how and why it's a necessary component of network communication.

The Protocol

IP is a protocol. Simply said, a protocol is a set of rules governing how things work in a certain technology, so that there is some kind of standardization. When put into a network communication context, an internet protocol describes how data packets move through a network.

When you have a protocol, you are sure that all machines on a network (or in the world, when it comes to the internet), however different they might be, speak the same "language" and can integrate into the whole framework.

The IP protocol standardizes the way machines over the Internet or any IP network forward or route their packets based on their IP addresses.

IP Routing

Along with addressing, routing is one of the main functions of the IP protocol.

Routing consists of forwarding IP packets from source to destination machines over a network, based on their IP addresses.


When transmission control protocol (TCP) couples with IP, you get the internet highway traffic controller. TCP and IP work together to transmit data over the internet, but at different levels.

Since IP does not guarantee reliable packet delivery over a network, TCP takes the charge of making the connection reliable.

TCP is the protocol that ensures reliability in a transmission, which ensures that there is no loss of packets, that the packets are in the right order, that the delay is to an acceptable level, and that there is no duplication of packets. All this is to ensure that the data received is consistent, in order, complete, and smooth (so that you don't hear broken speech).

During data transmission, TCP works just before IP. TCP bundles data into TCP packets before sending these to IP, which in turn encapsulates these into IP packets.

IP Addresses

This is maybe the most interesting and mysterious part of IP for most computer users. An IP address is a unique address identifying a machine (which can be a computer, a server, an electronic device, a router, a phone etc.) on a network, thus serving for routing and forwarding IP packets from source to destination.

So, in short, TCP is the data while IP is the location.

Read more on these digits and dots that make up an IP address.

IP Packets

An IP Packet is a packet of data which carries a data load and an IP header. Any piece of data (TCP packets, in the case of a TCP/IP network) is broken into bits and placed into these packets and transmitted over the network.

Once the packets reach their destination, they are reassembled into the original data.

Read more on the structure of an IP packet here.

When Voice Meets IP

VoIP takes advantage of this ubiquitous carrier technology to disseminate voice data packets to and from machines.

IP is actually where VoIP draws its power from: the power to make things cheaper and so flexible; by making optimal use of an already-existing data carrier.