How to Find a Computer Network Address

Network addresses digitally identify devices to help them communicate

Searching thru magnifier glass at computer keyboard
runner of art / Getty Images

A network address serves as a unique identifier for a computer or other device on a network. When setting up correctly, computers can determine the addresses of other computers and devices on the network and use these addresses to communicate with one another.​

Physical Addresses vs. Virtual Addresses

Screenshot of computer's IP address

Most network devices have several different addresses.

  • Physical addresses: Addresses that belong to individual network interfaces attached to a device. For example, the Wi-Fi radio and the Bluetooth radio of a mobile device possess their own physical network addresses.
  • Virtual addresses: Addresses that are assigned to devices according to the kind of network they are attached to. The virtual addresses of a mobile device, for example, change as it migrates from one network to another, while its physical addresses remain fixed.

IP Addressing Versions

The most popular type of virtual network address is the Internet Protocol (IP) address. The current IP address (IP version 6, usually abbreviated as IPv6) consists of 16 bytes (128 bits) that uniquely identify connected devices. The design of IPv6 incorporates a much larger IP address space than its predecessor IPv4 to scale up support for many billions of devices. 

Much of the IPv4 address space was allocated to internet service providers and other large organizations to assign to their customers and to Internet servers — these are called public IP addresses. Certain private IP address ranges were established to support internal networks like home networks with devices that did not need to be directly connected to the Internet.

An IPv6 address looks like strings of letters and numbers separated by colons. An IPv4 address, also called a dotted quad, consists of four groups of numbers between zero and 255, separated by periods.

MAC Addresses

A well-known form of physical addressing is based on Media Access Control technology. MAC addresses, also known as physical addresses, are six bytes (48 bits) that manufacturers of network adapters embed in their products to uniquely identify them. IP and other protocols rely on physical addresses to identify devices on a network.

Address Assignment

Network addresses are associated with network devices through several different methods:

  • Networks can be configured to assign IP addresses automatically in a process called dynamic address assignment.
  • Network administrators can choose specific IP addresses and assign them to devices manually in a process called static address assignment.
  • Network adapter vendors set a unique MAC address in the read-only memory of each unit manufactured in a process sometimes called “burning.”

Home and business networks commonly use Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol servers for automatic IP address assignment.

Network Address Translation

An illustration of the 192.168.1.0 Private Network IP Address Notation.
 Lifewire

Routers commonly use a technology called Network Address Translation to help direct Internet Protocol traffic to its intended destination. NAT works with the virtual addresses contained inside IP network traffic. For example, your home router uses NAT to take its public IP address — the address it uses to communicate with the internet — and separates traffic to many different devices on your home network, each of which has a local IP address that cannot talk to the internet.

Problems With IP Addresses

An IP address conflict occurs when two or more devices on a network both are assigned the same address number. These conflicts can occur either due to human errors in static address assignment or — less commonly — from technical glitches in automatic assignment systems.