IP Address: What It Is and How to Find Your Own

Understand IP addresses and how to hind your own IP address

Woman using laptop at home
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An IP address is simply a number that identifies a device on a network. Your computer, phone, iPod, router, TV, printer, and even smart refrigerator has an IP address if it's properly connected to a network.

While it's entirely possible to never need to know the IP address of any device, being aware of it might be useful when setting up some network configurations, logging into your router, troubleshooting network issues, or when using some remote access software.

Why IP Addresses Are Important

An IP address is the only way a device can communicate with other devices on a network. Just like how you can't send or receive email without an email address, or how delivering packages to your home would be difficult without a physical address, a networked device can't be identified without an IP address.

With that being said, your device's IP address is so important that having two devices use the same one is a no-no in the networking world. If the same IP address is assigned to multiple devices, you have what's called an IP address conflict, and one or all of the devices won't work properly.

Public and Private IP Addresses

The IP address assigned to your home network by your ISP is called your public IP address. This is the IP address most people are interested in knowing because it's the address that lets your whole house and all of its devices, communicate with the outside world (e.g. access websites).

The other type is called your private IP address. This is the address that the devices within your home network are assigned with. More specifically, the devices that exist behind the router that are not directly connected to the public internet. This would include your phone (if it's on Wi-Fi), your laptop, router, etc.

To reiterate, your private IP address is the one assigned to your devices at home, like your laptops, desktops, and other wired or wireless devices. The public IP address is the one that "sits" between the private devices and the public internet. It's the one address that all your private devices share in order to reach the internet.

How These IP Addresses Work Together

Right now, if you're behind a router as you're on Lifewire, you're using a private IP address. However, from Lifewire's perspective, it appears as though you're using your public IP address, and it's true.

This is because private IP addresses can only work behind a router. The router interprets the requests to access websites and then communicates with the internet using the public IP address. This is true for each and every request you make behind a router.

Whether it be when accessing Google, YouTube, Amazon, etc., every device behind the router uses a private IP address to reach the router, after which the router uses your public IP address to reach the internet.

Dynamic and Static IP Addresses

A dynamic IP address is simply an IP address that changes. The opposite is an unchanging, static IP address. These IP addresses are used for different purposes in different scenarios.

At home, if your network has DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) set up, it's serving out dynamic IP addresses from a pool of available addresses. The same concept applies with ISPs, who typically give out changing IP addresses to their subscribers.

A static IP address is useful if the owner of the device would rather have an IP address that they can be confident will never change. This type of address is useful if you're serving a website because you won't want the address to constantly change and have to be updated in DNS

It's also common for home networks to have private IP addresses that are static, like if a specific computer is acting as a file server or has specific ports opened for certain types of communication, like with what's common for FTP servers.

Generally, public IP addresses for home users are typically dynamic because there isn't a need to pay extra to have a never-changing IP address. Static IP addresses are usually only used for web servers or big companies that have VPN servers set up.

As for private IP addresses, DHCP is the typical setup, in which case the desktops, laptops, and other home devices can just get a new IP address when necessary. Again, however, a static IP address might be appropriate for private IP addresses if having a constant address is useful.

What's My IP Address?

One quick way to find your public IP address is with IP Chicken. Just open that website to see your IP address. Note that if you're using a proxy or VPN, the IP address that shows up is not going to be your "real" address.

The ipconfig utility is the most common way to find your private IP address in Windows, like that of your laptop or desktop. This is done through Command Prompt.

​Note: See How to Find Your IP Address for specific instructions on finding your public IP address or your private IP address, including your phone's, computer's, or router's address.

You can also find the IP address of your website (or anyone's website) with the ping command. This is also accomplished through Command Prompt. Just enter ping lifewire.com, replacing lifewire.com with the website in question.

Reasons You May Need to Know Your IP Address

It's unlikely that you'll need to know your IP address on a day-to-day basis but there are some troubleshooting guides and network configurations that require the IP address, be it your public or private one.

Here are a few troubleshooting tips to remember when it comes to your IP address:

  • A device that shows address failed to receive a dynamic address from the DHCP server, has its wireless radio shut off, or has not been assigned a static IP address  
  • A Windows computer that shows addresses starting with 169.254 has been configured by APIPA due to the local DHCP server being unavailable
  • If an IP address conflict is suspected on the network, inspecting the address values of each device is needed to determine which are using the same ones
  • Devices showing an address outside the local network's address range generally indicates a mobile device that failed to release its address obtained from a different network it was connected to earlier
  • Determining an IP address also explains whether a given network supports IPv4 and/or IPv6