Intellectual Property and the Internet/IP address
An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numeric label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, smartphone, hotspot) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. The address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification and location addressing. Its role has been characterized as follows: "A name indicates what we seek. An address indicates where it is. A route indicates how to get there."
The designers of the Internet Protocol defined an IP address as an integer expressed in binary notation with a length of 32 bits  and this system, known as IPv4, is still in use today. However, due to the enormous growth of the Internet and the predicted exhaustion of available IPv4 addresses, a new addressing system called IPv6, using addresses that are binary integers 128 bits long, has been deployed worldwide alongside IPv4 since the mid-2000s.
Though IP addresses are technically binary numbers, they are usually stored and displayed in more human-readable notations like decimal, such as 172.16.254.1 (for IPv4), and 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1 (for IPv6).
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) manages the IP address space allocations globally and maintains five regional Internet registries (RIRs) to allocate IP address blocks to Internet service providers and other entities.
Two versions of the Internet Protocol (IP) are in use: IP Version 4 and IP Version 6. Each version defines an IP address differently. Because of its prevalence, the generic term IP address typically still refers to the addresses defined by IPv4. The gap in version sequence between IPv4 and IPv6 resulted from the assignment of number 5 to the experimental Internet Stream Protocol in 1979, though it was never referred to as IPv5.
In IPv4 an address consists of 32 bits which limits the address space to 4,294,967,296 (232) possible unique addresses. IPv4 reserves some addresses for special purposes such as private networks (~18 million addresses) or multicast addresses (~270 million addresses).
IPv4 addresses are canonically represented in "dot-decimal" notation which consists of four decimal numbers, each ranging from 0 to 255, separated by full stops or periods, e.g., 172.16.254.1. Each part represents a group of 8 bits (octet) of the address. In some cases of technical writing, IPv4 addresses may be presented in various hexadecimal, octal, or binary representations.
In the early stages of development of the Internet Protocol, network administrators interpreted an IP address in two parts: network number portion and host number portion. The highest order octet (most significant eight bits) in an address was designated as the network number and the remaining bits were called the rest field or host identifier and were used for host numbering within a network.
This early method soon proved inadequate as additional networks developed that were independent of the existing networks already designated by a network number. In 1981, the Internet addressing specification was revised with the introduction of classful network architecture.
Classful network design allowed for a larger number of individual network assignments and fine-grained subnetwork design. The first three bits of the most significant octet of an IP address were defined as the class of the address. Three classes (A, B, and C) were defined for universal unicast addressing. Depending on the class derived, the network identification was based on octet boundary segments of the entire address. Each class used successively additional octets in the network identifier, thus reducing the possible number of hosts in the higher order classes (B and C). The following table gives an overview of this, now obsolete, system.
|Class||Leading bits in address (binary)||Range of first octet (decimal)||Network ID format||Host ID format||No. of networks||No. of addresses per network|
|A||0||0 - 127||a||b.c.d||27 = 128||224 = 16,777,216|
|B||10||128–191||a.b||c.d||214 = 16,384||216 = 65,536|
|C||110||192–223||a.b.c||d||221 = 2,097,152||28 = 256|
Classful network design served its purpose in the startup stage of the Internet, but it lacked scalability in the face of the rapid expansion of the network in the 1990s. The class system of the address space was replaced with Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) in 1993, which employs variable-length subnet masking (VLSM) to allow allocation and routing based on arbitrary-length prefixes.
Today, remnants of classful network concepts function only in a limited scope as the default configuration parameters of some network software and hardware components (e.g. netmask), and in the technical jargon used in network administrators' discussions.
IPv4 private addresses
Early network design, when global end-to-end connectivity was envisioned for communications with all Internet hosts, intended that IP addresses be uniquely assigned to a particular computer or device. However, it was found that this was not always necessary as private networks developed and public address space needed to be conserved.
Computers not connected to the Internet, such as factory machines that communicate only with each other via TCP/IP, need not have globally unique IP addresses. Three ranges of IPv4 addresses for private networks were reserved in RFC 1918. These addresses are not routed on the Internet and thus their use need not be coordinated with an IP address registry.
Today, when needed, such private networks typically connect to the Internet through network address translation (NAT).
|Start||End||No. of addresses|
|24-bit block (/8 prefix, 1 × A)||10.0.0.0||10.255.255.255||16,777,216|
|20-bit block (/12 prefix, 16 × B)||172.16.0.0||172.31.255.255||1,048,576|
|16-bit block (/16 prefix, 256 × C)||192.168.0.0||192.168.255.255||65,536|
Any user may use any of the reserved blocks. Typically, a network administrator will divide a block into subnets; for example, many home routers automatically use a default address range of 192.168.1.1 through 192.168.1.255 (192.168.1.0/24 in CIDR notation).
IPv4 address exhaustion
The supply of unallocated IPv4 addresses available at IANA and the RIRs for assignment to end users and Internet service providers has been completely exhausted since February 3, 2011, when the last 5 A-class blocks were allocated to the 5 RIRs. Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) was the first RIR to exhaust its regional pool on April 15, 2011, except for a small amount of address space reserved for the transition to IPv6.
The rapid exhaustion of IPv4 address space, despite conservation techniques, prompted the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to explore new technologies to expand the Internet's addressing capability. The permanent solution was deemed to be a redesign of the Internet Protocol itself. This next generation of the Internet Protocol, intended to complement and eventually replace IPv4, was ultimately named Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) in 1995. The address size was increased from 32 to 128 bits or 16 octets. This, even with a generous assignment of network blocks, is deemed sufficient for the foreseeable future. Mathematically, the new address space provides the potential for a maximum of ~3.403×1038 unique addresses (2128).
The new design is not intended to provide a sufficient quantity of addresses on its own, but rather to allow efficient aggregation of subnet routing prefixes to occur at routing nodes. As a result, routing table sizes are smaller, and the smallest possible individual allocation is a subnet for 264 hosts, which is the square of the size of the entire IPv4 Internet. At these levels, actual address utilization rates will be small on any IPv6 network segment. The new design also provides the opportunity to separate the addressing infrastructure of a network segment — that is the local administration of the segment's available space — from the addressing prefix used to route external traffic for a network. IPv6 has facilities that automatically change the routing prefix of entire networks, should the global connectivity or the routing policy change, without requiring internal redesign or renumbering.
The large number of IPv6 addresses allows large blocks to be assigned for specific purposes and, where appropriate, to be aggregated for efficient routing. With a large address space, there is not the need to have complex address conservation methods as used in Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR).
Many modern desktop and enterprise server operating systems include native support for the IPv6 protocol, but it is not yet widely deployed in other devices, such as home networking routers, voice over IP (VoIP) equipment, and other network peripherals.
IPv6 private addresses
Just as IPv4 reserves addresses for private or internal networks, blocks of addresses are set aside in IPv6 for private addresses. In IPv6, these are referred to as unique local addresses (ULAs). RFC 4193 sets aside the routing prefix fc00::/7 for this block which is divided into two /8 blocks with different implied policies The addresses include a 40-bit pseudorandom number that minimizes the risk of address collisions if sites merge or packets are misrouted.
Addresses starting with fe80:, called link-local addresses, are assigned to interfaces for communication within the subnet only. The addresses are automatically generated by the operating system for each network interface. This provides instant and automatic network connectivity for any IPv6 host and means that if several hosts connect to a common hub or switch, they have a communication path via their link-local IPv6 address. This feature is used in the lower layers of IPv6 network administration (e.g. Neighbor Discovery Protocol).
None of the private address prefixes may be routed on the public Internet.
IP networks may be divided into subnetworks in both IPv4 and IPv6. For this purpose, an IP address is logically recognized as consisting of two parts: the network prefix and the host identifier (renamed the interface identifier in IPv6). The subnet mask or the CIDR prefix determines how the IP address is divided into network and host parts.
The term subnet mask is only used within IPv4. Both IP versions, however, use the Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) concept and notation. In this, the IP address is followed by a slash and the number (in decimal) of bits used for the network part, also called the routing prefix. For example, an IPv4 address and its subnet mask may be 192.0.2.1 and 255.255.255.0, respectively; the CIDR notation for the same IP address and subnet is 192.0.2.1/24, because the first 24 bits of the IP address (192.000.002, precisely) indicate the network and subnet.
IP address assignment
Internet Protocol addresses are assigned to a host either anew at the time of booting, or permanently by fixed configuration of its hardware or software. Persistent configuration is also known as using a static IP address. In contrast, in situations when the computer's IP address is assigned newly each time, this is known as using a dynamic IP address.
Static IP addresses are manually assigned to a computer by an administrator. The exact procedure varies according to platform. This contrasts with dynamic IP addresses, which are assigned either by the computer interface or host software itself, as in Zeroconf, or assigned by a server using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). Even though IP addresses assigned using DHCP may stay the same for long periods of time, they can generally change. In some cases, a network administrator may implement dynamically assigned static IP addresses. In this case, a DHCP server is used, but it is specifically configured to always assign the same IP address to a particular computer. This allows static IP addresses to be configured centrally, without having to specifically configure each computer on the network in a manual procedure.
In the absence or failure of static or stateful (DHCP) address configurations, an operating system may assign an IP address to a network interface using state-less auto-configuration methods, such as Zeroconf.
Uses of dynamic addressing
Dynamic IP addresses are most frequently assigned on LANs and broadband networks by DHCP servers. They are used because it avoids the administrative burden of assigning specific static addresses to each device on a network. It also allows many devices to share limited address space on a network if only some of them will be online at a particular time. In most current desktop operating systems, dynamic IP configuration is enabled by default so that a user does not need to manually enter any settings to connect to a network with a DHCP server. DHCP is not the only technology used to assign dynamic IP addresses. Dial-up and some broadband networks use dynamic address features of the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP).
Sticky dynamic IP address
A sticky dynamic IP address is an informal term used by cable and DSL Internet access subscribers to describe a dynamically assigned IP address which seldom changes. The addresses are usually assigned with DHCP. Since the modems are usually powered on for extended periods of time, the address leases are usually set to long periods and simply renewed. If a modem is turned off and powered up again before the next expiration of the address lease, it will most likely receive the same IP address.
RFC 3330 defines an address block, 169.254.0.0/16, for the special use in link-local addressing for IPv4 networks. In IPv6 every interface, whether using static or dynamic address assignments, also receives a local-link address automatically, in the block fe80::/10.
These addresses are only valid on the link, such as a local network segment or point-to-point connection, that a host is connected to. These addresses are not routable and like private addresses cannot be the source or destination of packets traversing the Internet.
When the link-local IPv4 address block was reserved, no standards existed for mechanisms of address autoconfiguration. Filling the void, Microsoft created an implementation that is called Automatic Private IP Addressing (APIPA). Due to Microsoft's market power, APIPA has been deployed on millions of machines and has become a de facto standard in the industry. Many years later, the IETF defined a formal standard for this functionality, RFC 3927, entitled Dynamic Configuration of IPv4 Link-Local Addresses.
Uses of static addressing
Some infrastructure situations have to use static addressing, such as when finding the Domain Name System (DNS) host that will translate domain names to IP addresses. Static addresses are also convenient, but not absolutely necessary, to locate servers inside an enterprise. An address obtained from a DNS server comes with a time to live or caching time, after which it should be looked up to confirm that it has not changed. Even static IP addresses do change, often as a result of network administration (RFC 2072).
A public IP address in common parlance is synonymous with a, globally routable unicast IP address. Both IPv4 and IPv6 define address ranges that are reserved for private networks and link-local addressing. The term public IP address often used exclude these types of addresses.
Modifications to IP addressing
IP blocking and firewalls
Firewalls protect networks from unauthorized access and are common at every level of today's Internet, controlling access to networks based on the IP address of the computer requesting access. Whether using a blacklist or a whitelist, the IP address that is blocked is the perceived IP address of the client, meaning that if the client is using a proxy server or network address translation, blocking one IP address may block many individual computers.
IP address translation
Multiple client devices can appear to share IP addresses: either because they are located on a shared-hosting web server or because an IPv4 network address translator (NAT) or proxy server acts as an intermediary agent on behalf of its customers, in which case the real originating IP addresses might be hidden from the server receiving a request. A common practice is to have a NAT hide a large number of IP addresses in a private network. Only the "outside" interface(s) of the NAT need to have Internet-routable addresses.
Most commonly, the NAT device maps TCP or UDP port numbers on the outside to individual private addresses on the inside. Just as a telephone number may have site-specific extensions, the port numbers are site-specific extensions to an IP address.
In small home networks, NAT functions usually take place in a residential gateway device, typically one marketed as a "router". In this scenario, the computers connected to the router would have 'private' IP addresses and the router would have a 'public' address to communicate with the Internet. This type of router allows several computers to share one public IP address.
- Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California (September 1981). "RFC 791 - Internet Protocol". Internet Engineering Task Force. Archived from the original on September 10, 2015. https://web.archive.org/web/20150910142824if_/http://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc791/. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Deering, S.; Hinden, R. (July 2017). "RFC 8200 - Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6) Specification". Internet Engineering Task Force. Archived from the original on November 21, 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20181121071704if_/https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc8200/. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Postel, Jon (January 1980). "RFC 760 - DoD standard Internet Protocol". Internet Engineering Task Force. https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc760/. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Smith, Lucie; Lipner, Ian (February 3, 2011). "Free Pool of IPv4 Address Space Depleted". Number Resource Organization. Archived from the original on November 6, 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20181106153513if_/https://www.nro.net/ipv4-free-pool-depleted. Retrieved February 3, 2011.
- "APNIC IPv4 Address Pool Reaches Final /8". Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre. April 15, 2011. Archived from the original on March 29, 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20160329084928if_/https://www.apnic.net/publications/news/2011/final-8. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Hinden, R.; Haberman, B. (October 2005). "RFC 4193 - Unique Local IPv6 Unicast Addresses". Internet Engineering Task Force. Archived from the original on September 12, 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20180912214844if_/https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc4193/. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- Comer, Douglas (2000). Internetworking with TCP/IP:Principles, Protocols, and Architectures (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. p. 394. ISBN 0130183806. http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/dec/netbooks.html.
- IP at DMOZ
- "Understanding IP Addressing: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know". Archived from the original on August 21, 2010. http://web.archive.org/web/20100821112028if_/http://www.3com.com/other/pdfs/infra/corpinfo/en_US/501302.pdf.