I’m on the internet a lot, just like most people are. I use the internet for work, for fun, and even to get dates! But I’m not sure I know as much as I wish I did about how things on the internet actually work.
For instance, I know that my traffic on the internet is tracked using my IP address (or something like that, anyway). But I don’t really know what IP addresses are, and I don’t know what particular IP address is assigned to my computer. How can I find out?
Your IP address is used in all sorts of ways when you’re on the internet. For instance, your IP address is how websites like Google figure out where you are — which, in turn, allows them to send you region-specific search results, advertisements, and other content. So what is an IP address, exactly, and how can you find out what yours is?
An IP address is a series of numbers. To computers, it’s a string of binary ones and zeros, but we usually see IP addresses as regular old base-ten numbers separated by decimal points. The numbers indicate a few things: the first part shows us what network we’re connected to, and the second part shows us the host. This means that seeing an IP address can tell folks in the know where in the world the internet traffic is coming from.
When you’re on the internet, you show the world a “public IP address.” Then there’s your computer’s private IP address, which is exactly what it sounds like. Your router, which connects your network to the internet, also makes sure you serve up that public IP address instead of your private one when you’re online. The private one is used within your home network. A device that does not connect to the internet but does connect to your home network, such as a printer, can have a private IP address which is only used on the home network. It won’t ever end up with a public one, of course, because it doesn’t connect to the internet.
On to your next question. You asked “what is my IP?” Well, you can find out a few different ways. There are websites that tell you your public IP address and, in fact, most search engines will supply it to you if you type that question into their search bars. Your private IP address can be found using your own computer. On Windows and Mac computers, it’s a few simple console commands away.
Your public IP address isn’t necessarily a bad thing to share with websites, but not everyone wants regional search results and other indications that big companies (and sometimes bad individuals) can see where a user is logging on to the internet from. For this reason, some people choose to mask their IP address when they’re on the internet.
One great way to do this is to use a VPN. A VPN is a “virtual private network”, and it creates a secret and secure connection between your computer and a remote server. It routes your internet traffic through that remote server, making it appear as though you’re logged on from somewhere else. That effectively does away with your usual public IP and replaces it with a proxy, helping to hide your traffic and anonymize your data.
Now that you know what an IP address is and how to find yours, you can decide for yourself if you want to use a VPN service to mask your traffic and gain a bit more privacy online.