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What is an IP address—and how do you find it?

Photo via Santiago Cabezas

You know you have one, but you might not know what it is.

You’ve seen it mentioned by your cable company, your browser, and your Xbox, but do you know what your IP address is? Not the IP itself, that sequence of numbers and letters hiding in your router. No, we mean do you know what an IP address is? Well, wonder no longer. Here’s a basic rundown of everything you need to know about your IP address.

What is an IP address?

The IP in IP address stands for “Internet Protocol,” and the address refers to the number itself. Your IP address is like your home address, a designation that links to all over your internet activity to where you’re using it from. Without an IP address, your computer or smartphone can’t connect to the internet. Thankfully the machines we use identify our IP addresses for us. It would be a lot to remember on your own.

IP address Photo by Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

What are internet protocols?

Protocols are the standards and rules that your computer follows to work with and connect to the internet. Your IP address, or Internet Protocol address, is responsible for delivering and routing your online activity to the proper place. When you send something, it comes from your IP address, and when you receive information, that’s where it’s delivered.

How does it work?

When you go online, you connect through your internet service provider (ISP). You first connect to their network via your modem and router. Their network is what is connected to the internet and allows you to connect as well. In other words, your ISP is what gives you your service. Your IP address is what your ISP uses to make sure the traffic you send—and that’s sent to you—arrives where it’s supposed to.

So is it always the same?

No. Your IP address changes as you move from different networks, so if you’re working at a coffee shop, it’s going to be different than if you were at home. When you switch ISPs, your IP address will change. Heck, sometimes your IP address will change over the course of years in your home without you making any changes yourself.

How can I see what my IP address currently is?

To find your IP address go to a service like http://www.myipaddress.com. There it is. Isn’t it cute?

What can people tell me by looking at my IP address?

Your IP address can tell people a lot about you. It can reveal your city, ZIP Code, and area code if someone knows where to look. However, an IP address doesn’t always show the correct information. Using a VPN can help protect your identity from people trying to look up your information by masking your IP address. If you use torrents to download movies and music, a VPN can help hide who you are from your ISP.

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.