Your IP address is a unique network number which forms the core of TCP/IP.  The reason that it is so important is that it’s the “language of the internet’ without TCP/IP the internet wouldn’t exist.  Although potentially many other network protocols could have been used, the reality is that TCP/IP is so deeply embedded in the infrastructure of the internet that it’s unlikely to change. Other networks use different protocols but when they connect to the outside world then everything speaks TCP/IP!

Every single device which operates on the internet requires an IP address to function.  Every computer, laptop, smart phone, internet enabled TV will all speak through a unique IP address when using the internet.  Devices in similar locations can share their addresses, so your TV, phone and computer at home can funnel their requests through a single point.  This means that your internet modem or router will have the IP address and it relays the information to whichever device requested.  This introduces another slight complication – you can have private and public IP addresses too.

  • Private Internet Address – functions only on local network, not sufficient for internet access. It’s unlikely to be a unique number.
  • Public Internet Address – functions on the internet, the address the outside world can see.  Must be a completely unique address.

So whenever you read anything about IP addresses it’s important to understand this distinction.  Although both numbers are the same format, they represent completely different scenarios.  Most online discussion about privacy, anonymity and internet access will be focused on your public IP address.  This is because it’s this address which is required to function online and the one which can be traced, logged and monitored.  Your public IP address is very much like your home address is in a physical context, it’s unique to your household and a basic for communication.

Do IP Addresses Change?

If you’re sitting at home, browsing the web or using your home through Wifi then your IP address will rarely change.  The IP address you are using has been allocated from your internet service provider usually through a modem or router connected to your telephone line or cable.   That is your public IP address and you have virtually no control over this.  Any outbound connection made through this connection will have the same IP address and can theoretically be traced back to your exact physical location.

It’s one of the reasons you should be careful about whom uses your internet connection especially if your name is on the bill.  If you let you shady neighbor have your Wifi password to use your internet then anything that he accesses will be logged to your account.  Which is probably fine if he’s using it for ‘normal’ stuff but if he starts downloading illegal pornography could be more of a concern.  It’s why company’s are so careful with their internet use policies (or at least they should do) – whoever pays for the IP address is technically liable for what it’s used for.

We should point out that the reality of the legal responsibility is actually much more complicated than that.  Indeed there are loads of different legal positions depending on where you are and where the data is accessed from.  However it’s still true that downloads and internet access can be tracked back to your specific IP address irrespective of whom using it.  There were many copyright claims made against parents for example who’s children were downloading copies of film from their bedrooms!

Having said that there are ways where you can change your IP address at least in the short term.  Imagine your browsing the internet at home and suddenly you discovered that you were blocked  on your favorite discussion forum because you’d made some comment that the moderator didn’t like.  The block would probably be instigated on two levels – your account and your IP address. Now you can probably create a new account, but you won’t get access from the same IP address if it’s blacklisted.

How can you change your IP address –

  • Reboot modem/router – switching your internet connection is sometimes enough.  Some ISPs will allocate a new IP address when you connect, however in the UK for example this will not always work.  The longer you leave your connection off the more likely it is to reset your address.
  • Connect through 3G/4G – just connect via your phone.  Just disable your Wifi access and connect through your data and you will have a new mobile IP address.
  • Leave and go use another Wifi point – your IP address is normally linked to your location.  If you go down the road and use a coffee shop or neighbors wireless you’ll have a completely different IP address.
  • Connect through a VPN or Proxy – an option many do who want to routinely stay private online.  Most proxy services allow you to change your IP address at will.

Of course for many people it’s not that important, our IP address is merely a technical requirement to access the internet.  Most people don’t get routinely blacklisted or blocked from web sites.  However there are many of us who do want to have more control over this important address.  For instance if you want any privacy at all, it’s essential you have some way of hiding your IP address.  Otherwise you’ll be logged at every website you visit plus a complete log will exist at your ISP should anyone require it.

Also many of us work online and having a single IP address is hugely restrictive in so many ways.  Many websites restrict and control what you can do based on your IP address.  For example I am unable to watch most US TV sites because I have a UK IP address.  I also can’t place adverts or manage accounts on many US based directories like Craigslist.  Yet as I use a proxy service, I can change my effective IP at will enabling me to access any ‘US only’ web site.  All I need to do is click on a US server and I am effectively a US web surfer.  It effectively unlocks other countries too, so I can switch to a UK server to proxy access to the BBC from the US too!

Not surprisingly many people use for business and marketing purposes too.  In fact it’s almost essential for many online workers to have some control of their IP address to even function in 2020.  You can increasingly even buy cheap residential IP addresses, which allow any one to exactly mimic a home user from whichever country required.  This ‘residential’ classification helps hide the fact that you’re actually using a proxy server, commercial addresses are often consider to be proxy service users unfortunately.