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When you get a letter in the mail, how do you know it was intended for you? The answer, of course, is because it is addressed to you. Computers have addresses as well, known as Internet Protocol addresses or simply IP addresses. Knowing how to use an IP address is a key component to being able to effectively navigate the Internet. By managing your own IP, you can determine who has access to your machine and much more.


The TCP/IP Protocol

The heart of a computer’s ability to navigate the Internet and receive information is the Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP. The TCP/IP protocol forms the standard of all online communication. TCP is used to connect to servers on the Internet and is essential to being able to send data. Meanwhile, IP serves as the unique identifier for your individual computer and is essential to being able to receive information fr om other sources. Your IP address comes in one of two different forms: IP Version 4, or IPv4, and IP Version 6, or IPv6. All computers have at least an IPv4 address, and many computers are now using an IPv6 address as well. The difference between them boils down to a matter of complexity.

IPv4 versus IPv6

IPv4 represents an older IP system that, while still in use today, is slowly being supplanted by IPv6. IPv4 uses 32 binary bits to create a network address. This is expressed with four sets of numbers separated by dots, such as 192.61.84.101. IPv6 is more complex and allows for more possibilities as a result. It uses a total of 128 binary bits to create an address, which is expressed by eight groups of numbers separated by colons. An example of an IPv6 address would be 1806:cdba:0000:0000:0000:0000:2632:6221. When these addresses are written out, a group of all zeroes is usually omitted, so the address listed above would instead read as 1806:cdba:2632:6221.

Specific IP Reservations

No matter which IP version you use or what computer you are on, there are always specific IP addresses reserved for special purposes. You can think of these as similar to 911 or 411 on a telephone – no matter wh ere you are, they are always there and have the same use. Specific IP reservations include 255.255.255.255, which is reserved for network broadcasts and messages that go to all computers connected to your network. You may use this to broadcast important information to your employees. 127.0.0.1 is a loopback address and is your computer’s way of identifying itself even if you have not assigned it a specific IP address. Other IP reservations include the very useful concept of subnets.

Subnets

Several IP addresses can be reserved on a network to form subnets, which are small networks of computers that are all part of a larger network connected to a router. By using subnets, you can provide specific access to certain files for members of your IT team while restricting access to other employees who don’t need to use your files. Subnets are composed of a range of IP addresses listed in consecutive order. To form such a group, all you need to do is assign an IP address within the designated range to each computer that should be on the subnet. You can then restrict parts of your network so that you are only accessible by the IP addresses that form the subnet.

Uses for IP

Once you have established a specific IP for your network and the computers on it, there are many different things you can do. In addition to the establishing of subnets, you can mask the IP address of specific computers, allowing each computer to show up using a network IP address. This allows you and other networks to set certain restrictions or reactions to specific network IPs, allowing you to control how your business computers react depending on who contacts them. You can also establish an IP forwarding service that will reroute certain data to another computer or network. The specific applications are virtually limitless because you have control of the addresses on your computers.

In short, IP can be used to manipulate how your computer is seen both on your business network and online by others. You can view an IP as though it were a computer's address, which means that you can manipulate it in any way you would normally manipulate a physical address, such as through a forwarding service or the holding of certain communications. The power is in your hands to do what you will.

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