The details of an IP address and all the technology behind it is important mostly to IT guys, the Internet Technology experts who connect computers at your work or who design the networking hardware and software for your computers.
Thank goodness they have done such a good job that you never have to think about it—because most of us depend on an IP address for everything these days, from getting our news to staying in constant contact with friends and family.
Yet, even though the IP address is part of our everyday, ordinary lives, there is nothing “unordinary” about the way it all comes about. It is all part of a complex and marvelous technological system that runs a worldwide network—the Internet. Here’s one way to understand it all a little better.
IP addresses at work.
If you think about an office building somewhere in your city, you would assume that is has a mailing address. And it probably gets mailed delivered to it from advertisers, utility companies, local organizations and so on. It might even get mail from customers or businesses from another state or another country.
Think about that fact.
How does one single piece of mail or a package find its way from across the country to precisely that building, in a matter of days? After all, it’s traveling along with millions of other pieces of mail of all types. Letters, boxes (big and small), postcards and advertising flyers. And it all has to pass through multiple offices, trucks and hands.
And that happens every day, around the clock.
It is all possible thanks to processes, systems, transportation and computers that are intricately linked and working together. The Unites States Post Office, FedEx, and UPS all have in place systems and shipping protocols to make sure it happens quickly and accurately, so that a letter intended for you doesn’t end up somewhere in South America instead.
The post office of the Internet.
In the computer world, your letters, messages and communication (emails, Google searches and more) are also guided by a set of processes or protocols hardwired and programmed right into your computer.
The heart of delivering Internet traffic/data (your activity included) is what’s called TCP/IP technology. The “IP” part stands for “Internet Protocol”—where “IP address” comes from.
TCP/IP technology, the software of the Internet and networking, is designed to work for all us all of the time—no matter what kind of computer we’re using, who our Internet provider is, or what kind of modem or router we have. If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing!
The odds are stacked in your favor.
To make all of the network parts work seamless and perfectly, TCP/IP technology separates network functions into stacks or layers. Most technical books recognize five distinct layers:
- The Physical Layer
- The Data Link Layer
- The Internet Layer
- The Transport Layer
- The Application Layer
And inside each individual layer are the unique protocols (instructions) for both the networking hardware and software in our computers.
It doesn’t stop there—TCP/IP also has scripted exactly what all those layers should do, as well as when and how it should happen. Those scripts or instructions are the protocols. Taking it one step further, it also defines how those layers should interact with each other.
Sounds complicated. But if you think about it, it all makes sense.
At the post office, just one mailperson isn’t responsible for delivering one piece (or hundreds of pieces) of mail all by themselves. It takes total cooperation from a network of facilities, and types of processes, working simultaneously and in harmony to deliver the mail.
That’s what all of the IP protocols are doing: making sure your Internet requests and email messages get from your lone computer to their correct destinations across town or across the country.
Featured image courtesy of ExpressVPN