Definition

static IP address

A static IP address is a 32 bit number assigned to a computer as an address on the internet. This number is in the form of a dotted quad and is typically provided by an internet service provider (ISP).

An IP address (internet protocol address) acts as a unique identifier for a device that connects to the internet. Computers use IP addresses to locate and talk to each other on the internet, much the same way people use phone numbers to locate and talk to one another on the telephone. An IP address can provide information such as the hosting provider and geographic location data.

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As an example, when a user wants to visit WhatIs.com, their computer asks a domain name system (DNS) server -- analogous to a telephone information operator -- for the correct dotted quad number. The DNS maps the domain name to the IP address, which is needed to identify a device with a network protocol. In this case, the DNS server will link the quad number -- analogous to a phone number -- for WhatIs.com, and your computer uses the answer it receives to connect to the WhatIs.com server.

When a static IP address is necessary

Because static IP addresses are not used as commonly now, it is important to note when using a static IP address is necessary. Businesses will mostly use static IP addresses if they are hosting servers and websites which require a high uptime percentage, use voice over IP (VoIP), or have employees that work from home often. If employees want to remotely access their device from home, an IP address that changes may require the employee to know the new address. Using a remote access application and a static IP address, an employee could always access their computer with that same address.

In most cases, a static IP address will be used by businesses to ease operations with FTP, email and virtual private networks (VPNs) servers, database servers, network equipment as well as with web hosting services. In these cases, businesses that will handle a lot of data in these areas will find having a static IP address useful for employees and customers that have to connect to the organization’s servers.

Using an IP address that changes can be difficult with hosting a website because with each new IP address, the router settings would have to change in order to forward requests to the right IP address -- without this process, no end user could reach the website since the router wouldn’t know what device in the network is hosting the website.

DNS servers will also typically use static IP addresses. If the IP address changed regularly, then the DNS server would have to be reconfigured on a router just as often.

When a device’s domain is not accessible, then a computer can still connect to a server in the network using a static IP address. As an example, a computer could always be set to connect to a server’s static IP address instead of its hostname -- this would mean that a computer could still connect to a DNS server, even if the DNS server isn’t functioning correctly.

Essentially, any service or feature which requires a constant connection should have a static IP address. Even though it may feel seamless for the end user, when an IP address that chances and is assigned a new number, any previously connected user is removed from the connection and must then wait to find the new address and reconnect. This is why services that require a consistent connection, such as a file-system service or online game will use a static IP address.

If needed, a LAN administrator can use a DHCP to assign IP addresses that don't change.

An organization or home network should nearly always use what’s called a dynamic IP address in almost all other situations, as dynamic IP addresses are the more cost-effective method.

How static IP addresses work

Because static IP addresses are not the default provided by most ISP companies, if an individual or organization wants one, they first have to call their ISP and ask to assign their device -- such as router for example -- a static IP address. Once the device is set up with a new and unchanging IP address, they will have to restart their device once. Computers or other devices behind the router will use the same IP address. Once the IP address is in place, it doesn’t require any steps to manage, since it doesn’t change.

There is a limit to the number of static IP addresses available, however, meaning requesting a static IP address will often cost money. IPv6 is an idea to get around this issue. IPv6 lengthens IP addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits (16 bytes) and increases the number of available IP addresses significantly, making static IP addresses easier and less expensive to obtain and maintain. A large portion of internet traffic still uses IPv4 today, but more internet traffic is shifting to the use of IPv6 -- meaning both are in use today.

IPv6 allows for up to 340 undecillion unique IP addresses. For reference, that is 340 followed by a total of 36 zeros, or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique IP addresses that can now be assigned. This extension to the total amount of IP addresses allows for considerable future growth of the internet and provides relief for what was perceived as a future shortage of network addresses.

Pros and cons of static IP addresses

Because they aren't used as often, it may be difficult to see where static IP addresses have advantages. However, a static IP address can have advantages such as:

  • Businesses that rely on IP addresses for mail, FTP and web servers can have one, unchanging address.
  • Static IP addresses are preferred for hosting voice over IP, VPNs and games.
  • They can be more stable in the case of an interruption in connectivity -- meaning packet exchanges won't be lost.
  • They allow for file servers to have faster file uploads and downloads.
  • A static IP will make it easier for any geolocation services to access where a device is.
  • Static IPs are better for remote access to a computer.
  • A static IP address-enabled device does not need the device to send renewal requests.
  • Static IP addresses can be simpler for network administrators to maintain considering running servers.
  • And it is easier for administrators to track internet traffic, assigning access to users based on IP address.

Disadvantages of static IP address include some reasons why it isn’t used as often today, such as:

  • It limits the amount of IP addresses. A static IP address assigned to a device or website is occupied until otherwise noted, even when the device is off and not in use.
  • Most people do not need a static IP address now.
  • Because the IP address is constant and cannot easily be changed, a static IP address is more susceptible to hackers or follow-up attacks.
  • It can be complicated to set up a static IP manually.
  • It may be difficult to transfer server settings from a static IP device to a new one if the original device becomes obsolete.
  • Devices with a static IP are easier to track.
  • Static IPs are more costly, as an ISP will typically need static IP users to sign up for a commercial account and pay one-time fees. Monthly internet service costs may go up as well.
  • Security concerns with both static and dynamic IP addresses can be addressed by implementing router firewalls, using a VPN or by using an internet security suite. Although these don't absolutely guarantee security, they can help significantly.

Steps to obtain a static address

To obtain a static IP address, first, an individual will need to pick the device they want to assign the static IP address to, and then they will need to find the MAC address on the chosen device. On a router, the MAC address can normally be found on a sticker on its bottom. If unsure on what the MAC address is, the individual's ISP should be able to provide the information. The MAC address may also be labeled as a physical address. From this point, the individual should contact their ISP and ask to purchase a static IP address. The ISP should then ask for the device's MAC address. From this point, it will likely take a couple of days for the ISP to assign the device with a static IP address, but once the device is assigned a new, unchanging IP address, the user will need to reset their device at least once.

To view what the IP address is in the Windows operating system such as a user should open up the Control Panel from the Start menu, open either the Network Sharing Center or Network and Internet option, then select Network and Sharing Center. The user should then select the Change Adapter Settings option, right-click on Wi-Fi and select the Properties option. The user should click the Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) option, followed by Properties, and use the following IP address. The user should be able to see the IP address, Subnet mask, default gateway and DNS server and make changes to those options. After selecting OK, the IP address should be displayed.

Static vs. dynamic IP address

When an individual signs up with an ISP, they are provided with either a static or dynamic IP address. Most use cases today will see people using dynamic IP addresses over static IP addresses -- especially in home use; however, static IP address still has some advantages in select business-centric use cases.

The main difference between static and dynamic IP addresses is in the terminology of static and dynamic. In a literary sense, the term static character means a character that stays the same throughout a story, and the term dynamic character refers to a character that changes throughout a story. Static and dynamic IP addresses follow the same pattern -- as static refers to unchanging, and dynamic refers to changing. This means that the numbers associated with a static IP address do not change, while the numbers associated with a dynamic IP address do change.

Normally, a dynamic IP address can stay the same for days, weeks or longer, but can also be changed by the ISP or through a reset of the router or modem as well. The address change does not affect the end user either. The address can even change while the user is on the web. In most cases, in-home use for example, when an ISP assigns a device an IP address, it will be a dynamic IP address.

A static IP address does not change and, in most cases, will cost an additional fee through the ISP. Static IP addresses have to be reserved from a limited number of IP addresses. Static IP addresses will stay the same no matter what the user does unless they request their ISP to change it. Businesses might want to use a static IP address to ease operations.

In most cases, however, a dynamic IP address is the cheaper, better option.

Security

Static IP addresses are seen as less secure. Because static IP addresses don't change, data may be easier to locate and to gain access to by a hacker; the static IP addresses' unchanging nature also leaves them more likely to be hit by follow-up attacks. Static IP addresses are also easier to track.

However, security deficiencies found in dynamic IP addresses can help be mitigated by implementing a router firewall, security suite or VPN. A VPN, for example, can help in obscuring your network address, making it more difficult to find a device's physical location. Although these measures don't guarantee that all data will be safe at all times, they can help by a large margin, making it a good idea to implement additive security processes.

This was last updated in March 2020

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