You’ve probably heard of an IP (Internet Protocol) address before. They’re the numbers that electronic devices use to identify each other. What you might not have known is that there are two distinctly different types of IP address: static and dynamic.
To help you better understand what this means for you and your tech, we’re going to explain the difference between static and dynamic IP addresses and how they can affect the reliability and security of your internet connection.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a unique string of numbers that devices use to communicate with each other. The simplest way of trying to understand how IP addresses work is to think of them like postal addresses.
For instance, say you want to visit a website. To load the page, your computer needs to know the website’s IP address in the same way you need to know someone’s address before sending a letter.
Fortunately for us, internet users aren’t expected to remember the IP address of every website they visit. Instead, your computer uses something called DNS (the Domain Name System) to convert the domain name of the website you want into an IP address.
The DNS is a network of servers appointed by your internet service provider (ISP). These match all of the domain names and corresponding IP addresses that web users need.
When you enter a domain name into the address bar of your browser, your device performs a DNS query and your default DNS server scours the network to find the IP address of the website you need. The DNS then sends this information back to your device and your browser is able to load the page.
What is a dynamic IP address?
Understanding the basics of DNS is important when considering how a dynamic IP functions because your ISP not only assigns your device a DNS server, it’s also responsible for allocating your device an IP address.
There are a finite number of globally unique IPv4 addresses that devices can use to connect to the internet, so ISPs typically assign a new ‘dynamic’ IP address every time a device starts a new session online, as it allows them to be recycled.
This also means that every time you connect to a new network, like your local coffee shop’s free WiFi, or browse the web when you’re abroad, your device’s IP address will change. Dynamic essentially means an IP address that is constantly changing.
What is a static IP address?
A static IP address is functionally identical to a dynamic IP address, except it never changes, even if you turn your router off.
Static IP addresses are normally reserved for businesses, and you’ll probably need to request one from your ISP. But they’re great for things like running your own website or remotely accessing your PC when you’re not at home.
There are lots of things to consider before investing in a static IP address, however, so before you get one, we’re going to run through some of the pros and cons of both static and dynamic IP addresses.
As is the case with downloading files or sending emails, connecting to a device using a dynamic IP address can be less stable because some processes use your IP address to deliver the data. Therefore, if your connection fails or you restart your router in the middle of completing a process, the data can find itself without a destination IP.
Static IP addresses aren’t usually free. This is because ISPs provide dynamic IPs from a batch of recyclable IP addresses that they can hand out whenever they need, whereas the pool of static IP addresses available to the public is limited and therefore incurs additional costs.
The cost of maintaining a static IP address is also far higher than that of a dynamic IP address, as they’re always running in the background.
Security & Privacy
Because dynamic IPs generally change when you end a session or connect to a new network, they are a lot more difficult to track. In contrast, static IP addresses are susceptible to attack as they never change.
What’s more, changing a static IP address in the wake of an attack can be difficult. If you haven’t taken the necessary steps to beef up your internet security before a hacking attempt, you can find yourself the target of multiple hackers.
That said, the instability of dynamic IP addresses also poses a problem to your security, like those using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) can fall prey to a DNS leak.
A DNS leak can happen when you try to conceal your IP address from your internet service provider using a VPN. Many internet users choose to do this as some less scrupulous ISPs will log which websites you visit using your DNS requests. They can then sell this information to third parties, like advertisers, to turn a profit.
With dynamic IP addresses being relatively unstable, your connection can sometimes be accidentally rerouted to a DNS server appointed by your ISP – even when you’re using a VPN.
Luckily, there is something you can do to avoid this. Using a DNS leak checker, you can find out whether your credentials are those of a server provided by your VPN or ISP. You can then resolve the issue or simply end the session.
Which IP should I use?
Static IP address are undoubtedly more reliable than Dynamic IPs, but this stability comes at the expense of your online security and your pocket.
Most internet users will find that using the dynamic IP address assigned by their ISP does the job just fine. However, for those of you who want to start an online business, setting up a static IP address might be the best option for you – just make sure you protect your devices behind a decent firewall and some top-rate encryption if you do.