IP Address ... this is another one of those technical terms that you will frequently hear and won't give much thought to. We all know what an IP address is ... right? Or should we say that we are familiar with the term IP address. More likely than not, most folks don't really now much about them.
The "IP" in IP address stands for Internet Protocol. Breaking down the term: Internet is an interconnected network of computing systems. Protocol is a set of rules. Putting them together, the Internet Protocol is the set of rules governing how computing devices exchange information over an interconnected network. I.E. it defines how computers communicate over the internet. This an IP Address is simply the addressing scheme used by computers to communicate with one another over the internet.
We've all probably seen them, or at least would recognize the first version of them. You know ... 126.96.36.199 ... or something like that. Interestingly enough, there are now so many devices connected to the internet that we ran out of addresses. To solve that problem, the internet protocol was updated (to version 6) which supports a newer form of IP address. This one you may not be as familiar with, it looks something like this:
This should last us a while. There is enough space in this addressing mechanism to give every grain of sand on the planet its own IP address ... and have plenty left over.
The IP address is used to uniquely identify a computer on a network and allows messages from one computer to reach another computer. Internet Routers are responsible for moving the messages around. (I've got a small explanation of how routers work, if you are interested.). An IP address is hierarchical in nature - providing identifying information about both the network a device belongs to as well as the specific device on the network.
This should be sufficient so that you can now say you know what an IP address is. If you really want to dig in and understand how they are structured and the history behind the creation of IP addresses, the good folks at ICANN have written a more thorough and detailed beginner's guide to IP addresses.