A static IP address is an IP address that doesn’t change, while a dynamic IP address will only be active for a certain length of time before expiration. In this article we’ll look at when each type of IP address is used, the differences between the two, and what you need to know as an IT professional or MSP when using these terms and technology. Strap yourself in – we’re about to drop a whole load of knowledge!
Quick refresher: What’s an IP, again?
IP stands for Internet Protocol, and your IP address is the number that’s given to every device on your network, so that you can tell them apart easily, and so that they can communicate with one another. We use words to look up specific websites for example, but behind the scenes, these words are looked up by the Domain Name System, and then “translated” into the numbers – the IP address of a website.
Our devices use an IP address to connect to the internet, but each device might use different IP addresses, depending on where you’re working or browsing from. For example, in your home office, your Internet Service Provider will probably assign an IP address, but if you grab your laptop and head to Starbucks, Starbucks will assign a temporary IP address to your device when you log onto the WiFi. When you get home, it will switch back again.
What’s the difference between a static IP address and a dynamic IP address?
While a static IP address will remain connected to that device for as long as you maintain the service, a dynamic IP will change when it expires, which is usually every 24 hours, or a multiple of 24 hours. Your static IP address will only change if you make a radical change to your network architecture, or if you’re no longer using that device at all. Static IP addresses are usually assigned by your Internet Service Provider, and are great for situations where you want your IP to remain the same. Examples include:
- Remote Access: Your technicians will want to be able to remotely access your device from anywhere, and they do this by using your IP address. If your IP address changes regularly, then you’ll need to set up an auto-update or use an additional technology or integration to ensure you can easily allow remote support where necessary.
- Geolocation Services: If you want a website to be able to recognize a device even while the user moves locations, a static IP address can be very useful. Think about dating apps for example where the website relies on recognizing the user and using their location to find nearby matches. A static IP gives more accurate data when location matters.
- Server Hosting: Static IPs are most commonly used when hosting web servers, email servers, or any other kind of servers. This makes it easier for users to find the IP address in the Domain Name System. In fact, easier setup and DNS support is another bonus of using a static IP for any business.
With all these benefits, you might wonder why anyone would want a dynamic IP. Well, let’s put you out of your misery. The two big reasons for opting for a dynamic IP, are cost, and security. While static IPs are often used for businesses and servers, individual users and consumer equipment usually relies on dynamic IP addresses. These are assigned by the ISP as well, this time by the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) servers.
How are dynamic IPs more secure and cost-effective?
With a static IP address, individuals can look up the location of your devices, unless you’re using a VPN. (Hint: use a VPN.) Static IP addresses are definitely easier to hack than dynamic IP addresses, which change randomly and periodically, stopping attackers from tracking devices or targeting them with ease.
Dynamic IP addresses are also more affordable. The ISP buys a batch of IP addresses and assigns them randomly, and in most cases the user will have no idea that the IP has changed. They also require no maintenance or ongoing costs. In contrast, ISPs know that if you’re requesting a static IP, it’s important for your business to have one, and so they feel confident that they can charge your business a premium for the privilege.
The truth is, most users won’t need a static IP address, but it’s important to understand the difference for the rare cases that you or a client does need that control.
How do I know if I have a dynamic or a static IP address?
Interested in checking whether you have a dynamic IP address or a static one? Luckily, it’s an easy thing to work out, both on Windows and on Mac devices.
On Windows 10, head to the Start bar, and type “Command Prompt” before clicking enter. Once you’ve clicked on Command Prompt, type the command “ipconfig/all” and press enter again. Here, you can search the network information for the words “DHCP Enabled.” There will either be a Yes or a No next to these words. If it says Yes, you are using a dynamic IP address, and if it says No, then the device you’re browsing from has a static IP address.
If you’re using Mac OS, you’ll need to head to the System Preferences icon under the Apple menu. Click on Network, and then Advanced. Here there is an option specifically called TCP/IP. Under this item it will say either Manually, or Using DHCP. Similar to Windows above, if it says using DHCP, then your IP address is dynamic, not static.