eli5: What is IP address and does it give your EXACT location or just the internet provider?


eli5: What is IP address and does it give your EXACT location or just the internet provider?

In: Technology

It gives the network location of the router/modem that connects you to your ISP’s network. Your ISP knows your physical address, in case they have to send a repair technician.

The association of an IP with an ISP is public information, everybody knows that. With other public information, it’s likely everybody knows what town you live it. Your exact location is likely not shared by your ISP with everyone, but of course law enforcement with a valid subpoena are likely to be given the exact address of your modem.

Try this one:

An ip address is a lot like a phone number.

You have a country code, and an area code, so someone looking at the number might be able to figure out what city you live near, but not your exact location.

People can call you with it, but you don’t have to answer.

It’s just like a street address of where you live except it’s for a network device. A network card on your computer, your router, your modem, they all will have an IP address. In the way you are asking, it will be the modem that is talking to your internet provider. With the help of the Internet provider, it can be used to identify the box in front of the building you are in, and the ISP can give the name of the subscriber. But if you have multiple people in a house all using their own computer/phone/etc, it can’t say which of those people it was. Those devices have a private IP that is controlled by the router. Whenever someone in your house is on the internet, everyone is only identifiable by the IP address of the modem, not the address of your phone/computer.

It identifies a computer in a network, just like your home address identifies your apartment in a city.

No, it does not reveal the exact physical location (at least for the usual consumer network). The reason it can approximate it is that just like home addresses, IP addresses are layered. An ISP might request a “block” of addresses from another larger provider, which it can then lease to customers. Since one ISP usually operates in a specific area, knowing which block belongs to whom lets you approximate.

Follow up question – does your mobile phone have an IP address? If not, do you have an IP address with those 4G / 5G providers who offer ‘home broadband’?

An IP address is a unique number that identifies your connection on the internet. As far as the *technical requirements* go, that’s it. It is in no way associated to a physical location.

In *practical* terms, ISP are assigned blocks of IP addresses they can assign to their users. So your IP address will always relate to a specific ISP.

ISPs in turn typically assign specific blocks of addresses to their exchanges – physical points around the network that contain network equipment. This is done for network optimisation and management purposes, and these registries are usually public knowledge. Depending on where these exchanges exist and how the IP address blocks are assigned, the IP address may be associated to a country, state, county, metropolitan area, neighbourhood/suburb, block, street, or an individual multi-tenanted building. But never to an individual residence.

So we know that IP address will never link to a specific street address or location, though typically it will be associated to the suburb or above. But it’s difficult to say exactly how accurate it can be based on public data, because it depends on how the country or ISP operates, whether it’s a metropolitan vs rural area, etc.

Keep in mind that your ISP always knows your IP address at any given time, and has your billing details. So they can link your IP address to your geographic location. But this is not usually public data, presumably your country has privacy laws that prevent exposing this, though it can potentially be accessed by lawful (court order/warrant) or unlawful (hacking/espionage) means. But this is not an option for the Joe Average internet user.

So TL;DR an IP address technically speaking has no relationship at all to a physical location, it’s not like you can translate 123.456.789.012 to GPS coordinates or a street address or something. However the way we use them in practice and the kinds of records being kept, means one could associate an IP address to an approximate or exact location, depending on what access they have.