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Static IP vs dynamic IP: What’s the difference?

Both static and dynamic IPs act as gateways to the internet, but is one better than the other?

IP addresses on a screen with an ethernet cable in front

When one thinks of devices that connect to the internet, computers, smartphones and routers are the first thing that spring to mind.

But from wearables to smart home appliances, and maybe even your coffee machine, Internet of Things devices increasingly need to connect to the internet to work effectively. By 2023, it’s also predicted that 70% of automobiles will connect to the internet.

These devices are able to “talk” to each other using IP addresses, which can either be static or dynamic – but what's the difference?

IP address: The language of the internet

Similar to how a Social Security number in the US is used to distinguish citizens, an internet protocol (IP) address differentiates machines from each other across the internet. Every single device on a transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP) network needs an IP address, in order to send or receive data across the network.

TCP/IP is a widely adopted networking standard for exchanging messages over the internet.

As a general rule, IP addresses are usually displayed and written as a combination of periods and numbers. An IP address corresponding to internet protocol version 4 (IPv4), for example, would be 180.151.119.202.

As humans are ill-suited to remembering such long numbers, IP addresses have more user-friendly representations known as domain names. These are unique to each website, and far easier to memorise. For example, the domain name given to YouTube is “youtube.com.”

Assigning IP addresses to network devices is the job of a network administrator. They can assign a dynamic or static IP address, depending on the requirements of the network.

What is a static IP address?

As the name suggests, a static IP address does not change. It can remain the same for weeks, months, and even years.

Businesses offering dedicated internet services such as web hosting prefer static IPs for their unchanging nature. These are assigned manually by internet service providers (ISPs).

Pros at a glance

  • Ideal for hosting computer servers
  • Facilitates faster data exchange
  • Supports remote desktop access

Cons at a glance

  • Difficult to set up and manage
  • More vulnerable to hacking
  • Generally more expensive

What is a dynamic IP address?

A dynamic IP address is temporary and may change when you reboot your system or the router. ISPs assign dynamic IP addresses as needed via a dynamic host configuration protocol server (DHCP server).

Most machines have dynamic addresses, as they’re economical and secure. When a dynamic address is not in use, an ISP assigns it to a different device.

Pros

  • Automatically configured; requires no additional setup
  • Less prone to hacking
  • Cost-effective

Cons

  • Makes it nearly impossible to set up remote access
  • Can cause downtime when disconnected
  • Affects performance of geolocation services

Static IP vs Dynamic IP: Which is better?

Businesses that require unwavering uptime will prefer static IP addresses. As mentioned earlier, they’re particularly favoured by organisations hosting websites and servers. Other big benefits of static IPs include reliable internet connection, faster data exchange, and convenient remote access.

Nevertheless, static IP addresses still present challenges that can quickly become security bottlenecks. For example, it is easier to track devices with static IP addresses, making them a prime hacking target.

A virtual private network (VPN) can alleviate the safety concerns of static IPs. Besides hiding your IP address, a VPN encrypts online traffic and communication, helping to make digital footprints less traceable.

Dynamic addresses change periodically, making them naturally harder to trace. However, keep in mind that the DHCR server failure can cause downtime across an entire network. Dynamic IPs are generally best for local networks and home users, as they feature much-needed security at reasonable prices.

To summarise, static IP addresses provide more reliability than dynamic IP addresses, but what they make up for in this regard they sacrifice in affordability and security. Unless you’re dealing with large volumes of data or work remotely, a dynamic IP address is your best bet.

Is my IP static, or dynamic?

This is an important question, and one that might especially affect your security protocols if you are working from a personal computer.

Luckily, whether you are using a Windows laptop or desktop, or a Mac, discovering your IP address is simple.

Simply follow these instructions to trace your IP address on Windows 10:

  1. Right-click on the “Start” button
  2. Type “Command Prompt” in the search bar and press enter
  3. Click “Command Prompt”
  4. Type “ipconfig/all” in the Command Prompt window and press “Enter”
  5. In the list of network information displayed, look for “DHCP Enabled”

If it says “Yes” next to “DHCP Enabled”, your system has a dynamic IP address. If it says “No”, your device has a static IP address.

If you’re on macOS, use these instructions to verify your IP address

  1. Click the “System Preferences” icon in the Dock or choose Apple menu > System Preferences
  2. Select the “Network” option
  3. Go to Advanced > TCP/IP

If you see “Using DHCP” next to “Configure IPv4”, then your system uses a dynamic IP address. If the section says “Manually”, you have a static IP.

If you prefer, you can always contact your ISP to get more information about your IP address and network type.

Protect your IP from identity thefts, hackers, and prying eyes

IP addresses are akin to the return addresses on traditional mail. Bad actors can use your IP address to trace your location with surprising accuracy, gain access to your browsing history, passwords, and more.

To steer clear from cyber attacks, keep your antivirus software up to date and change your router’s default password. The default router password the ISP or manufacturer set is the same for all users that share the router type, and hackers can access this information easily online.

Firewalls are also a must to prevent unauthorised network access.

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