Computers that connect to the Internet are assigned a unique numerical address known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. This unique address identifies each computer on the Internet so that computers can communicate with each other by sending and receiving information using this addressing scheme. A static IP address is simply a “permanent” address that remains associated with a single computer over an extended period of time. This differs from a dynamic IP address, which is assigned ad hoc at the start of each session, normally changing from one session to the next.
IP address assignment is handled by a person’s Internet Service Provider (ISP). Every ISP is designated a large block of IP addresses that fall within a specific numerical range. The ISP server automatically delegates available IP addresses within that range as needed, to clients logging on to the Internet. When a person disables his or her Internet connection, the temporarily assigned dynamic IP address goes back into the pool for reassignment. Dynamically assigned IP addresses are fine for most people, however, some prefer a static IP address.
In some situations having a static IP address is an advantage. For example, people who game online with remote players often prefer this type of IP address. When they return to a game, the hosting server recognizes them, restoring score, placement in the game, and other settings accordingly. A static IP is more reliable than a computer cookie that can be deleted.
Each website also has a static IP address, also known as a URL or Uniform Resource Locator. Without a static address, a website would not have a permanent place of residence, forcing surfers to “follow it” around the Internet, rendering bookmarks useless. This brings up the most common reason a person opts for this type of IP address: to host his or her own website.
With 24/7 broadband access and a static IP, one can create a website and act as the server, hosting it on the Internet like any other website. A static IP also allows the owner to host an email server and run other services like webcasts or forums. While these services are all available from third parties, some people prefer to act as host.
A static IP is also preferred if the computer will be connecting to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), or allowing remote access with software like pcAnywhere™ or Radmin™. Software that provides remote access need only be configured once if the remote computer in question has a static IP. If it has a changing address, the user will have to determine the remote IP each time, then reconfigure the software with the new address.
ISPs automatically assign a dynamic IP to clients unless they specifically request a static IP address. Static IP addressing is normally more expensive and is thought by some to be less private. Websites log IP numbers as a matter of course, so an unchanging address creates a rather complete profile of surfing habits across the Internet, easily collected and triangulated by data mining companies.