You use IP addresses daily without even realizing it. But what exactly is an IP address, and why is it important to know how to find the IP address on your Mac computer or other devices? This guide will explain what an IP address is, why it matters, and how to view the IP address on a Mac.
What is an IP Address?
An IP address is a unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies a device on a network. It allows devices to communicate with each other across the internet or a local network.
IP stands for "Internet Protocol", which is the set of rules governing how data is transmitted over the internet. The IP address serves as the address that helps route your data to the correct destination.
According to Cisco, there are over 4 billion active IPv4 addresses in use worldwide. With the massive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), that number is rapidly increasing.
Here are some key facts about IP addresses:
- Uniquely identifies a device on a network, like a digital address
- Allows you to access the internet and communicate across networks
- Consists of 4 sets of numbers from 0-255 separated by periods (e.g. 192.168.1.1)
- Managed globally by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)
- Comes in two main versions – IPv4 (older) and IPv6 (newer)
Knowing the IP address of your Mac or other connected devices serves many purposes:
- Identify devices on your home or work network
- Troubleshoot connectivity and network issues
- Secure devices and protect against intrusions
- Connect and configure devices and services
- Monitor network traffic and bandwidth usage
- Access router and modem administrative settings
- Allows remote desktop control and file transfer
- Geo-locate devices and track usage through public IP
So in essence, the IP address is a critical component that makes networking and using the internet possible. Next we‘ll look at how to find the IP address on your Mac.
How to Find Your Local IP Address on a Mac
When connected to your home or office Wi-Fi network, your Mac will be assigned a local IP address. This allows it to communicate with other devices on the same local area network (LAN).
Here are simple steps to find your Mac‘s local IP address:
- Click the Apple menu and select System Preferences > Network.
- Identify the active connection type, usually Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
- On the right side under Status, you will see "IP Address" – this is your local IP.
Local IP addresses are assigned by your router‘s Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server. This protocol automatically assigns available IP addresses to devices from a pool of private IPs reserved for home networks.
The most common private IP ranges you will see are:
- 192.168.0.1 to 192.168.255.254
- 172.16.0.1 to 172.31.255.254
- 10.0.0.1 to 10.255.255.254
Private IPs always start with those prefixes. Anything outside of those ranges will be a public IP.
Your local IP can change periodically, especially if set to "Dynamic" in your router, so you may need to check back if you notice connection issues.
Now let‘s look at how to find the public IP address, which is your Mac‘s identity on the open internet.
Finding Your Public IP Address
While your local IP works fine for home networking, it‘s your public IP that allows your Mac to communicate with servers and devices across the internet.
Here are the two easiest ways to find your public IP address:
Web Browser Method
- Open any web browser and search for "what is my ip" or go to a site like whatsmyip.org.
- Your public IP will be displayed on the page.
Terminal Command Method
- Open the Terminal app on your Mac
curl ifconfig.meand hit enter
- Your public IP will be shown
Your public IP reveals your approximate location and ISP. Many people use a VPN service to mask their public IP and location data for privacy.
According to a 2022 survey by Restore Privacy, 78% of US internet users said they would likely use a VPN in the next year, primarily for cybersecurity and to access geo-restricted content.
Now that you know how to find both types of IP addresses, let‘s compare them.
Local vs. Public IP Address Comparison
While both IP addresses uniquely identify your device, there are some key differences:
|Local IP Address||Public IP Address|
|Assigned By||Your router||Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)|
|Location Identified||On your home or office network||On the global internet|
|Accessibility||Only accessible on your private network||Accessible by any device on the public internet|
|Security||Hidden and secure, not exposed to the internet||Can be tracked to determine your location and monitor activity|
|Change Frequency||Changes if set to Dynamic IP in router, static remains permanent||Typically dynamically assigned by ISP, static option may be available for a fee|
|Address Format||Uses private IP ranges like 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x||Public IP ranges are assigned by regional internet registries|
|Number of Addresses||Large pool of addresses available per network (65,536 for IPv4)||Limited number of unique public IPv4 addresses available globally (~4 billion), but many more with IPv6 (340 trillion+)|
|Visibility to User||Displayed in router admin interface and on device settings||Not displayed to user by ISP without checking external sites|
|Usage||Enables communication between devices on the same LAN||Allows your device to communicate on the internet and be identified|
So in summary, the local IP facilitates networking on your home network, while the public IP represents your device identity to the wider internet.
When You Need Your IP Address
Here are some common situations when knowing your Mac‘s IP address can be useful:
- Remote desktop access – Apps like Chrome Remote Desktop need your local IP address to connect.
- Multiplayer gaming – Gaming services display your public IP address to facilitate direct connections with other players.
- Port forwarding – Forwarding ports to your local IP allows external access to devices and services.
- VOIP calls – Voice Over IP services like Skype rely on your public IP address for call routing and quality.
- Website analytics – Websites track public IP addresses for analytics, personalization and security monitoring.
- Printer setup – Adding network printers requires knowing your computer‘s IP address.
- Tech support – Providing the IP to support technicians assists troubleshooting connectivity issues.
- Cybersecurity – Monitoring your public IP can detect unknown account logins and suspicious connections.
- Smart home – IP addresses help link smart home gadgets like cameras and lights to your network.
So being able to access your IP addresses aids in connectivity, security, remote access, tech support, gaming, and device management.
IP Address Frequently Asked Questions
Can I change my IP address?
Yes, you can change both your public and private IP addresses, but with varying degrees of difficulty.
For your public IP, you can request your ISP issue you a new dynamic address. Some may also offer static IP addresses for a fee. Using a VPN service will mask your public IP with one from the VPN provider.
Changing your private IP can be done in your router settings by switching from dynamic to static or adjusting IP reservations.
Is the MAC address the same as the IP address?
No, the MAC (Media Access Control) address is a different identifier assigned to the physical network interface on your devices. It does not change. The IP address identifies the connection at the network level, and can change dynamically.
Why do public IPs identify location?
Public IP addresses are assigned in blocks to ISPs and businesses based on geography. So blocks of IPs in a certain region are registered to networks operating there. Lookup databases allow approximate location tracking based on registered public IP blocks.
Can devices have multiple IP addresses?
Yes, a device can have both a local private IP address and public IP address simultaneously. It can also have multiple private IP addresses assigned if connected through multiple networks.
Advanced servers may also have multiple public IP addresses for hosting websites and services on the same machine.
Finding your Mac‘s IP address only takes a few clicks once you know where to look. But more importantly, understanding the function and purpose of IP addresses can provide insight into how networking and internet connectivity work on a fundamental level.
Whether you need to identify devices, remotely access your Mac, troubleshoot issues, or boost security, knowing your IP address is key. Mastering the basics of public and private IP addressing lays the foundation for more advanced networking, administration and cybersecurity skills.