What is Internet Protocol (IP) and what does it do?

The Internet Protocol, or IP, is the backbone of the internet. It's what allows us to send and receive information from all corners of the world with lightning speed. But what exactly is it, and how does it work?

At its core, IP is simply a set of rules and procedures that govern how data is transmitted across the internet. When you send an email, browse a website, or stream a video, your device is communicating with servers and devices all over the world using this protocol.

How does IP work?

Think of it like a postal system. When you send a letter, you address it with the recipient's name and address, and then you drop it in the mailbox. From there, it goes to a sorting facility, where it's sorted by destination, and then it's sent on its way. IP works in a similar way.

When you send data over the internet, it's broken up into smaller pieces called packets. Each packet contains information about where it's coming from and where it's going, known as the source and destination IP addresses, and the data itself. These packets are then sent out onto the internet, where they travel across multiple networks and devices to reach their destination.

IP addressing.

IP version 4 (IPv4), still the most common addressing scheme in use today, divides an IP address into a sub-network and an end device, just like the address on a letter you receive includes your street name, and the specific number of your house. For example, a destination IP address of is going to the 192.168.1.x sub-network, and specifically the 52nd device in that network.   

Switches and routers.

Along the way, devices called switches and routers use the address information in the packet to determine where it needs to go next. They might send it directly to its destination if it’s on the same sub-network (called switching), or they might send it to another device that's closer to that sub-network (called routing). Dividing the Internet, and often your local network, into smaller sub-networks makes them manageable and keeps them running at peak efficiency. This switching and routing process continues until all the packets have arrived at their destination and been reassembled into the original data, so you can read the email, browse the website, or watch the video.

How does IP manage data?

IP pairs with two other key protocols to send data:

TCP is used for sending information that's guaranteed to arrive, for example emails and documents. Any packet making up part of a TCP transmission sends a proof of arrival acknowledgment, and if a packet does not arrive a replacement is sent, so the receiver is assured of getting the whole email or document to read.  

UDP is used for real-time information like digital phone calls or streaming video. This is sent best effort, so no acknowledgement and/or replacement packets are sent, as there is no point getting an earlier frame from a movie once the action has moved on.

So IP addressing and protocol rules keep the vast and complex internet, with millions of devices and connections, all working together. Without a standardized protocol like IP, it would be chaos. Devices would be sending data willy-nilly, with no way to ensure that it would reach its destination. IP provides a way to standardize the way data is sent and received.

Of course, IP is just one piece of the puzzle. There are countless other technologies and protocols (like TCP and UDP) that work together to make the internet function. But IP is perhaps the most important of them all, serving as the foundation upon which the entire internet is built.

In conclusion.

The Internet Protocol is a crucial component of the internet, enabling devices to communicate with each other over vast distances. It's a complex system that involves a variety of different components working together to transmit data across the internet, breaking it down into small packets, and correcting errors and replacing lost packets when needed. Without the Internet Protocol, we wouldn't have the modern internet as we know it.

What does Allied Telesis offer?

We produce a range of the internet’s key “sorting” devices like routers and switches, which are fully compliant with IP, and all the other key internet protocols. Our powerful, easy-to-use devices help you and our thousands of customers connect to the internet.