Every device connected to the World Wide Web has a unique Internet Protocol address, which is a publicly declared string of numbers network participants use to identify one another. If that designation is fixed, i.e. if it never changes, we call it a static IP address.
In today’s day and age, a static IP address isn’t encountered as frequently as a dynamic one. A typical netizen browsing the Internet from their PC, iPad, or a similar device is most likely using a dynamic IP address by default. Because for most intents and purposes, a periodically shifting address is a more secure solution overall.
Yet assigning a static IP address to a client device such as a smartphone, or even a network enabler like a router is still possible to do manually. And there are some scenarios in which you might want to do so, as well as others wherein doing so will be mandatory.
Advantages of using a static IP address explained
If an Internet-connected machine uses a static IP address, it tends to be easier to find than a device whose identifier changes from time to time. Whereas a dynamically addressed alternative will always need to be resolved, which adds complexity to IP communications – if ever so slightly. That’s why static IP addresses are still the preferred way for many types of servers to declare their identities on the Internet.
This brings us to the most common reason you might have for acquiring a static IP address – running a server. Whether that’s an email server or one meant to host fan-made CS: GO maps with custom match rules won’t make too much of a difference; ideally, you’d have access to a static IP address either way.
With that said, any activity heavily dependent on low latency and real-time interactions like an actual FPS multiplayer server might be impossible to service smoothly over a dynamic IP address. Not even a massive performance boost from 5G communications would necessarily make the difference negligible because many solutions standardized as part of the 5G New Radio standard incorporate edge computing. And static IP addresses are still pretty much mandatory for that kind of last-mile delivery.
Without a static IP address, the only alternative for hosted services is to facilitate communications through some kind of a dynamic DNS platform. Performance concerns aside, this can get really expensive, really fast, depending on one’s bandwidth and other requirements.
One final consideration when deciding between a static and dynamic IP address is the importance of geolocation accuracy for any particular use case. Namely, a static IP address is conducive to more precise location data reporting.
Disadvantages of using a static IP address explained
Most drawbacks of using static IP addresses can be inferred by flipping the perspective on their inherent advantages listed above. E.g. faster connectivity means inferior security because there’s one less variable for hackers to be concerned with. And higher geolocation accuracy means you’re always running the risk of more precise location data ending up in the wrong hands.
Last but not least, Internet service providers tend to charge extra for static IP addresses nowadays. Primarily because they can, as most users looking for a fixed IP address don’t really have meaningful alternatives at their disposal. And the good old supply-and-demand rule means you can count on paying extra whenever you’re faced with such an imperative.
On the bright side, it’s not like there’s a critical lack of options on the market, and that competition still keeps the prices somewhat in check.
Can a static IP address change?
A more precise —if somewhat nitpicky— way to define a static IP address would be to describe it not as one that never changes, but one that isn’t intended to ever change. Because you could theoretically still substitute a static IP address with another such fixed identifier, no matter the device you’re dealing with. At least assuming that you have administrator privileges on a given network.
On a rarer occasion, a static IP address might change without any sort of direct intervention. That usually happens as a result of wider changes to network infrastructure. A straightforward example would be a network ditching IPv4 addresses in favor of IPv6 ones.
Speaking of which, IPv6 addresses have slowly been replacing their IPv4 counterparts for years. But apart from having many more possible combinations (we actually ran out of IPv4 addresses a while back), there aren’t that many differences between the two to speak of here. But that isn’t to say we can’t make other distinctions between IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
Anyway, from the standpoint of a host, an IP address in a given network can also change when a device it was assigned to is permanently taken offline and replaced with another one. Or a user with administrator privileges could simply request another static IP address from their ISP.
How to get a static IP address and check if you’re already using one
Requesting a static IP address from an ISP tends to be the most commonly used method for procuring such a network label in this day and age. But before you do that, you’ll want to make sure you’re not already using one.
To do so on a Windows PC, simply launch the Command Prompt to run the “ipconfig /all” instruction (without the commas). The system will then return a couple of dozen lines detailing your connection to the Internet. And the property you want to review here is called “DHCP Enabled”. If that line says “No”, then you are already using a static IP address.
To perform the same check on a macOS machine, find the Network menu under System Preferences, go to the Advanced tab, click the TCP/IP option and review the Configure IPv4 command on the following interface. If that prompt says “Manual”, then you already have a static IP address in place. On the other hand, a dynamic IP address will have a “Using DHCP” notice right next to it.
Once you’re certain you need a (new) static IP address, your next and penultimate stop should be your ISP’s support pages. As those will almost always include detailed instructions on how to make that request. Some companies will accept email applications, whereas others will have an even more straightforward online form to speed things up. Either way, requisitions of this kind rarely take more than a few days to be fulfilled, and if you’re using any half-decent ISP, there’s a good chance you’ll be up and running in a matter of hours.