If you use the internet, you have an IP address—several, actually. One for your router and others for each device you use to access the internet. It’s a part of using the internet every day that most of us never think about. But every once in a while, someone hits up against a reason they want to change their IP address.
If you’re considering changing your IP address and wondering how to do so, we’ll cover the specific instructions that you need. But first, you’ll want to know how IP addresses work to begin with.
What is an IP Address?
IP address stands for internet protocol address. It’s a unique number assigned to each device that accesses the internet. It’s how different connected devices identify each other. You might give your phone or computer a name like “Joe’s iPhone,” that’s easy for you to remember. But for the internet and any other devices that interact with it, it’s identified by a number.
IP addresses are a string of numbers separated by periods. They look something like: 111.222.333.444. You can find out the IP address for the device you’re on right now by simply checking out our What is Your IP? page.
All IP addresses have the same basic format, but there are a few different types of IP addresses to be aware of.
Private IP Addresses
Private IP addresses are those used by devices that are all on the same network. So within your home, you may have private IP addresses for your computer, your phone, your smart assistant, your printer, and your tablet. Every device that connects to your WiFi plan will have a private IP—even those devices that don’t have a screen, but do use internet or bluetooth (a growing category in the era of the internet of things (IoT).
These addresses are how your router identifies each of the different products, and how the products identify each other. They’re usually automatically generated by your router, but you can sometimes set them up manually.
Public IP Addresses
Your public IP address is assigned to your router and it’s how devices outside your immediate internet network, and the larger internet in general, recognize your network. The public address is what you saw if you clicked to find out your IP earlier. The fact that a company like HostGator can easily track what IP address you have is because it’s, well, public.
Public IP addresses are provided by your internet service provider (ISP). They’re tied to all the internet activity that occurs on devices connected to your network.
Dynamic IP Addresses
Most public IP addresses are dynamic, which means they change regularly. If you copy down what your IP address is today, but then pull up that page again in a week, you may well see a different number.
Having an IP that changes regularly provides some security to your network. It’s harder to hack into a network when the IP isn’t consistent. And using dynamic IPs is cheaper for ISPs and easier to maintain. Each time your IP changes, the old ones goes into a pool of IPs they own that can be re-assigned to someone else. When domains move between different customers automatically, they don’t have to make a special effort to re-configure IP addresses for people each time they change locations.
Static IP Addresses
Static IP addresses don’t change. Any network that hosts a website will need a static IP address to ensure the website works properly. Like devices, websites have unique IP addresses as well. While you type a domain name into a web browser to access the website, what your computer’s doing is seeking out the specific IP address tied to that domain in order to call up the collection of files the site is made of.
If that IP address changes, your web browser won’t find what it’s looking for. Most people don’t need a static IP address, but for those that do, it’s an important option to have.
2 Reasons to Change an IP Address Online
You know what IP addresses are now, you may wonder why anyone would want to bother changing theirs. There are a few reasons people decide to change an IP address.
1. You can’t connect to a network because another device with your IP address is already on it.
If you try to connect a product to your network that has the same IP address as something already connected, your network won’t recognize it. As far as your router can tell, the IP address trying to connect is already on the network, so it won’t realize a second product is attempting to communicate with it.
If your router auto-generates private IP addresses for your devices, this is unlikely to come up. But if it does, changing the IP address for either of the two devices should solve the problem.
2. You want to bypass a ban.
If your public IP address is associated with behavior that causes a website or email server to ban it, changing your IP address could be a way to bypass that ban. This can happen if someone who had your IP address previously used it to send spam emails, spread malware, or issue a brute force attack on other websites. And obviously, it happens if you try to do any of those things yourself (which you would never do, right?).
If your IP puts you on the naughty list for websites you want to visit or email clients that determine whether your emails will reach their intended recipients, that’s a good reason to change it.
3 Reasons Not to Change Your IP Address
If one of those two reasons applies to you, then the instructions below will be helpful. But for some people reading this, changing your IP address will be a waste of time if you expect it to accomplish something it won’t.
1. If you have a dynamic IP now, it will change automatically.
As we’ve already discussed, dynamic IPs change periodically without you having to do anything. And the majority of people reading this will have a dynamic IP, since that’s standard for ISPs. If there’s a serious reason you need to change your IP sooner rather than later, then you can do so. But if there’s no immediate need, just wait a few days and it will change on its own, saving you the trouble.
2. You’re trying to duck consequences for online bad behavior.
If you are the person sending the spam emails, spreading malware, or trying to hack websites—first off, we just have to say, stop that! Or what’s more likely, if you’re reading this worried about the ISP knowing about all those movies you’ve been downloading illegally (stop that too!), you may be hoping an IP change will protect you.
But changing your IP address now won’t keep the ISP from knowing what IP address you had before. You can’t duck responsibility for bad behavior by changing your IP. At the risk of stating the obvious, you’re better off just avoiding that bad behavior altogether.
3. You want to get around restrictions on content.
You’re going on a vacation, but you still want to be able to access your Netflix account while you’re gone. Or you’re tired of your work network blocking Reddit and you want to figure out how to get around the office ban on it.
Changing your IP isn’t going to get you the desired result here, but one of the options in our section on alternatives below probably will.
How to Change an IP Address
The steps to change your IP address will depend on what specifically you’re trying to do, and the type of device you’re on.
The Easiest Way to Change an IP Address
If you have a dynamic IP address—and if you haven’t paid for a static IP address, you almost certainly do—the simplest way to change both your public IP address, and the private IP addresses on your network is to restart your router.
Start by checking what your current IP address is, so you can confirm whether it’s changed after you’re done. Unplug your router. Wait five minutes. Then plug it back in.
Chances are, once you’re back online your public IP will be different, as will the private IPs of all the devices you have connected. Easy peasy.
If that doesn’t work, or if you just want to change a specific IP address rather than all of your public and private ones, here are some alternative options.
How to Change an IP Address on Mac
If you want to change the private IP address of your Apple computer, the steps are actually pretty simple. Select the Apple icon in the top right corner of your screen, then click on System Preferences in the dropdown control panel.
Choose Network from the menu—it’s the one with silver globe image three rows down.
In the Default screen under Network, you can see what your current IP is, toward the top right under where it says Status: Connected.
Click on Advanced in the bottom right corner, then select TCP/IP from the menu along the top.
In the dropdown menu, choose Using DHCP with a manual address, and you’ll be able to edit what shows up in the IPv4 Address section of the form.
Enter the IP address you’d like to switch to here, and click OK.
Note: generally, it’s best to just change the last number in the string. So if your current IP address is 111.222.333.444, you would just change the 444 part.
How to Change an IP Address on Windows
The instructions for changing your private address on a Windows computer aren’t too different.
- In the bottom left corner of the screen, choose the Windows icon, then select the Settings icon. That’s the one that looks like a gear.
- In your server Settings, select Network & Internet in the middle of the top row. Then choose the Status tab in the menu on the left.
- Click on the Change Connection Properties link that appears in the control panel, and it will take you to a page where you’ll see an Edit button under IP assignment.
- Click on the dropdown menu and select Manual. Toggle the IPv4 button to On. Then you’ll be able to edit your private IP address.
In case you didn’t see it in the Mac section: it’s usually best to just change the last number in the string. So if your current IP address is 111.222.333.444, you would assign new digits to the 444 part.
How to Change a Public IP Address on Mac or Windows
If resetting your router didn’t work, or if you’re in the minority of people that received a static IP address from your ISP, then you’ll have to go through your ISP to change your public IP address. Contact their customer support to ask about your options.
While few people or businesses really need a static IP, if you’re in the category that does need one, your ISP may let you set one up for a fee. Check with them to learn the cost and details of involved.
Alternatives to Changing Your IP Address
Changing your IP address can make sense in a few cases. But what a lot of people that consider changing an IP address really want is either increased privacy or the ability to bypass restrictions that their current IP settings have.
If you want a shield between your internet network and what your ISP is able to see of your online behavior, changing your IP settings isn’t the best way. Likewise, if you want a way to access a subscription streaming site in a country where it’s not offered, or the means to visit the blocked off sites at work, a new IP address isn’t the best route.
In those cases you have two better alternatives:
1. Use a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) is a service you can buy that masks your internet network. All the data on your internet activity and location will be encrypted, and you’re able to bypass any geo-restricted or blocked content.
2. Use a proxy server. A proxy server functions as a middleman between your server and the websites you visit, so it looks like your proxy’s IP address is the one taking any actions you take online. While not quite as secure or comprehensive as VPNs, which provide encryption, proxy servers are a more affordable option for achieving similar benefits.
If you want to change your IP address, most options for doing so are fairly simple. Or for most people, you can just wait a little while and it will change on its own. Whatever path you choose, now you know all you could possibly need about how IP addresses work and how to update yours manually.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.