Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is the fourth revision in the development of the Internet Protocol (IP) and the first version of the protocol to be widely deployed. Together with IPv6, it is at the core of standards-based internetworking methods of the Internet. IPv4 is still by far the most widely deployed Internet Layer protocol (, IPv6 deployment is still in its infancy).
IPv4 is described in IETF publication RFC 791 (September 1981), replacing an earlier definition (RFC 760, January 1980).
IPv4 is a connectionless protocol for use on packet-switched Link Layer networks (e.g., Ethernet). It operates on a best effort delivery model, in that it does not guarantee delivery, nor does it assure proper sequencing or avoidance of duplicate delivery. These aspects, including data integrity, are addressed by an upper layer transport protocol, such as the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).
IPv4 uses 32-bit (four-byte) addresses, which limits the address space to (232) addresses. Addresses were assigned to users, and the number of unassigned addresses decreased. IPv4 address exhaustion occurred on February 3, 2011. It had been significantly delayed by address changes such as classful network design, Classless Inter-Domain Routing, and network address translation (NAT).
This limitation of IPv4 stimulated the development of IPv6 in the 1990s, which has been in commercial deployment since 2006.
IPv4 addresses may be written in any notation expressing a 32-bit integer value, but for human convenience, they are most often written in the dot-decimal notation, which consists of four octets of the address expressed individually in decimal and separated by periods.
The following table shows several representation formats:
|Notation||Value||Conversion from dot-decimal|
|Dotted hexadecimal||0xC0.0x00.0x02.0xEB||Each octet is individually converted to hexadecimal form|
|Dotted octal||0300.0000.0002.0353||Each octet is individually converted into octal|
|Hexadecimal||0xC00002EB||Concatenation of the octets from the dotted hexadecimal|
|Decimal||3221226219||The 32-bit number expressed in decimal|
|Octal||030000001353||The 32-bit number expressed in octal|
Originally, an IP address was divided into two parts: the network identifier was the most significant (highest order) octet of the address, and the host identifier was the rest of the address. The latter was therefore also called the rest field. This enabled the creation of a maximum of 256 networks. This was quickly found to be inadequate.
To overcome this limit, the high order octet of the addresses was redefined to create a set of classes of networks, in a system which later became known as classful networking.The system defined five classes, Class A, B, C, D, and E. The Classes A, B, and C had different bit lengths for the new network identification. The rest of an address was used as previously to identify a host within a network, which meant that each network class had a different capacity to address hosts. Class D was allocated for multicast addressing and Class E was reserved for future applications.
Around 1993, this system of classes was officially replaced with Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR), and the class-based scheme was dubbed classful, by contrast. CIDR was designed to permit repartitioning of any address space so that smaller or larger blocks of addresses could be allocated to users. The hierarchical structure created by CIDR is managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and the regional Internet registries (RIRs). Each RIR maintains a publicly-searchable WHOIS database that provides information about IP address assignments.
|0.0.0.0/8||Current network (only valid as source address)||RFC 1700|
|10.0.0.0/8||Private network||RFC 1918|
|172.16.0.0/12||Private network||RFC 1918|
|192.0.0.0/24||Reserved (IANA)||RFC 5735|
|192.0.2.0/24||TEST-NET-1, documentation and examples||RFC 5735|
|188.8.131.52/24||IPv6 to IPv4 relay||RFC 3068|
|192.168.0.0/16||Private network||RFC 1918|
|198.18.0.0/15||Network benchmark tests||RFC 2544|
|198.51.100.0/24||TEST-NET-2, documentation and examples||RFC 5737|
|203.0.113.0/24||TEST-NET-3, documentation and examples||RFC 5737|
|184.108.40.206/4||IP multicast (former Class D network)||RFC 5771|
|240.0.0.0/4||Reserved (former Class E network)||RFC 1700|
Of the approximately four billion addresses allowed in IPv4, three ranges of address are reserved for use in private networks. These ranges are not routable outside of private networks, and private machines cannot directly communicate with public networks. They can, however, do so through network address translation.
The following are the three ranges reserved for private networks (RFC 1918):
|Name||Address range||Number of addresses||Classful description||Largest CIDR block|
|24-bit block||10.0.0.0–10.255.255.255||Single Class A||10.0.0.0/8|
|20-bit block||172.16.0.0–172.31.255.255||Contiguous range of 16 Class B blocks||172.16.0.0/12|
|16-bit block||192.168.0.0–192.168.255.255||Contiguous range of 256 Class C blocks||192.168.0.0/16|
Packets with a private destination address are ignored by all public routers. Two private networks (e.g., two branch offices) cannot communicate via the public internet, unless they use an IP tunnel or a virtual private network (VPN). When one private network wants to send a packet to another private network, the first private network encapsulates the packet in a protocol layer so that the packet can travel through the public network. Then the packet travels through the public network. When the packet reaches the other private network, its protocol layer is removed, and the packet travels to its destination.
Optionally, encapsulated packets may be encrypted to secure the data while it travels over the public network.
See main article: Link-local address. RFC 5735 defines the special address block 169.254.0.0/16 for link-local addressing. These addresses are only valid on links (such as a local network segment or point-to-point connection) connected to a host. These addresses are not routable. Like private addresses, these addresses cannot be the source or destination of packets traversing the internet. These addresses are primarily used for address autoconfiguration (Zeroconf) when a host cannot obtain an IP address from a DHCP server or other internal configuration methods.
When the address block was reserved, no standards existed for address autoconfiguration. Microsoft created an implementation called Automatic Private IP Addressing (APIPA), which was deployed on millions of machines and became a de facto standard. Many years later, in May 2005, the IETF defined a formal standard in RFC 3927, entitled Dynamic Configuration of IPv4 Link-Local Addresses.
See main article: Loopback. The class A network 127.0.0.0 (classless network 127.0.0.0/8) is reserved for loopback. IP packets which source addresses belong to this network should never appear outside a host. The modus operandi of this network expands upon that of a loopback interface:
See main article: IPv4 subnetting reference. Networks with subnet masks of at least 24 bits, i.e. Class C networks in classful networking, and networks with CIDR prefixes /24 to /32 (255.255.255.0–255.255.255.255) may not have an address ending in 0 or 255.
Classful addressing prescribed only three possible subnet masks: Class A, 255.0.0.0 or /8; Class B, 255.255.0.0 or /16; and Class C, 255.255.255.0 or /24. For example, in the subnet 192.168.5.0/255.255.255.0 (192.168.5.0/24) the identifier 192.168.5.0 commonly is used to refer to the entire subnet. To avoid ambiguity in representation, the address ending in the octet 0 is reserved.
A broadcast address is an address that allows information to be sent to all interfaces in a given subnet, rather than a specific machine. Generally, the broadcast address is found by obtaining the bit complement of the subnet mask and performing a bitwise OR operation with the network identifier. In other words, the broadcast address is the last address in the address range of the subnet. For example, the broadcast address for the network 192.168.5.0 is 192.168.5.255. For networks of size /24 or larger, the broadcast address always ends in 255.
However, this does not mean that every address ending in 0 or 255 cannot be used as a host address. For example, consider a /16 subnet 192.168.0.0/255.255.0.0, which is equivalent to the address range 192.168.0.0–192.168.255.255. The broadcast address is 192.168.255.255. One can use the following addresses for hosts, even though they end with 255: 192.168.1.255, 192.168.2.255, etc. Also, 192.168.0.0 is the network identifier and must not be used for a host. One can use the following addresses for hosts, even though they end with 0: 192.168.1.0, 192.168.2.0, etc.
In the past, conflict between network addresses and broadcast addresses arose because some software used non-standard broadcast addresses with zeros instead of ones.
In networks smaller than /24, broadcast addresses do not necessarily end with 255. For example, a CIDR subnet 203.0.113.16/28 has the broadcast address 203.0.113.31.
See main article: Domain Name System. Hosts on the Internet are usually known by names, e.g., www.example.com, not primarily by their IP address, which is used for routing and network interface identification. The use of domain names requires translating, called resolving, them to addresses and vice versa. This is analogous to looking up a phone number in a phone book using the recipient's name.
The translation between addresses and domain names is performed by the Domain Name System (DNS), a hierarchical, distributed naming system which allows for subdelegation of name spaces to other DNS servers. DNS is often described in analogy to the telephone system directory information systems in which subscriber names are translated to telephone numbers.
See main article: IPv4 address exhaustion. Since the 1980s, it was apparent that the pool of available IPv4 addresses was being depleted at a rate that was not initially anticipated in the original design of the network address system. The threat of exhaustion was the motivation for remedial technologies, such as classful networks, Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) methods, and network address translation (NAT). Eventually, IPv6 was created, which has many more addresses available.
Several market forces accelerated IPv4 address exhaustion:
Some technologies mitigated IPv4 address exhaustion:
The primary address pool of the Internet, maintained by IANA, was exhausted on 3 February 2011, when the last 5 blocks were allocated to the 5 RIRs.  APNIC was the first RIR to exhaust its regional pool on 15 April 2011, except for a small amount of address space reserved for the transition to IPv6, which will be allocated under a much more restricted policy.
The accepted and standard solution is to use Internet Protocol Version 6. The address size was increased in IPv6 to 128 bits, providing a vastly increased address space that also allows improved route aggregation across the Internet and offers large subnetwork allocations of a minimum of 264 host addresses to end-users. Migration to IPv6 is in progress but completion is expected to take considerable time.
An IP packet consists of a header section and a data section.
The IPv4 packet header consists of 14 fields, of which 13 are required. The 14th field is optional (red background in table) and aptly named: options. The fields in the header are packed with the most significant byte first (big endian), and for the diagram and discussion, the most significant bits are considered to come first (MSB 0 bit numbering). The most significant bit is numbered 0, so the version field is actually found in the four most significant bits of the first byte, for example.
|0||Version||Internet Header Length||Differentiated Services Code Point||Explicit Congestion Notification||Total Length|
|64||Time to Live||Protocol||Header checksum|
|96||Source IP Address|
|128||Destination IP Address|
|160||Options (if Header Length > 5)|
If the DF flag is set, and fragmentation is required to route the packet, then the packet is dropped. This can be used when sending packets to a host that does not have sufficient resources to handle fragmentation. It can also be used for Path MTU Discovery, either automatically by the host IP software, or manually using diagnostic tools such as ping or traceroute.
For unfragmented packets, the MF flag is cleared. For fragmented packets, all fragments except the last have the MF flag set. The last fragment has a non-zero Fragment Offset field, differentiating it from an unfragmented packet.
The program traceroute uses these ICMP Time Exceeded messages to print the routers used by packets to go from the source to the destination.
See main article: Header checksum. The 16-bit checksum field is used for error-checking of the header. When a packet arrives at a router, the router calculates the checksum of the header and compares it to the checksum field. If the values do not match, the router discards the packet. Errors in the data field must be handled by the encapsulated protocol. Both UDP and TCP have checksum fields.
When a packet arrives at a router, the router decreases the TTL field. Consequently, the router must calculate a new checksum. RFC 1071 defines the checksum calculation:
The checksum field is the 16-bit one's complement of the one's complement sum of all 16-bit words in the header. For purposes of computing the checksum, the value of the checksum field is zero.
For example, use Hex 4500003044224000800600008c7c19acae241e2b (20 bytes IP header):
4500 + 0030 + 4422 + 4000 + 8006 + 0000 + 8c7c + 19ac + ae24 + 1e2b = 2BBCF
2 + BBCF = BBD1 = 1011101111010001, the 1'S of sum = 0100010000101110 = 442E
To validate a header's checksum the same algorithm may be used - the checksum of a header which contains a correct checksum field is a word containing all zeros (value 0):
2BBCF + 442E = 2FFFD. 2 + FFFD = FFFF. the 1'S of FFFF = 0.
|Copied||1||Set to 1 if the options need to be copied into all fragments of a fragmented packet.|
|Option Class||2||A general options category. 0 is for "control" options, and 2 is for "debugging and measurement". 1, and 3 are reserved.|
|Option Number||5||Specifies an option.|
|Option Length||8||Indicates the size of the entire option (including this field). This field may not exist for simple options.|
|Option Data||Variable||Option-specific data. This field may not exist for simple options.|
The following two options are discouraged because they create security concerns: Loose Source and Record Route (LSRR) and Strict Source and Record Route (SSRR). Many routers block packets containing these options.
The data portion of the packet is not included in the packet checksum. Its contents are interpreted based on the value of the Protocol header field.
In a typical IP implementation, standard protocols such as TCP and UDP are implemented in the OS kernel, for performance reasons. Other protocols such as ICMP may be partially implemented by the kernel, or implemented purely in user software. Protocols not implemented in-kernel, and not exposed by standard APIs such as BSD sockets, are typically implemented using a 'raw socket' API.
Some of the common protocols for the data portion are listed below:
|Protocol Number||Protocol Name||Abbreviation|
|1||Internet Control Message Protocol||ICMP|
|2||Internet Group Management Protocol||IGMP|
|6||Transmission Control Protocol||TCP|
|17||User Datagram Protocol||UDP|
|89||Open Shortest Path First||OSPF|
|132||Stream Control Transmission Protocol||SCTP|
See main article: IP fragmentation. The Internet Protocol enables networks to communicate with one another. The design accommodates networks of diverse physical nature; it is independent of the underlying transmission technology used in the Link Layer. Networks with different hardware usually vary not only in transmission speed, but also in the maximum transmission unit (MTU). When one network wants to transmit datagrams to a network with a smaller MTU, it may fragment its datagrams. In IPv4, this function was placed at the Internet Layer, and is performed in IPv4 routers, which thus only require this layer as the highest one implemented in their design.
In contrast, IPv6, the next generation of the Internet Protocol, does not require routers to perform fragmentation; hosts must determine the path MTU before sending datagrams.
When a router receives a packet, it examines the destination address and determines the outgoing interface to use.The interface has an MTU. If the packet size is bigger than the MTU, the router may fragment the packet.
The router divides the packet into segments. The max size of each segment is the MTU minus the IP header size (20 bytes minimum; 60 bytes maximum). The router puts each segment into a packet, with the following changes:
For example, for an MTU of 1,500 bytes and a header size of 20 bytes, the fragment offsets would be multiples of (1500 - 20)/8 = 185. These multiples are 0, 185, 370, 555, 740, ...
It is possible for a packet to be fragmented at one router, and for the fragments to be fragmented at another router. For example, consider a packet with a data size of 4,500 bytes, no options, and a header size of 20 bytes. So the packet size is 4,520 bytes. Assume that the packet travels over a link with an MTU of 2,500 bytes. Then it will become two fragments:
|Fragment||Total bytes||Header bytes||Data bytes||"More fragments" flag||Fragment offset (bytes)|
Note that the fragments preserve the data size: 2480 + 2020 = 4500.
Note how we get the offsets from the data sizes:
Assume that these fragments reach a link with an MTU of 1,500 bytes. Each fragment will become two fragments:
|Fragment||Total bytes||Header bytes||Data bytes||"More fragments" flag||Fragment offset (bytes)|
Note that the fragments preserve the data size: 1480 + 1000 = 2480, and 1480 + 540 = 2020.
Note how we get the offsets from the data sizes:
We can use the last offset and last data size to calculate the total data size: 495*8 + 540 = 3960 + 540 = 4500.
A receiver knows that a packet is a fragment if at least one of the following conditions is true:
The receiver then stores the data with the identification field, fragment offset, and the more fragments flag.
When the receiver receives the last fragment (which has the "more fragments" flag set to 0), it can calculate the length of the original data payload, by multiplying the last fragment's offset by eight, and adding the last fragment's data size. In the example above, this calculation was 495*8 + 540 = 4500 bytes.
When the receiver has all the fragments, it can put them in the correct order, by using their offsets. It can then pass their data up the stack for further processing.
The Internet Protocol is the protocol that defines and enables internetworking at the Internet Layer and thus forms the Internet. It uses a logical addressing system. IP addresses are not tied in any permanent manner to hardware identifications and, indeed, a network interface can have multiple IP addresses. Hosts and routers need additional mechanisms to identify the relationship between device interfaces and IP addresses, in order to properly deliver an IP packet to the destination host on a link. The Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) performs this IP-address-to-hardware-address translation for IPv4. (A hardware address is also called a MAC address.) In addition, the reverse correlation is often necessary. For example, when an IP host is booted or connected to a network it needs to determine its IP address, unless an address is preconfigured by an administrator. Protocols for such inverse correlations exist in the Internet Protocol Suite. Currently used methods are Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP) and, infrequently, reverse ARP.