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What is a Virtual IP Address?

A person browsing a website through his laptop

Even those of us who don’t work in IT or a tech-related field might recognize the term IP address (Internet Protocol Address). Although we may not be clear on the many forms an IP address can take, we probably know that everyone who utilizes the Internet has an assigned IP.

So what is a virtual IP address? Depending on what security protocols you follow, your IP address may fall under different categories. The four basic types of IP addresses are:

Virtual IP addresses fall under both the dynamic and private IP categories, and help to solidify smooth Internet services by avoiding online traffic jams. Let’s take a look at what a virtual IP address is, what purpose it serves, and how it works.

How to get a virtual IP address

What’s the purpose of a virtual IP address?

A virtual IP (VIPA) is an IP address that erases the need for a computer host to depend on an individual network interface. In other words, if one network interface fails, a virtual IP will connect with another interface and still maintain a connection between domains and servers that share a physical IP sans any problematic disruptions. 

Each virtual IP is assigned to applications, websites, and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that are located on a single server — multiple servers never share the same virtual address. Although the host server has a single, physical IP address, VIPAs are unique to each application supported by the host.

This way, connection interruptions or slow speeds don’t hamper the servers that use virtual IPs. For example, a home or office network may use virtual IPs to give each utilized router a unique IP address.

How a virtual IP address works

A virtual IP can only be accessed from the host server that initially set it up. However, it differs from the physical IP address that identifies a network. A virtual IP is used by a network to ensure connection breaks and network interfaces are limited. 

For example, if a host server has multiple applications and websites, they will be given a unique virtual IP address within the host network. So a host’s network IP address represents the physical IP address, and a VIPA may be assigned by the host to split the traffic coming through for multiple domains and applications. 

The difference between a static IP address and a virtual IP address

A static IP address is either manually entered by a user or assigned by an ISP (Internet Service Provider). The static IP doesn’t change, provides reliable geolocation data, and offers great DNS (Domain Name System) support.  Static IPs are typically used by businesses that own their websites, and are great for remote workers using VPNs to log into a network.

 A virtual IP is often used by small networks such as home or office networks, and is one example of a dynamic IP address. Dynamic IP addresses differ from static IPs in the following ways:

  • Dynamic IPs constantly change, making it more difficult to trace the physical location of their host servers.
  • Users never have to manually enter a dynamic IP address
  • Dynamic IPs don’t have the same DNS support that static IPs offer

Virtual IP address vs. floating IP address        

If you work in a tech-related field or are surrounded by computer experts, you may hear the term “floating IP address” used. Are floating IPs and virtual IPs the same? In short, they’re similar, but not identical.

A floating IP address is a public IP assigned to a specific device to allow that device Internet access regardless of its physical location. However, much like virtual IPs, floating IPs can be given network designation to allow access to multiple servers and VPNs.

Virtual and floating IPs can be interchangeable in certain examples. For example, both are often used for on-site network configurations. The most significant difference between a floating IP and a virtual IP is that a floating IP is public, while a virtual IP is private. 

Is a load balancer the same thing as a virtual IP address?

A load balancer is used in conjunction with a virtual IP address, but the two are separate tools. The load balancer acts as a reverse proxy — in layman’s terms, this tool acts as protection against hackers and cybersecurity threats. 

A virtual IP address is used by the load balancer to present an application or domain to a client-server. Via the virtual IP, the load balancer sends a client to the specific application or website it needs to access.

A laptop displaying a VPN application to get a Virtual IP Address

How to get a virtual IP address   

Your network administrator, Internet service provider, or host provider will designate a virtual IP for you, and you may not even be aware of its existence However, you can assign your own network (for example, your home network) a virtual IP through these simple steps:

For Windows:

  1. Use a VPN to access the Internet
  2. Ensure you have administrator privilege on your network (if you’re using and were in charge of the set up of your home network, you’re an administrator by default).
  3. On the Control Panel, select Change Adapter Settings
  4. A list of local networks will appear. Right-Click your connection.
  5. Select TCP/IP connection
  6. Then choose Properties
  7. Click Advanced and Select Add
  8. Manually Enter Your Virtual IP Address

For Mac:

  1. Select System Settings from your dropdown Apple menu
  2. Choose the Action Pop-up Menu
  3. Click on the Manual Virtual Interfaces option
  4. Click on Add
  5. Select New Bridge
  6. Enter a Name for your virtual IP address/ New Bridge
  7. Select interfaces for your virtual IP
  8. Click on Create and then Done

The benefits of a virtual IP address

It’s important that you research the various forms an IP address can take before you discern which one is right for you to utilize. A virtual IP address has numerous benefits for host servers and networks. Some of the benefits include:

  • Mobility: Virtual IPs do not need a physical location. This makes them far more easier to transfer than a static IP address. They can be carried to numerous networks, which makes them extremely accessible for VPNs. Network administrators may find it offers more seamless functionality and minimal stress.
  • Greater Source Address Selection: When your server attempts to make an output connection, it needs IP addresses to link to a host server. Virtual IPs can help eliminate error and timeout messages, and help divert online traffic to multiple places. 
  • Increased Availability: The benefit of availability piggybacks on source address selection. Virtual IP addresses enable servers to connect with applications, domains, and host providers via many different options. On your end, if you experience a router failure, a virtual IP address can work around this obstacle and allow your connection.

For more information on virtual IP addresses, trends in cybersecurity, and tips on how to protect yourself online, check out the What is My IP Address blog and utilize the free IP address look-up tools on our website.

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