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Static vs. dynamic IP addresses: Why you need to know the difference

Almost everyone has a home network, which means almost everyone should understand the basics of static and dynamic IP addresses, just in case.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
A CAT5 ethernet cable.
Jack Wallen/ZDNET

An IP address is a way for every device on a network to be seen. Without IP addresses, it would be impossible for those devices to be located.

Think of your computer's IP address like your house's street address. Without a street address, it would be challenging (if not impossible) for others to find you. Unlike a computer's IP address, however, the only time your home address changes is when you move. On the other hand, can easily change your devices' IP addresses (depending on the device type).

Also: How to change your IP address, why you'd want to - and when you shouldn't

There are two main types of IP addresses -- static and dynamic. I'll explain them both -- and why you would choose one over the other.

Static IP addresses

Simply put, a static IP address does not change automatically. Once you set a static IP address, it remains until you manually change it. (A static IP address is the one most analogous to your home address.)

Also: What is a static IP address and what is it used for?

Static IP addresses are generally assigned for machines where the IP address needs to stay the same. For example, I have a network share on my desktop computer (running Pop!_OS Linux). If I used a dynamic IP address on that machine, the IP address could -- and eventually would -- change on me.

If I was on a different machine within my home network, and I went to save a file to that share, I'd be prevented from doing so because the IP address would no longer be the same. I'd have to go to my desktop, locate the IP address (such as with the command ip -a), and then reconnect the other machine to the share.

Had that desktop machine been configured with a static IP address, there would be no need to worry about that IP address changing.

There's an inherent problem with this. Let's say you assign the IP address to your desktop, and it works great. What if, at some point, your router assigns that same address to another machine (because the router doesn't know you've already used that address)? Should that happen, you'd wind up with IP address conflicts -- and problems could occur.

Say you're on your laptop and need to mount the network share. If your router has assigned that same IP address to another machine, your laptop might not know which machine to use and would fail to mount the share.

Here's how to avoid that problem: If you need to assign static IP addresses to machines on your home network, configure your router to assign dynamic IP addresses only within a specific range. For instance, you might set the dynamic range between and That way, you can use IP addresses and up for static usage.

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How you assign a static IP address will vary, depending on your operating system. Generally speaking, you go to your network settings tool, locate the connection to be configured (such as wired or Wi-Fi), open the options for that device, and configure the following details:

  • IP address
  • Gateway (usually the address of your router or modem)
  • DNS (third-party services, such as Cloudflare's and

Dynamic IP addresses

Dynamic IP addresses are assigned to the devices on your network by your router and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). They are called dynamic because they can change. The change is defined by what's called a lease. The period of the lease varies, depending on your router. Lease periods can be anywhere from one week to several months.

Here's how this works:

  1. A machine requests a new lease for an IP address.
  2. The address is assigned by the router.
  3. Halfway through the DHCP lease period, the machine attempts to renew the lease (so it can keep the same IP address).
  4. If the renewal fails, the machine gets a new IP address.

Many routers allow you to configure the lease periods, but most users should stick to the default settings. 

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For the most part, dynamic IP addresses are easier to use because they ensure you won't have to worry about IP address conflicts. Most devices default to dynamic IP address assignment, so you don't have to configure anything (beyond the possible selection of the network you want to use).

As noted earlier, the only time you'd want to opt for a static IP address is if you have a machine on your network that serves a specific purpose and a change in IP address could disrupt that purpose. Even then, the machine most often will successfully renew its DHCP lease, so there shouldn't be any problems. However, if you do encounter a problem, consider going the static route. Just make sure you can configure your router's dynamic IP address range to avoid IP conflicts.

That's the gist of static and dynamic IP addresses. Chances are high that you'll never have to deal with any of this, but on the occasion that you do, you now understand the difference.

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