For a good chunk of people setting static IP addresses is simple, so why detail how to do it? Because there are those others that have no idea what that means or why there are times a static IP address should be set. If you fall in the former group, feel free move in. On the other hand, if you fall in the latter group, keep reading. It may be a dry read. Just a warning.
What’s an IP address?
Okay, so we’ll start from the beginning and assume you have a no idea what an IP address is. In its simplest form an IP address is like your home physical address; searching a site like this one sends a site request to the assigned IP address of the device the site resides on. When a response is received from the server it is sent back to the IP address of the device that made the original search request. IP addresses can either be static (they never change) or dynamic (they get assigned randomly from a range of allowed addresses).
How are IP addresses assigned?
To understand why you might need to assign a static IP address, you need to know at least the basics of how IP addresses are assigned. The router you have at home takes care of this through DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) and automatically assigns IP addresses to connected devices. In most cases this all happens in the background without any need to mess with any settings through dynamic IP address assignment. When a device connects to the network, it asks the router for an address. The router will randomly choose an available address and assign it to that device. Generally that’s not a problem for devices like tablets, mobile phones, wearables, or other devices that are not dependent on other network devices. If a printer, on the other hand, has a dynamic IP it can cause minor issues.
You’ll also sometimes hear about IPv4 versus IPv6. Both protocols are currently used, but IPv4 is slowly being replaced with IPv6. It was estimated that by 2010, with the plethora of new devices connecting to the internet, we would run out of IPv4 addresses. In 1998 IPv6 was developed with the sole expectation it would be the standard at some point. For a basic user, the only difference between the two is that IPv4 address are the familiar four number strings: 255.255.255.255. IPv6 is an eight numbered string protocol, each string containing 4 alphanumeric characters. We’re not gonna touch it in this article.
When should you use a static IP?
In a small home network you most often won’t need to assign static IP addresses. Most commonly you will want to assign a static IP to a shared printer on a home network. Every time the printer gets a new IP address, all the devices have to find it again. In general, any device that needs to reliably communicate with other devices on the same network can benefit from a static IP. Usually this will be printers, automation hubs, security systems, etc. Generally you won’t have to assign a static IP to streaming devices, wearables, tablets, etc. since these don’t usually have other devices looking for them.
A less common scenario is in “large” home networks. I use static IP addresses on all my devices simply to make it easier to find them. For example, if a device has an IP address of 10.0.0.1XX I know it is a network storage device. Devices with an IP of 10.0.0.3XX are smart home devices.
What’s a MAC address?
A MAC address identifies a device to the router. Essentially, a MAC address tells the router “hey, I’m a Samsung Galaxy S9+). Every device has a MAC address consisting of 6 alphanumeric pairs. More importantly, you may need to know the MAC address of a device to assign a static IP to it since the router identifies a device by its MAC address.
Assigning a static IP
In general assigning a static IP is easy and only takes a few steps. The catch is you can’t assign an IP address that is already used (this is called an IP conflict). Not all routers will prevent the user from assigning an already-used IP address, although some will. It’s not the end of the world if you assign a duplicate IP, the conflicting devices just won’t connect.
Log in to the router admin page
To get started you’ll have to log in to the router admin page. If you don’t know what that is, or how to get there, start with finding the gateway IP address. To do that, from a PC open the command prompt (type cmd in the search bar) and then type ip config. You will get a set up numbers; we are interested in the default gateway IP address. Make note of that and enter it in the address bar of the internet browser.
When you enter the gateway IP, you should end up on the login page of the router. Usually you will see a logo matching the brand of your router (Netgear, Asus, Linksys, etc.). Enter the username and password of your router to log in. If you don’t know it or have never logged in, flip the router over and check the label for that information. In general, ISP-provided routers have the log-in info printed on the router while commercially-purchased routers have a default login. Usually its simply “admin” and “password”. As a last resort if you don’t have the instruction manual, do a web search for the default login for your brand router. Then check out this article about securing your router. This article from PC world is a little older, but the basics still apply. Once logged in you should see the dashboard for your router.
Setting a static IP address in the router
Every router will have a different method for assigning an IP address. Check the manual for the specific router you are using for specifics, but in general IP address can be assigned a couple of ways. First, you may be able to assign the IP address after selecting the device in the router attached devices page. The other common method (as in my old router) was to select the device under the LAN status page. More likely than not, look for a page with a device list.
Likely your page will not look like mine, but usually you can select a device and assign a specific address to it. It can either be the same address, or you can specify it. Of note, make sure that the address you specify is in the same network range. For example, you can’t assign an address of 10.0.1.2 if the network address range is 10.0.0.2-10.0.0.254. Likewise, avoid ending the IP address in 1 or 255, those are usually reserved. For a seriously in-depth explanation, see this article from How-To Geek. Once assigned, either reboot your router or reboot the device.
Wrapping it up
Assigned static IPs to devices that need them? Take it one step further: restrict your network to known MAC addresses. This improves the security of your network and also makes it harder for an intruder to gain access. You can even set up a guest network to ignore the MAC address list, but make sure you keep it turned off when not in use.