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Vejune Tamuliunaite

Jul 04, 2021 8 min read

An IP address is a crucial part of online infrastructure and allows us to access and communicate via the internet. A better comprehension of what an IP address is may help you ensure more secure online business activities and more efficient web scraping operations. 

In this article, we will go through the concept of an IP address and how it works. Also, we will outline the main types of internet protocol addresses and mention IP management challenges to keep in mind. 

What is an IP address?

Just like in the real world, for your online shopping deliveries to reach your home, they need to be labeled with information on how to find you. This information is known as your street address and specifies the location the parcel needs to arrive at. The internet works in a very similar fashion, and your internet traffic is labeled using what is called an IP address. 

An IP address is an electronic address that is assigned to each device connected to a computer network. IP acronym stands for Internet Protocol. Usually issued by your internet service provider (ISP), an IP address is an address by which the internet knows where to send data and results of your search and queries.

To help you get a clearer picture, the collection of digits below is an example of what an IP address looks like:

203.0.113.220

Generally, IP addresses are assigned in a hierarchical manner. It begins with the International Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which assigns IP addresses in blocks to the different regional internet registries. Every regional internet registry further allocates smaller blocks of IP addresses to the national internet registries. Next, the internet registries in each nation assign blocks of IP addresses to individual ISPs.

IP addresses and DNS

As we already know, the internet has its own rules and works by protocols. Another such protocol is the DNS (Domain Name System) and is also essential in facilitating connections and communication in many cases.

The domain name is the part of the address containing letters and words that you can easily read. A domain looks like the text below:

Domainnamesystem.com

While an IP address is easier for computers to understand and has a particular location in mind, the domain name counterpart is easier for humans to write and remember. When used, the domain can be translated by the Domain Name System to IP addresses so that computers know which location is desired.

To facilitate this address translation, a DNS server is usually used by computers. Each computer usually has at least one DNS server configured for it, which is commonly provided by the ISP. Seeking performance and convenience, these DNS servers are usually located relatively close to you.

When you are accessing content on the internet, the services that provide you the content may have mechanisms of finding out what DNS server you have used. This can create several privacy issues. For instance, your IP DNS location will most likely (however, not necessarily) be anywhere around you in your own country or city and can be used to almost pinpoint your exact location.

The Domain Name System stores the names and addresses of public internet servers

IP address versions: IPv4 and IPv6

Currently, there are two versions of IP addresses in use: IPv4 and IPv6.

IPv4

IPv4, also known as the Internet Protocol version 4, was introduced in 1981 right after experimental versions IPv1, IPv2, and IPv3, making it the first IP version to be used publicly around the world. Using 32 bits, it creates about 232 possible combinations which translate to nearly 4.3 billion (4,294,967,296) unique addresses.

However, as technology evolved, the ever-growing number of individual devices that need Internet connectivity quickly exceeded a finite pool of IPv4 unique addresses. In 2019, RIPE NCC, one of five Regional Internet Registries, reported that there are only one million IPv4 addresses left unused. Among other things, these limitations caused the birth of IPv6.

IPv6

Released in 2012 the Internet Protocol version 6 was developed in the hexadecimal format. It uses 128 bits to generate about 2128 nodes resulting in 340 trillion trillion trillion (340,282,366,920,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456) unique addresses. This should provide enough unique addresses for the expected future growth of the web.

IPv4IPv6
Deployed in 1981Deployed in 1999
32-bit number128-bit number
Numeric dot-decimal notation:
192.168.0.18
Alphanumeric hexadecimal notation:
2001:0DB8:85A3:0000:0000:8A2E:0370:7334
Nearly 4.3 billion addresses340 trillion trillion trillion addresses
Must be reused or maskedEach device can have a unique address

Types of IP addresses

Generally, there are four types of IP addresses: static and dynamic, also private and public IP addresses. We will take a look at each of them to understand the overall nature of the internet protocol address. 

Static vs dynamic IP addresses

A static IP address is a fairly constant IP address assigned by an ISP to a specific device. For instance, it is likely that your current IP address will remain the same until you request for it to be changed. Static IP addresses help maintain stability and ease the discovery on the internet in cases of emailing, gaming, or managing web servers.

Dynamic IP addresses, on the other, differ since they are automatically and regularly changing. They are the most common types of IP addresses usually assigned by the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). 

Private vs public IP addresses

A private IP address is a private digital address assigned by a router via DHCP to each device connected within the network. Private IP addresses help to tell one device apart from the other and are generally not seen by anyone outside the network. The router works as a barrier that lets you set up a private IP network with any IP address scheme you wish.

Now, a public IP address is assigned by an ISP to a network. A public IP address can be seen by anyone including those outside the network and is a means for identifying a network.

While a device communicates with a router locally through a private address, such as 192.168.0.1, the router then communicates with the internet through your public IP address. 

IP address management: challenges

Armed with all the knowledge about the nature of IP addresses we understand better the challenges that arise when performing web scraping operations for your business. The main obstacles would be these: 

IP address-based blocking

When accessing a website in order to perform web crawling operations, you should be aware that some servers use anti-bot measures that detect suspicious activity. After the non-human traffic is indicated, the website will deny access to the IP range your IP address belongs to. 

Usually, to avoid IP address-based bans, web scrapers use proxies that enable rotating IP addresses from which the requests are sent to the data targets. 

CAPTCHAs

During your web scraping operations, most likely you will send more requests from one IP address than a real-life user could generate at the same time. Some websites monitor and can easily detect how many requests they get from a specific IP address. Exceeding certain limits might lead to blocking your IP address or making you pass a CAPTCHA (stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) test.

This obstacle is especially time-consuming and may burden your data gathering process. We have covered this topic in another blog post about CAPTCHAs and how they work.

Geolocation restrictions

Generally, the user’s location is identified by using geolocation techniques, including certain information based on your IP address. While some websites (e.g. e-commerce sites) may show the data, such as pricing, specifically customized for your geolocation, you will not see the whole picture and the data you gather will not be accurate. Hiding your IP address helps you avoid this. 

By using a proxy, you can mask and change both the IP address and the DNS server that the target websites can see. For instance, an Australian proxy gives you access to any preferred websites from Australia no matter your original location while a Germany proxy serves a similar purpose only from Germany. This way, businesses can collect specific data no matter where the data target is and perform a thorough analysis. 

how proxy server works
How proxies work

There are multiple ways to hide your IP and each has its perks and challenges. If you are interested to learn more, read an article on how to hide IP addresses.

Conclusion

An IP address is like a virtual address that allows clients to access servers and provides servers with the information on where to send the requested web data back. While keeping high-level privacy measures, performing efficient web scraping operations and data analysis projects are crucial to most businesses, it is essential to understand what an IP address is and what information it conveys.

If you’re interested in how to use proxies for your business needs, then find our article on “Planning a Project on Web Scraping”. Also, learn more about crawling a website without getting blocked when scraping market-leading e-commerce web pages.

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About Vejune Tamuliunaite

Vejune Tamuliunaite is a Product Content Manager at Oxylabs with a passion for testing her limits. After years of working as a scriptwriter, she turned to the tech side and is fascinated by being at the core of creating the future. When not writing in-depth articles, Vejune enjoys spending time in nature and watching classic sci-fi movies. Also, she probably could tell the Star Wars script by heart.

All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.

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