What is an IP Address?
Your IP address, or internet protocol address, is a string of numbers used to identify your network or device on the internet. When you connect to a website, the website operator receives your public IP address. Because your IP address acts as a your online ID, the website operator knows where to send the requested data.
While IP addresses are essential to the functioning of the internet, they can reveal more information about you than you might like. If someone has your IP address, they can trace it and find out roughly where you’re browsing from and what internet service provider (ISP) you use.
Can an IP address identify you on the internet? No, on its own an IP address only reveals basic details like your browsing area and your ISP — it doesn’t give away your name, browsing information, or exact location.
What is the difference between tracing your IP address and tracking your IP address?
Tracing and tracking an IP address is the same process. Throughout this article, we’ll use both terms interchangeably. The main thing you need to know is that tracking and tracing both refer to gathering information based on someone’s IP address.
Reasons why IP addresses are tracked
Companies track your IP address for a variety of reasons.
- Geo-tailored experiences. The most useful and customer-friendly reason to track a user’s IP address is to provide an experience that suits users in specific geographical areas best. For example, your IP address can be traced to determine what language the pages should appear in or to make sure you see products that are available in your area.
- Marketing. The more information a company has about you, the more effective its marketing and advertising efforts can be. If a website detects that you’re based in a country where a certain product or service is popular, it can tailor what you see on its pages accordingly.
- Scam prevention. Tracking IP addresses can also help in the prevention of scams and online fraud. If a website detects that someone is trying to access your profile from an IP address in an unusual location, it can block the request or flag it up to you for confirmation.
- Law enforcement. IP address tracing can also be a useful tool for law enforcement agencies. When a hacker or other bad actor commits a crime while connected to the internet, their IP address can be used to track them down in the real world. Of course, this use of IP tracking can also be less positive — for example, in oppressive regimes where authorities can trace and target activists and free-speech advocates using their IP addresses.
How to trace an IP address using the command prompt
You can trace an IP address of a website using the command prompt on Windows.
- Press “Windows + R” keys.
- Input “cmd” into the text box and select “OK.”
- In the resulting text box, input “ping” and the URL of a website to view its IP.
- Input the “Tracert” command and the IP address.
- Copy and paste the resulting IP addresses into an IP lookup tool.
In most cases, the IP address tracing method will end up being an IP lookup service. These sites are usually free and available through a browser.
How to trace an IP address from email
You can trace an IP address from an email, but these steps will vary depending on the email service you use. The process described below is a general guide for most mainstream email platforms.
- Open the “options” menu in an email (this will usually be marked with three dots at the top or bottom of the email interface).
- Click an option to open the “raw email” or to “view original.”
- Locate the sender’s IP address within the raw email data.
- Input all IP addresses from the raw data into an IP lookup tool.
It’s important to note that, even if you trace multiple IP addresses gathered from the raw email data, these are likely to lead back to the email provider’s relay servers, rather than the sender’s network.
Can I track my IP address on my phone?
As long as you have an IP address, you can track it, even if you’re using your phone. IP lookup tools are available for mobile browsers as well as on desktop, so once you have the IP address you want to trace, just open one of these services and input the address.
If you’re trying to locate a device — for example, a missing phone — having the IP address won’t be particularly helpful to you. IP addresses can reveal the general area in which someone is browsing but can’t confirm their exact IP location. You would also need to know the device’s current IP address, which will change every time the device connects to a different network.
Is it legal to track IP addresses?
It is completely legal to track IP addresses as long as you’re not doing so for criminal purposes.
Public IP addresses are meant to be available to the wider internet — that’s how data is able to find its way back to your network from other sites and servers. If someone has that information and puts it into an IP tracker, they aren’t committing a crime.
Can you hide your IP address?
You can easily hide your IP address, and the best way to do so is with a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, hides your IP address, so when you connect to the internet, websites see whatever address is linked to the VPN server instead of your own network.
A VPN prevents your ISP from monitoring your online activity. With NordVPN, you can enhance both your privacy and security and take full control over who can see your real IP address.