Looking up IP geolocation is a challenge even when you already know exactly what the phrase means. It helps to know that IP is short for internet protocol, and each device accessing the internet is assigned an IP address. The IP address might use the old IP protocol called IPv4 or a newer protocol IPv6 that was created when IPv4 addresses began to run out thanks to the growing popularity of the internet. Either way, each IP address is made up of octets, or strings of numbers that are separated by periods when written in the human-readable form (as opposed to computer-readable binary form). Those octets are not random strings of numbers even though that is what they might look like to the untrained eye.
Each IP address includes information about where the device is located in the network. However, a device’s network location is not the same as its location in the physical world, i.e., its geolocation. Often, a device’s location on a network can be used to approximate its geolocation. Many tools on the internet are available to aid users who are trying to find a device’s geolocation using the device’s IP address, including dedicated IP geolocation lookup websites.
How it works
To understand how the geolocation of a device is estimated using its IP address, it is important to understand that IP addresses are sourced from regional internet registries. There are five such registries: the American Registry for Internet Numbers that provides addressed for most of North America and Antarctica; the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre that provides addresses for Latin America and parts of the Caribbean; the Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre that provides addresses for Europe as well as West and Central Asia; the African Network Information Center that provides IP addresses in Africa; and the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre that provides addresses to Australia, Oceania, and East Asia.
IP geolocation lookup services identify which regional internet registry provided the IP address much in the same way that someone can use an area code in a phone number to determine the geographical region from which a phone number was obtained. Usually, this means the device is in the region served by the regional internet registry. Similarly, other sources of information can be used to estimate location, such as by using information from internet service providers and websites that collect user-provided location data. By assessing commonalities and differences in many users’ geolocations based on their network addresses, IP-based geolocation services can estimate the geographical location of a device based on information from its neighbors on the network. These methods mean that IP geolocation is not always precise.
There are other limitations to this process. Users who want to protect their device from being located use virtual private networks (VPNs) that intentionally and effectively mislead IP geolocation lookup efforts. For example, a device in Latin America can use a VPN that makes it appear to be in Africa. Because of this practice, geolocation results based on IP addresses are not necessarily accurate.
Some websites help Linux operating system users engage in IP geolocation from their command line. For those using Windows, Android, and Mac operating systems, a website that performs the lookup without a command line might be more user-friendly.