An internet protocol (IP) address is a number that represents a device such as a computer or phone on the internet; it is similar to a phone number. You can often deduce roughly where a device is if you have its IP address. You usually can't get an exact physical address or location from an IP address without information from an internet provider.
How IP Address Information Works
When computers talk to each other across the internet, they send digital messages back and forth using numeric codes called IP addresses. The most common kinds of IP addresses now in use are typically represented by four numbers separated by periods, such as 127.0.0.1, which is a special IP address that devices can use to connect to themselves for testing and other purposes. Computers at internet providers and other devices, such as routers on home and office networks, transfer messages according to their IP addresses, often across multiple connections to reach the appropriate device.
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Usually, your IP address is assigned by your internet service provider, which – in the case of mobile devices on a cellular network – is usually your phone carrier. It simplifies message routing to have similar IP addresses clustered together, so it's often possible to tell roughly where on a network someone is based through an IP address. In a company network, that information might help you figure out where a computer is situated in the office. In an internet provider's network, it may help you figure out where the computer is geographically located.
Locate an IP Address
There are several databases that can match an IP address to the internet provider that issued it and tell you roughly where the device it's attached to is likely located. Some companies use this information to target ads to people in certain areas or serve content in the language most likely spoken in a particular country.
You can find a number of IP address tracker databases online that can give you this kind of information, often for free. Type or copy and paste the IP address into the database search field to see what geographical information is available.
Limitations on IP Address Tracking
IP address mapping to physical locations is far from an exact science if you don't have access to the internet provider's internal database. In some cases, people have used rough IP address mapping information to accuse people of crimes or other undesirable activity, only to find out that the mapping information wasn't accurate, and they had confronted innocent people.
If you have an IP address that you think belongs to a person you believe has committed a crime or otherwise wronged you, don't take justice into your own hands. Carefully weigh your options and consider contacting the local police or a lawyer. They can use legal processes to get information about the IP address from the internet provider and otherwise investigate the matter to help you find a resolution.
It's usually not possible to get an IP address from a text message or find someone's IP address through a phone number, although you can trace a phone number to the person or device using it.
Watch for Misleading IP Addresses
It's possible for IP addresses from a specific area to be used by someone who is not at that particular location but is routing traffic through a network using a virtual private network (VPN) or hacking into someone else's computer. In that case, even if you correctly map the IP address to the location of the computer that is using it, the person you are trying to locate may be hundreds of miles away.