IP Lookup- How It Works, Without the Smoke and Mirrors
“How did you know that?!”
We get that response a lot. It can seem like magic when you first see the location and company name of an otherwise anonymous website visitor. It’s not magic, it’s something called ‘IP lookup’, and we’d like to tell you how it works.
The following steps are true for all IP lookup tools that we know of.
Step 1 - Put the code in place
You put a single line of code on your website, provided with your IP lookup software.
Step 2 - Identification
When someone visits your website, their machine identifies itself to your web server with its IP address. This is a unique numeric address for the machine or network that your visitor is on.
Step 3 - IP lookup software
The line of code you placed on your website intercepts the IP address and forwards it to the IP lookup software.
Step 4 - WHOIS
The IP lookup software compares the IP address with a database of known addresses to see if there is a match. The database is known as ‘WHOIS’ data and everyone has access to the same resource.
Step 5 - Information are back
If it finds a match, the software will typically look for two fields in the information recorded against that IP address. One is titled ‘ISP’ and the other ‘Organisation’. Both can contain useful information.
Step 6 - Let’s make sense of it
The software tries to filter the results returned to give you something meaningful. This is where lookup services try to differentiate. But in side-by-side testing with customers we have found that most – including ours – present pretty much the same results.
Step 7 - Final results
The results are presented to you.
You might need to be a programmer to make it happen, but the important point is that there is no magic there. It combines commercially available data with core functions of the web to give a result.
The work we have put into refining our IP lookup over the last few weeks has only confirmed this fact for us. And we wanted to be clear with you that when you’re choosing a personal analytics product, IP lookup is unlikely to be a differentiator – whatever the claims.