As most folks have heard by now, going online is hardly an anonymous activity. This is because we are continuously tracked, including via our Internet Protocol Address. This IP Address can reveal multiple pieces of information about the user, including their internet service provider, and their geographic location. It can also be utilized to block a user from additional activity when they revisit a website.
However, if an IP address is used for a nefarious activity, it can be blacklisted in a DNS-based anti-spam database. An activity such as spamming could get an IP address entered into such a database.
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Types of addresses
IP addresses get divided into two types: static and dynamic. A static IP address, also known as a fixed IP address or a sticky IP address, means that the location gets permanently assigned, and therefore this address does not subsequently change. This is useful when other devices need to connect, such as a network print server, a VPN or a web server.
However, not everything needs a static IP address, and this is why you can use a dynamic IP address. Your average home user just wants the devices to connect easily, so routers use the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), which assigns IP addresses to client devices as they are needed. Also, each time a broadband modem gets rebooted, the Internet Service Provider assigns a new dynamic IP address from its pool of addresses.
In general, these dynamic IP addresses are used in this application due to cost considerations, as this way the ISP can just have an available pool of addresses, and then assign them to the users as needed. Therefore, most residential users get a dynamic IP address from their broadband provider.
Understanding the issue
There are times that a user needs to protect their IP address, such as to protect their anonymity, or to bypass a geo-restriction. The method to typically accomplish this is via a VPN. Via this method, the user puts their information through a proxy server, which then anonymizes them, so that it goes back to the VPN server, and not to the individual’s IP address. However, in this situation, the user gets assigned a single, dynamic IP address from the pool of IP addresses that the VPN assigns as needed, which is the same for the session.
There are times when a user needs not just one IP address, but rather an entire pool of addresses to be able to use. This can be done, but it would require the user to reboot the broadband modem each time you wanted to generate a new address, or to initiate a new VPN session, which would be impractical beyond restarting beyond a few sessions.
Enter the rotating proxy, which is designed to be able to offer an entire pool of IP addresses, so a user can rotate between the addresses. The actual number varies by the provider, but we are talking about in excess of 100 million from a single provider in some cases. The idea is that there is a large IP proxy pool, and then each time a new connection gets made, the proxy server provider rotates to a new address. Therefore, the user then appears to be a different client to the website.
Why, oh why?
The question to understand is what is the intended use of a rotating proxy as the average user will typically simply connect to the site, and won’t need such a large pool of addresses. The answer lies in a process known as web scraping, which is a method to extract the large amount of data located on a website. After this is done, the data can then be exported into a database, for example to be more useful to the user.
Scraping for info
Web scraping is often done to keep track of pricing, or reviews on an e-commerce website. While this information can be done manually, this is generally inefficient and time consuming. Performing web scraping via an automated method will obtain far more information quickly, however there are challenges to overcome including captchas that check if a real human is coming to the site. Furthermore, websites don’t really want to be scraped, so they keep track of the IP addresses, and can block the revisits, hence the need for a rotating proxy, so that further visits are done with a new, unique IP address.
In case you are wondering, yes web scraping is legal. This is because the information is publicly available, there is no law being broken. However, if additional data, not publicly available, is extracted then it is not legal, and can generate a lawsuit.
Having access to a rotating proxy is certainly a useful tool, that can glean much useful data from websites through the process of web scraping.