How to Trace an IP Address

To many people, tracing an IP address probably seems like what you would see in a movie: an elite hacker working on a laptop to expose someone’s physical address halfway across the globe. As with most things Hollywood, the reality isn’t that glorious or complicated. Though it is true that a talented hacker can do a lot of things, anyone can learn to trace an IP address.

Admittedly, the IP address tracing methods we’re going to show you are simple and will only show information about the internet service provider, city and state. To obtain revealing information, you’d need to employ tactics of dubious legality or get law enforcement involved. That said, there are reasons to learn a simple IP trace.

Learning how to track an IP address is a good way to track an email or look into the whereabouts of a company or URL. Knowing how to look up an IP address, as well as hide yours, is also part of knowing how to protect your privacy and yourself.

Though there are a lot ways to stay safe on the internet, everyone should learn how to trace an IP address just like they should learn how to change a tire. In this quick guide, we’ll show you to do it. If you live in the U.S., check out our explanation of how to get a U.S. IP address, too.

What Is an IP Address

If you haven’t checked out our IPv4 vs. IPv6 guide, now is a good time to do so because it provides context here. To us, an IP address looks like a string of letters and numbers, but that strand of characters is how computers using the IP/TCP suite — the internet — are identified online. In other words, it’s a unique address that gets linked to your online activity.

Many may wonder how trackable an IP address is and if it could lead back to them. The answer is yes and no. Your IP address is trackable down to the city, state and ISP. It alone won’t reveal your address or geographical location, though. A talented black-hat hacker could track an end-user to their living room, but they’d be using more than just an IP address.

Find Your Own IP Address

Before attempting to trace someone else’s IP address, it’s fitting to learn how to find your own. There’s a couple of quick and dirty ways to do so: online tools and the command line interface of your preferred operating system. Which you use will come down to preference or convenience.

To find your IP address on Windows

  • Press the windows key + R
  • In the run window, type “cmd” and press enter
  • In the command prompt, type “ipconfig/all” and press enter
Windows-CMD-ipconfig

On Windows 10, that will provide you with multiple lists of information detailing your connections and network adapters, as well as IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses. The one you’re looking for will say something like “IPv4 xxx.xxx.x.xx (preferred).”

To find your IP address on macOS

  • Press cmd + space
  • Type “terminal” and press enter
  • In the command window, type “ipconfig”

Like it did above, that will return several lines of network information. The address you’re looking for is likely under the “en0” section next to “inet.”

To find your IP address on Linux

  • Press ctrl + alt + T
  • In the terminal window, type “hostname -I” (that’s a capital “I” as in “India’) and press enter

That should return your IP address. Because Linux is open source and there are many distributions, the method for accessing the command line or your IP address could be different. Generally, the above method should work for Debian, Ubuntu and Mint.   

If you’d rather not dabble in the arcane arts of command line text, you can use web tools, such as whatismyipaddress.com.

Get IP Addresses from Email

Emails carry the IP address of the sender in what is called a header. Email headers are like digital envelopes, containing important information about the receiver and sender. We don’t usually see headers because modern email clients hide them by default. They’re there, though, and every email client should have an option to view them.

It’s worth mentioning that most popular email services use mail servers, so the IP address in the header will point to a corresponding mail server, rather than the user who sent the email. Still, evaluating the email header could help identify spam or phishing attempts and help keep your inbox safe.

In Gmail

  • Open the email message
  • Select “more.” It looks like three vertical dots next to the “reply” arrow
  • Click “show original”

In macOS

  • Go to the message in your inbox
  • Open the “view” menu and select “message”
  • Select “all headers” or “long headers”

Outlook 365 for Windows

  • Double-click the message to open it in a separate window
  • Click “file”, then select “properties”
  • Header information will be in the “internet headers” box

Email headers contain complicated blocks of information that is usually longer than the email itself. To get an IP address, you’re looking for “received:” lines. Alternatively, you can copy the header and paste it into an email header analyzer, such as this one from Google. Another one can be found at whatismyipaddress.com.

Get IP Addresses Using Command Prompt

There are a couple of ways to obtain an IP address with command line tools. The simplest is the “ping” command. It allows your computer to ping a host and receive a reply. In doing so, you’ll get the IP address of that host.

Windows

  • Press the windows key + R
  • In the run window, type “cmd” and press enter
  • In the command prompt, type “ping host hame” (for example: “ping www.cloudwards.net”)
  • If the connection is successful, it will return an IP address for the host

macOS

  • Press cmd + space
  • Type “terminal” and press enter
  • In the terminal window, type “ping host name”

Another powerful command is “netstat,” which is available for macOS and Windows. It will allow you to view active connections across all applications and ports. Netstat can be used with several syntax options to filter the information it returns, but we’ll spare you those details. Instead, we’ll just run “netstat -an.” That will show all open ports and list addresses.

Before doing this, we recommend closing applications and processes you don’t need. That will help limit output to connections you want to see.

Windows

  • Press windows key + R
  • In the run window, type “cmd” and press enter
  • In the command prompt, type “netstat -an” and press enter

macOS

  • Press cmd + space
  • Type “terminal” and press enter
  • In the terminal window, type “netstat -an” and press enter

This will return several lines of text, detailing open ports, IP addresses and connection statuses. You’ll need to sift through them to find the address you’re looking for.

Tracing an IP Address

Though you can’t trace an IP address to a physical location or use it to reveal personal information about someone behind a computer, you can use it to get a better idea about a company, URL or email. Below, we’ll outline a couple of ways to get more information once you have an IP address.

First, we’ll use another command via your command line interface. It is called “tracert” or “traceroute.” Route tracing is commonly used to find real IP addresses through proxies (read our best free proxy guide for more info). It is available on Windows and macOS and allows you to get detailed information about network paths. Like the aforementioned “netstat,” it comes with several syntax options for augmenting results, but we’ll keep it simple.

In the instructions below, “IP address” means the numerical IP address you want to trace. You can also insert a URL.

Windows

  • Press the windows key + R
  • In the run window, type “cmd” and press enter
  • In command prompt, type “tracert IP address”

macOS

  • Press cmd + space
  • Type “terminal” and press enter
  • In the terminal window, type “traceroute IP address”

Another method is to take an IP address and use an online lookup tool, such as the one at www.whatismyipaddress.com, and clicking “IP lookup.” Paste the IP address into the search bar, then click “get IP details.”

The WHOIS Lookup by Domain Tools is also a great resource. There, you can insert an IP address or domain name and get detailed information — even an email address you can report abuse to.

Final Thoughts

If all that sounds unnerving, don’t worry. There’s little personal information to be had with just an IP address. Still, there are plenty of other reasons you might not want your IP address out there. They include ISP snooping, web tracking, content blocking and targeted ads, just to name a few. Covering your digital footprint is never a bad idea.

The best way to hide your IP address is to use a virtual private network. We routinely test and update our list of the best VPN providers, so you’ll want to start there, or we can just send you to our ExpressVPN review because it is our all-around favorite.

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You could also use a browser like Tor, which will also obscure your IP address to an extent, but it isn’t a perfect solution. To learn more about the Tor browser and anonymous browsing, read our anonymous browsing guide and our VPN vs.proxy vs.Tor guide.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a better understanding of how to find an IP address and look one up. If you have tips or tricks we missed, let us know in the comments or tweet at us. As always, thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “How to Trace an IP Address in 2019: Sleuthing for the New Age”

  1. I would like to know if an IP address of the person who uploaded a video on a website like youtube can be traced back. Even if they use the Tor network when they uploaded it. I had read that because those videos are done in flash, which is unfriendly with Tor, they can not hide through Tor so the person who uploaded it can be traced back to its home. Therefore i understand that Tor would only be useful to other tasks that don’t require flash like sending mails or post comments on twitter… But even if they use VPN we can know the IP of the source of the video: We only have to contact with the VPN provider and he will cooperate ( under a police order or subpoena of course). I would be very grateful if you answer my question. It’s very important for me. Thanks.

    1. I’d also like to know how to find the original source of a video, like a cam video posted on a website.

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