The first rule of residential proxy servers:
There’s no such thing as a “residential proxy server”.
“What?!” I hear you cry. Yes, ‘residential proxy server’ is just one big misnomer. It gives the impression you can purchase and use them in the same way as proxy servers from a regular data centre. A residential proxy server is simply the IP address a household would use; owned and maintained by an ISP. So if you want to look professional, ask for residential IP addresses instead of residential proxy servers.
What’s the big deal with residential IP addresses?
Any internet traffic a website receives includes lots of information other than an IP address, including the ISP/hosting company behind the IP address (think of them as the actual owners).
This information makes it easy for a website to differentiate queries from a residence against those from a commercial data centre. The site might assume that traffic from data centres is automated and they could then block the traffic. However, requests from residential addresses are viewed differently. Because the IP address information is now indistinguishable from a regular household, it’s much more difficult for a site to determine whether a query originates from a scraper hiding behind a residential address, or a genuine query from someone sat at home.
How do I purchase residential IP addresses?
There’s only one way to obtain residential IP addresses, and that’s to purchase access to them from a proxy server provider. You can’t buy them directly from ISP’s.
In addition to that, up until recently, the only way these providers would obtain access to these IP addresses is by someone in the household granting permission to use it.
“Say what?!” Ok, this is how they do it:
- The residential IP address provider offers a service, usually a VPN or an app, often provided for free that a member of the household uses.
- The end-user grants permission through the VPN/app’s terms and conditions for the residential server provider to route their traffic via the user’s device.
- The residential server provider can now add the IP address, along with all the others that are available to them, to create a massive pool that they can route all their traffic through.
- The residential server provider charges you to access this vast network of residential addresses.
You know the phrase “If you’re not the customer, you’re the product”? Well, this is a prime example. The VPN/app use thinks they’re getting a service for free, although they’re trading one commodity for another.
What’s the catch?
There’s no way of knowing when the householder will use their device and make their IP address available. This uncertainty means that you won’t be able to rely on using a specific IP address. Your only guarantee from the service provider is usually to offer a residential address only in a particular country.
It’s also true that abuse of residential addresses can occur by anyone who has access to them. So providers often rotate you to a new IP address every few minutes to avoid problems. Doing so means residential addresses are ok to scrape publicly available information when there’s no need to hold onto a specific IP address.
However, they’re not so good for other purposes. For example, managing social media accounts and needing to hold a static IP. IP changes are likely to get picked up on very quickly, and your accounts could well become blocked.
The advantage of commercial data centre servers is that they can offer IP addresses that are yours and won’t change. This ‘stickiness’ provides far greater stability but at the cost of exposing that you’re using a data centre server.
Be warned though, that there is a big question regarding security and residential servers. As traffic is routed through a home network, it raises the possibility of interception. So you need to keep that in mind when looking at whether to go for residential addresses or data centre servers.
In terms of cost, servers from commercial data centres can start at just a few dollars a month. Access to residential servers can be much more expensive, usually coming in at a minimum of a few hundred dollars per month.
The Alternative: Static Residential IP Addresses
As detailed above, residential IP addresses do have their drawbacks. Proxy server providers recognised this and a handful of them now provide static residential IP addresses.
Ultimately these are just the same as regular residential IP addresses. However, they are purchased directly from ISPs: there’s no need for an unreliable user in the middle of the chain.
This stability does means that you can complete any tasks which require a sticky session with no risk of losing the IP address. Great news if you need to hold that IP. The downside is that the number of available static residential IP addresses is much, much lower than regular residential addresses. The cost of them is also far higher.
Despite the rise of residential servers and the benefits they bring, data centres servers still have a great deal to offer.
Scraping a large volume of non-sensitive data over a short period and have deep pockets? Residential servers are likely the best way forward for you.
Have a tight budget, plenty of time, need more control over the IP address or access sensitive data? Then it might be best to look at regular commercial data centre servers.