What Are Residential Proxies? A Comprehensive Guide

Learn all you need about residential proxies.

By borrowing the connections of real users, residential proxies ensure unrestricted and accurate access to data in any locale. This article will teach you all you need to know about residential proxy servers. You’ll learn how they’re sourced, how and when they’re used, and how residential proxies compare to datacenter IPs. Let’s get started!

What Are Residential Proxies?

Put simply, it’s a proxy server that uses an IP address borrowed from a residential user. The term ‘residential user’ is somewhat broad: it can include not only desktop and laptop computers, but also IoT devices like smart TVs or even internet-connected fridges on a Wi-Fi connection. The same goes for mobile phones, though IP addresses from mobile devices are often sold separately as a premium option.

The important thing is that a residential IP has to be issued by an internet service provider (ISP) and not a data center. This is what separates them from datacenter proxies.

How a Residential Proxy Server Works

When you browse the internet without a proxy or VPN, you simply connect to a website directly. With residential proxies it goes like this:

residential proxies scheme

What happens here is that you connect to a proxy server. It then chooses a residential IP address at random or according to some criteria, and routes your request through it. The website sees the connection as coming from that user and their location. Your own IP, or the fact that you’re using a proxy server, is never revealed in the process.

Residential proxy providers rarely sells IP lists. Instead, they give a backconnect gateway address. It automatically assigns a proxy from the pool of IPs available to the provider at that time. This is done partly because residential connections aren’t stable – a user can simply disconnect their device from the internet, and your connection will be lost.

So, residential proxies inevitably rotate. The default is each connection request, though some providers let you hold sticky sessions with the same IP address for up to 30 minutes. Static residential IPs are an exception to this rule; I briefly cover them below.

How Residential IPs Are Made

To my knowledge, there are four main ways to acquire residential IPs:

  • Insert an SDK into software people use. Providers like Luminati and Infatica approach developers and offer them to add their code into their apps or extensions. The users who install such an app become proxies. In return, they don’t have to pay or watch ads. Reputable providers always ask for permission and limit their use of resources.
  • Buy traffic from people directly. Proxy provider PacketStream offers people to directly install its app into their devices and sell unused bandwidth. I believe there could be more providers using this method with white-label solutions.
  • Inject malware into people’s devices. This method is part of the reason why proxies have such a dubious reputation among businesses. It creates what we popularly call botnets. Most reputable providers would never use malware; but there are still large proxy services that appear to be relying on it to this day.
  • Lease IP spaces from ISPs. A provider can ask an internet service provider to register a data center IP address with its name. This is how static residential proxies are made. NetNut is one example of such a business model.

Main Types of Residential Proxies

  • Rotating residential proxies – so-called peer-to-peer proxies where you get an IP address borrowed from a customer of an ISP.
  • Static residential proxies – proxies that come from an ISP but do not involve end users. This is usually achieved by registering datacenter proxies under an internet service provider’s name.

Which Type Is Better?

It’s hard to say for certain. Static residential proxies preserve the qualities of datacenter IPs: they’re fast, stable, and don’t need to rotate. You can get them dedicated for your exclusive use, which is hardly possible with peer-to-peer IPs. That said, they tend to cover fewer locations; have a lower subnet diversity; and are hard to come by.

When to Use Residential Proxies

Residential proxies support most of the general proxy use cases. However, because they’re harder to get and maintain than datacenter IPs, they cost significantly more. So, it makes sense to use residential IPs when:

  • your target is actively looking to block you. Some examples would be most sneaker sites, Google, and social media networks like Instagram.
  • you need broad location coverage. You can get a residential IP in any country in the world. Datacenter proxies are more limited.
  • you want to browse truly anonymously. VPNs hide you but not the fact you’re using a VPN. Residential proxies make it look like you’re browsing as a different person.

To give you a concrete example, residential proxies are very popular among ad verification companies. That’s because they need to run tests in many locales, against actors that have an incentive to avoid scrutiny. A residential IP in indinstinguishable from a regular user, so a fraudster can’t serve the company false data.

Another popular use case is sneaker scalping, where shoe retailers have implemented strict security measures that can’t be overcome with regular datacenter IPs.

Residential vs Datacenter Proxies

Let’s look at the pros & cons of residential proxies compared to datacenter IPs.

ProsCons
  • Residential IPs are much harder to detect as proxies.
  • They support more locations around the world, up to city level.
  • They scale better.
  • Residential proxies are expensive.
  • They can be slower and less stable than datacenter proxies.
  • Some providers get IPs using questionable methods.

Choosing a Residential Proxy Provider

First and foremost, make sure that you’re dealing with a legitimate company. Look for certificates, testimonials, and other social proof. Everything else depends on your needs and your pocket size. Keep in mind that more expensive proxies are not necessarily better.

You might want to take a look at our list of the best residential proxy providers. It’s based on extensive performance tests and years of experience using their services.

2 comments

  1. BobTheBuilder on August 13, 2020 at 6:36 am

    Dont get the fuss about using a free residential proxy. As long, as Im not giving them my personal info or clicking on fishy ads, there’s no harm that can be done, right?

  2. Chris Becker on August 24, 2020 at 6:57 am

    Not exactly.

    1. Residential proxies come from devices of end users; so if you’re using them for free, you’re most likely getting them from a botnet.
    2. If your proxies are HTTP (not HTTPS), then they can absolutely steal your info or show you fishy ads where they aren’t supposed to appear.
    3. Such IPs will be slow and unlikely to work, so there’s not much point in using them anyway.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Residential Proxies

What Is a Residential IP Address?

It’s an IP address assigned to homeowners by internet service providers. So, your internet connection at home is residential, and you are a residential user.

Where Do Residential Proxies Come From?

Residential proxies come from the internet connections of regular people. It’s usually done through an SDK – a piece of code in various free apps that enables routing traffic through that device.

Can I Get Residential Proxy IPs for Free?

Not really. Anyone who offers them for free probably has other ways to make money from you. That could be ads, data mining, or something else.