When you look at different VPN providers, you often see mentioned the terms shared IP and dedicated IP. Depending on what you’re hoping to use a VPN for, having access to one or the other (or both) is needed.
So how do you know exactly which type of VPN IP you need? That’s easy. By understanding the difference between the two. Once you do, the choice will be clear.
What Is a VPN IP
Before looking at how a shared and dedicated IP VPN differ, it’s important to step back a bit and understand what a virtual private network IP is in the first place.
Anytime you access the internet, your device is assigned an IP address. Think of it like the computer world equivalent to your home mailing address.
Thanks to the IP, when you send data from your device, a website or another online service you’re using knows where that data came from. Likewise, if someone needs to send any information back to you, they know where it needs to go.
At home, your device typically gets its IP address from your internet service provider (ISP). But, when you access the internet through a VPN, things work a little different.
The VPN hides the IP assigned by your ISP and replaces it with one of its own. That VPN IP becomes your outward facing address. From that point onward, the VPN server will act as a man-in-the-middle and automatically relay any data meant for you to your home IP.
Going back to our home mailing address analogy, it’s like using a mail forwarding service.
The exact IP the VPN assigns your device depends on a few things. The location and instance of the VPN server you connect to are one. And, whether your VPN provider uses shared or dedicated IPs is another.
What Is a Shared VPN IP Address
A shared (or dynamic) IP address is by far the most common type of IP used by VPNs. Here is how it works.
It starts with every VPN server having a pool of IPs, which can range in size from one to dozens or even hundreds of addresses. The exact number is up to the VPN provider (and varies between them).
When VPN users like you or I connect to a shared IP server, it assigns one of the IPs from the pool to our device. Eventually, as more and more of us connect to the same server, the pool runs dry.
When that happens, instead of turning anyone away, addresses start being re-used, and multiple people end up sharing the same VPN IP (hence the name “shared IP”). This all happens transparently behind the scenes.
How many of us wind up on a single IP address depends on how the VPN provider chooses to configure its servers. But it could be dozens or more.
Having multiple users on the same address has several advantages. But, as with everything, there are also a few downsides.
- Excellent privacy and anonymity
- Better choice of server locations
- Lower subscription cost
By far, the biggest advantage of a dynamic VPN IP address is privacy and anonymity.
When one IP is shared by many individuals, it’s very difficult for anyone at the destination end (website, another P2P client, etc.) to figure out who’s doing what.
The VPN provider itself can sometimes still piece together what you do. After all, it knows your real IP for data forwarding purposes.
But to the rest of the internet, good luck. Unless someone can cross reference several points of data, including any logs the provider keeps, the task is next to impossible. This, by the way, is why for true anonymity, you need a no logs VPN.
Lower cost is another advantage of shared IPs. When a single address can be reused by multiple users, things are easier and cheaper for the VPN company to manage. Everyone’s treated the same, and there are no exceptions to handle. Less hardware is also required.
Both those things translate to lower operational costs for the VPN. It’s a competitive market, so those savings are then passed on to you in the form of more affordable subscriptions.
A dynamic IP VPN also usually means you’ll have more locations to connect to. In the end, shared IPs are what most users want. So, it only makes sense that’s where VPNs invest money.
It’s not uncommon to see a single provider offer thousands of dynamic IP servers across 50 (and sometimes 150) or more countries around the world. If you need to access content geo-blocked by a small European country, for example, a shared IP is the way to go.
- Sharing resources with other users
- Punishment for other people’s bad behaviour
Everything has a downside, including shared VPN IPs. The most obvious issue is performance.
When you share an IP with many other users, you also share other server resources. These resources include network bandwidth, memory, and CPUs.
Even just one person downloading huge amounts of data can impact overall server performance. In other words, everyone on the same shared IP pays the price for other peoples’ actions.
To get around this problem, VPN services often run multiple servers in one location. When one server becomes too busy, new users connect to one that isn’t. It’s called load balancing.
Another downside of dynamic IP VPNs is that the actions of other people sharing an address with you may impact your internet experience.
For example, if too many users on one IP use Google at the same time, Google may think it’s being spammed. The most likely consequence of this is you’ll need to fill in a reCAPTCHA query (like the one below) before Google lets you proceed. That can get annoying.
Websites can also blacklist an IP for bad behavior. If someone from a shared VPN IP has spammed a site in the past, that address may now be denied access.
In that situation, you’ll need to reconnect to the VPN and get a different IP address. Odds are you’ll get one. Though this type of blacklisting happens very rarely (I’ve only ever come across it a few times), it is something to be aware of when using a shared IP.
Ultimately, I personally consider having to, once in a blue moon, fill in a reCAPTCHA query or reconnect to the VPN a minor inconvenience at best for much-improved anonymity on the internet.
Best Uses for a Shared VPN IP
Given the advantages and disadvantages of a dynamic VPN IP address, the best uses for one are as follows:
- Private and anonymous web browsing
- Anonymous peer-to-peer and torrent downloads
- Unblocking of geo-restricted content
VPN Providers That Use a Shared IP Address
If a shared IP address is what you need, the good news is just about every provider offers one. Though, admittedly, some do a better job of it than others. Here is a list of VPNs I consider, in my humble opinion, to be some of the best choices.
What Is a Dedicated VPN IP Address
Static VPN IP addresses (as dedicated IPs are also sometimes called) are much rarer than their dynamic brethren. Only a few consumer VPN services offer them.
Simply put, a dedicated IP is your own private IP that no one else has or ever will have access to.
When you buy a static IP from a VPN provider, they will assign it to one and only one of their servers in a geographical location of your choosing. They will then bind the IP to your account, making sure only you can connect to it.
It’s kind of like having a second home IP address, except the location may be thousands of miles away, perhaps in a whole other country.
- Same IP address with every connection
- Less likely to be blacklisted by streaming and gaming services
- No punishment for other people’s bad behaviour
- Less resource sharing with others
- May be faster
The advantage of a dedicated IP address is simply that it doesn’t change. Every time you connect to the VPN, you’ll be assigned the exact same IP, guaranteed. This can be a very good thing in many situations.
Keeping your IP consistent may, for example, matter when accessing online banking.
If you log into your account from a different IP every time, flags will be raised. Banks are very suspicious of such behavior (and with good reason). You may even get temporarily locked out until you can confirm your identity (usually via phone call). A static IP means no red flags.
There are some instances in which you may want to whitelist an IP address as the only one allowed to use a service. This is usually done for security purposes. If your IP changes every time you’re on the internet, clearly, whitelisting will not work.
Static IP addresses are also much less likely to be blacklisted by various streaming services or gaming platforms who frown upon VPN use. Think the likes of Netflix, Hulu, the BBC iPlayer, or Steam.
When such a service sees dozens of different devices accessing their servers at the same time using the same address, they know it’s a shared VPN IP. There is no other usage pattern which could explain it. In time, that IP will get banned.
Because only one person ever uses a static IP (you), they will usually fly under the radar.
Another dedicated address advantage is that you avoid the “bad neighbor” effect. Again, no one but you is using the IP. It can’t get flagged for bad behavior for someone else’s actions the same way a shared IP can.
No more Google reCAPTCHAs.
Finally, static IPs may end up being faster. Because you’re not sharing your IP’s bandwidth allocation with other people, your connection won’t see slowdowns as a result of their activities.
- Reduced anonymity
- Some additional cost
A significant downside of dedicated VPN IPs is that your online activities are far less anonymous.
With a shared IP, you hide among the crowd. A dozen other people are concurrently accessing internet resources all over the world from the same address. It’s anyone’s guess who’s actually doing what.
However, when it’s just your device using an IP, tracing any internet activity back to you becomes a much simpler job.
Static IP addresses also come at an additional cost. They require extra setup and maintenance by the VPN provider. While the price is usually only a few dollars per month, for some of us, that may be a deal breaker.
Best Uses for a Dedicated VPN IP
Static VPN IP addresses work best in the following cases:
- Accessing online financial services or other high-security websites
- Accessing streaming (Netflix, Hulu, BBC) or gaming (Steam) services which blacklist VPN IPs
- When IP whitelisting is required
- Hassle-free web browsing (i.e., avoiding Google’s annoying reCAPTCHA)
What Is a Dedicated IP VPN
A dedicated IP VPN is simply a VPN service with which you can get a static IP address. There will typically be a limited number of server locations on which dedicated IPs can be installed, far fewer than the overall number of server locations that VPN has.
Does Every VPN Give You a Static IP?
There is only a handful of consumer VPN services which give you the option to purchase a static IP address. The best of the bunch are NordVPN and CyberGhost.
A NordVPN dedicated IP costs $70 per year, which works out to $5.83 per month. That cost is on top of your regular subscription fees. They offer static IPs in the following locations:
CyberGhost, on the other hand, charges a bit less for a static address at $5 per month (again, in addition to your standard subscription). You have the option to set up your IP in one of these six locations:
Which Type of VPN IP Is Better?
Whether a static VPN IP address or a dynamic one is better ultimately depends on what you’re trying to do.
If privacy and anonymity are your main goals, without a doubt, a shared address is your best choice. This applies to both web browsing and P2P traffic.
If you’de like to view content geo-blocked to a smaller country, a dynamic IP may also be the only way for you to do that.
On the other hand, for any activity where security matters (like banking), or for accessing content provided by a service that typically blocks VPNs (the Netflixes of the world), a static VPN IP is the clear winner.
Also note that if you do end up getting a dedicated IP address with either NordVPN or CyberGhost, you automatically get access to the shared ones too. By having the ability to switch between them at will, you get the best of both worlds.