Web scraping relies on using proxies and IP addresses to access data on target websites without getting blocked. As the transition from the older IPv4 protocol to the newer IPv6 progresses, scrapers need to understand the key differences between these protocols and how they impact their work. What are the main pros and cons of IPv4 versus IPv6 when it comes to web scraping?
Brief Background on IPv4 and IPv6
First, a quick overview of what these terms mean. IP addresses are used to identify devices and route traffic on the internet. The original IP addressing scheme is IPv4, which provides approximately 4 billion unique addresses.
IPv6 was created to solve the depletion of IPv4 addresses. It massively expands the available address space to 340 undecillion addresses. The transition to IPv6 has been slowly progressing for over a decade, as internet infrastructure and devices switch over to support the new protocol.
Key Advantages of IPv6
So why was IPv6 created and what benefits does it offer? Here are some of the main advantages of IPv4:
- Vastly bigger pool of addresses – The huge increase in available IP addresses solves the depletion problem and enables future internet growth.
- Built-in security – IPSEC security is mandatory in IPv6, improving authentication and encryption.
- Simpler protocol – IPv6 was designed to simplify aspects of IPv4 and make routing more efficient.
- Supports mobility – Better support for mobile devices and cellular connectivity.
- Optimized for IoT – The huge address space suits the growth of IoT devices. Address auto-configuration simplifies connections.
Current IPv6 Adoption Rates
IPv6 adoption is clearly ramping up year over year. However, global adoption rates remain low overall:
- As of 2022, global IPv6 adoption crossed the 30% threshold for the first time, according to Google.
- Adoption ranges from 61% in Belgium down to just 3% in many parts of Africa.
- The US adoption rate was around 50% as of 2022.
So the majority of internet traffic is still based on IPv4. But IPv6 usage is steadily climbing across industries and regions.
Support in Web Scraping Tools and Proxy Services
When it comes to web scraping tools and proxy services, here is the current landscape:
- Many scraping tools, APIs, libraries, etc. now support IPv6, but IPv4 remains the norm.
- Leading proxy providers offer IPv6 proxies, but at a lower scale than IPv4 proxies.
- The availability and cost efficiency of IPv6 proxies continues to improve.
So IPv6 support is maturing, but IPv4 remains the standard for now. Scrapers aren't locked into IPv4, but need to proactively enable IPv6 compatible tools and proxies.
Proxy Cost Differences
One of the main potential advantages of IPv6 for scrapers is significant cost savings:
- Due to the massive supply, IPv6 proxies can be purchased fairly cheaply.
- Some providers offer IPv6 proxies for as low as $1 per 1 million requests.
- IPv4 proxies generally cost $3-10+ per 1 million requests in comparison.
However, this pricing advantage could change as IPv6 adoption increases demand. But for now, IPv6 proxies are priced very attractively.
Reliability and Blocking Resistance
When it comes to reliability and avoiding blocks, the long track record and maturity of IPv4 gives it an edge:
- IPv4 proxies have been proven for scraping at scale across many types of sites.
- IPv6 is still early in maturity – there's less data on successful large-scale scraping over IPv6.
- Some proxy providers have found IPv6 proxies are more prone to blocks by websites vs IPv4. This needs more research.
So for mission-critical scraping where blocks could be very detrimental, IPv4 remains the cautious choice for now.
Do IPv4 and IPv6 differ in speed when used for general web scraping purposes? Based on comparisons, any speed differences appear negligible:
- Web request latency and download speeds are highly similar in tests.
- In some cases, IPv6 has slightly lower latency. But differences are in milliseconds.
So performance and speed factors aren't a major consideration when choosing between these protocols for scraping.
When Are IPv6 Proxies a Good Choice?
Here are examples of use cases where IPv6 proxies could be recommended:
- The target website and network infrastructure natively support IPv6.
- You need to maximize the scale of a scraping operation, and cheaper IPv6 proxies help achieve the volume required.
- Your scraping operation is low risk, so the unproven reliability of IPv6 isn't a dealbreaker.
Scrapers should check if sites support IPv6 and perform pilots before fully switching over.
Challenges With Adopting IPv6
What are some of the potential challenges when switching to IPv6 proxies?
- Immature support – IPv6 adoption is still ramping up across tools and services. Bugs or limitations may exist.
- Configuration complexity – Running dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 adds complications and expertise needed.
- Lack of experience – Best practices are still emerging given the newness of IPv6 scraping.
- Reliability uncertainty – More blocking data needs to be gathered over time for IPv6.
Thorough testing and gradual dual-stack adoption are recommended to smooth the transition.
For most web scraping applications, IPv4 remains the go-to option for its established reliability. However, as IPv6 gains traction, scrapers are encouraged to explore its potential, particularly for specialized site targeting or cost-effective scaling. Though IPv4 currently leads, IPv6 is poised to become more prominent as its support improves. Scrapers would benefit from keeping an eye on their providers' IPv6 offerings and adopting a dual IP stack approach to enhance flexibility and operational efficiency.