How to do IP Geolocation in Ruby on Rails

Last Updated Nov 18, 2021
Emma Jagger

Engineer, maker, Google alumna, CMU grad

The need to translate a visitor’s IP address to his physical location exists for more than 20 years, and multiple kinds of industries, from banking to e-commerce, are using IP geolocation technologies. Regional licensing, legal concerns, geo-targeting, marketing strategies, geo-blocking, political concerns are only a few of many examples where IP geolocation becomes a necessity.

Rails include many mechanisms based on the location of visitors to display information that corresponds to their geographical context without requiring too much effort on the part of developers. The I18n Internationalization API, an integral part of Rails since version 2.2, provides a powerful framework for creating multilingual applications. I18n manages translations, date and time formats, names of days and months, pluralization rules, and much more.  This is also a common requirement on web apps, where due to regulations like GDPR in the European Union you need the user's explicit consent via cookie banner.

For example, the helper method number_to_currency, which takes an integer or decimal number as input, returns a string representing a price formatted according to the requested locale.


number_to_currency 1234.50
# => $1,234.50

number_to_currency 1234.50, locale: :fr
# => 1 234,50 €

Displaying a price formatted in the visitor's locale is very easy in Rails, but it remains the developer's responsibility to convert currency values, which is out of the scope of this article.

Key concepts in IP address geolocation

At a high-level, IP geolocation consists of getting the visitor’s IP address, then querying a database to get data about the visitor’s physical location, such as GPS coordinates, time zone, country, city, and so on. You can use our tool to quickly get your IP address and location.

A developer needs to understand IP geolocation has some limitations. Every internet user is accessing the web from behind the infrastructure of their internet service provider, which means their public IP could translate into a physical location in the neighborhood of their current location.

Try it by yourself: search Google for “Where am I now” and look where those websites locate you. You will notice your location may be slightly out of place. This can even be worse for users behind a VPN, which can be used to appear to be in a different city, state, and even country.

In this article, we will focus on three different ways to implement IP geolocation in Ruby, which can also be used in a Ruby on Rails application.

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Using the Geocoder gem to do IP Geolocation in Ruby

Geocoder is a well-maintained and popular Ruby gem available on Github. Among few other tools, it can be used to retrieve location from an IP address. Geocoder gem relies on an external API to provide the requested data. The list of supported API is available on their Github repository.

The tedious parts are obtaining a Key from your favorite API and configuring the gem, after which looking for an IP address location is very simple:


results = Geocoder.search("172.56.21.89")
results.first.coordinates
=> [30.267153, -97.7430608]
results.first.country
=> "United States"

The accuracy of the location you can obtain depends on your visitor's internet provider's infrastructure, as mentioned above, and the quality of the API you are using.

The downsides of the Geocoder gem

Geocoder does not know how to perform geolocation by itself. It is simply a proxy for using an external API.

As mentioned above, and depending on your choice's API service, it may be difficult to create a key and authorize your application. As an example, Google Cloud Console can be very confusing.

Setting up the localization in your Rails project via I18n

To translate all the string used by core Rails, you need only to install the rails-i18n gem, which provides the translation in more than a hundred languages. You can also write your own translation in the files located in the config/locales directory.

Add one of the following lines to your Gemfile:


gem 'rails-i18n', '~> 6.0.0' # For 6.0.0 or higher
gem 'rails-i18n', '~> 5.1' # For 5.0.x, 5.1.x and 5.2.x
gem 'rails-i18n', '~> 4.0' # For 4.0.x
gem 'rails-i18n', '~> 3.0' # For 3.x

Then update your bundle:


bundle update

You must then set up a mechanism that allows the controller to determine which locale to use for the current request. Here is the list of elements to consider:

  • the locale is saved in the user's session,
  • a user can manually change the locale if he prefers to use your site in another language
  • the system falls back to the default locale.

You can implement this function in a before_action of all your controllers:


class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  before_action :set_locale

  protected def set_locale
    I18n.locale = params[:locale] || # 1: use request parameter, if available
      session[:locale] ||            # 2: use the value saved in iurrent session
      I18n.default_locale            # last: fallback to default locale
  end
end

You also need to save the selected locale in the user's session:


class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  before_action :set_locale
  after_action :save_locale

  protected def set_locale
    I18n.locale = params[:locale] || # 1: use request parameter, if available
      session[:locale] ||            # 2: use the value saved in iurrent session
      I18n.default_locale            # last: fallback to default locale
  end

  protected def save_locale
    session[:locale] = I18n.locale
  end
end

Add automatic locale detection with IP geolocation

One of the most convenient features for a website is to automatically detect new visitors' geographical location and display itself in the locality corresponding to their region. This can be implemented through geolocation.

To do so, it is possible to use the geoip gem, which searches through a database to match an IP address to its geographical location.

Install the geoip gem in your Gemfile:


gem 'geoip'

Then update your bundle:


bundle update

Download the geolocation database from the MaxMind website, and extract the files in your Rails directory.

You can then use the gem's API to obtain the geographical location of your visitor from their IP address:


require 'geoip'

maxmind_db_location = '/path/to/GeoLite2-City.mmdb'
ip_address = '173.194.112.35'

g = GeoIP.new maxmind_db_location
loc = g.city ip_address
puts loc.country_code
# => US

However, this is not the easiest method, mainly because it requires a lot of maintenance as you will have to regularly download every MaxMind database updates in order to keep your geolocation accurate. It may not contain all the information you need, such as whether the IP address is using a VPN or proxy service.

Using the free Abstract IP geolocation service (easier)

An even simpler alternative to Geocoder is the use of Abstract IP Geolocation API. It’s a free, world-class API, extremely precise, and able to provide lots of details from an IP address, including city, region, country, GPS coordinates... You can even pair it with Abstract's timezone API to get even more granular data.

As for most API services, you will first have to create an account on the Abstract website, automatically providing you with the API key and giving you access to the documentation. Then you are already all set-up and ready to go!

At this stage, you can already test the API from your browser by opening a URL like the one below, replacing YOUR_API_KEY with the key you obtained from your account page in the Abstract website:


https://ipgeolocation.abstractapi.com/v1/?api_key=YOUR_API_KEY&ip_address=92.184.105.98

As a result, you will obtain multiple details about a location associated with this IP address. You can also try it with your own public IP address.

Now let’s implement this in a formal Ruby way, using the Net::HTTP Ruby standard library:


require 'net/http'
require 'net/https'

def make_abstract_request
  uri = URI('https://ipgeolocation.abstractapi.com/v1/?api_key=YOUR_API_KEY&ip_address=92.184.105.98')

  http = Net::HTTP.new(uri.host, uri.port)
  http.use_ssl = true
  http.verify_mode = OpenSSL::SSL::VERIFY_PEER

  request = Net::HTTP::Get.new(uri)

  response = http.request(request)

  return response.body
rescue StandardError => error
  puts "Error (#{ error.message })"
end

pp JSON.parse(make_abstract_request)

You can run this code in a ruby console. Here is the response you would get:


{
  "ip_address": "92.184.105.98",
  "city": "Daglan",
  "city_geoname_id": 3021928,
  "region": "Nouvelle-Aquitaine",
  "region_iso_code": "NAQ",
  "region_geoname_id": 11071620,
  "postal_code": "24250",
  "country": "France",
  "country_code": "FR",
  "country_geoname_id": 3017382,
  "country_is_eu": true,
  "continent": "Europe",
  "continent_code": "EU",
  "continent_geoname_id": 6255148,
  "longitude": 1.19282,
  "latitude": 44.7419,
  "security": {
    "is_vpn": false
  },
  "timezone": {
    "name": "Europe/Paris",
    "abbreviation": "CET",
    "gmt_offset": 1,
    "current_time": "11:52:28",
    "is_dst": false
  },
  "flag": {
    "emoji": "🇫🇷",
    "unicode": "U+1F1EB U+1F1F7",
    "png": "https://static.abstractapi.com/country-flags/FR_flag.png",
    "svg": "https://static.abstractapi.com/country-flags/FR_flag.svg"
  },
  "currency": {
    "currency_name": "Euros",
    "currency_code": "EUR"
  },
  "connection": {
    "autonomous_system_number": 3215,
    "autonomous_system_organization": "Orange S.A.",
    "connection_type": "Cellular",
    "isp_name": "Orange S.A.",
    "organizaton_name": "Internet OM"
  }
}

Abstract's IP Geolocation API comes with Ruby on Rails libraries, code snippets, guides, and more.

Get started for free
Abstract's IP Geolocation API comes with Ruby on Rails libraries, code snippets, guides, and more.
Get started