What Is a Proxy Server and How Does It Work?
Browsing the web is far from private, and everyone knows it. Websites and apps track our online activities, making more and more people look for ways to protect their privacy.
This is when proxy servers come in.
Residential proxies are one of the best ways to keep your online identity private, giving you a chance to browse the web anonymously. But there’s more to proxy servers. They provide a wide range of benefits allowing you to explore everything the internet offers.
Before we explain the advantages of using them for individuals and businesses, let’s tackle what they are and how they work. Only by understanding the way they function will you be able to pick the right proxies for your needs and make the most out of them.
Let’s dig in!
What Is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is a single device with a single IP address tied to a physical location. When you use a proxy, it acts as a buffer between your device and the rest of the internet. In other words, your originaln IP address location, and other potentially sensitive information stay private. Think of it as renting someone else’s device or IP address to access a site or perform an online task.
As a result, you can browse the web anonymously, which can be helpful to almost anyone. Whether you’re an individual or business user, proxies can help you perform your online tasks more efficiently and safely. This is particularly true for private or dedicated proxies from reliable providers.
Overall, proxies are great for anyone who cares about online privacy and security and enjoying the internet without restrictions and limitations. Sometimes, people confuse them with VPNs, as both tools protect your identity online, but they don’t work the same way.
If you’re curious about what sets them apart, here’s all you need to know:
So let’s explore how exactly proxies work.
Understanding the Inner Workings of a Proxy Server
Every device connected to the internet has a unique IP address, just like everyone has a street address. It’s how the internet knows where to send the right data so that you can view the content you need. At the same time, IPs identify users and devices on the network.
A proxy server is a device connected to the internet with its own IP address that your device knows. So how does a proxy work? Simply put, it acts as an intermediary server between your device (computer, smartphone, gaming console, smart TV, etc.) and the internet. When connecting to the internet through a proxy server, the server acts as a middleman between you and the websites or online services you access.
Instead of accessing those sites directly, your requests are sent to the proxy, which then forwards them on your behalf. This indirect connection means that your IP address, location, and other online identifiable information are hidden from people who aren’t supposed to see them.
So what the destination website servers see is your proxy’s IP address and location instead of yours. As a result, the web servers don’t know your exact location and other online identifiable information.
It’s how proxies provide online anonymity and privacy, especially if they are private or dedicated to a single user. These are the most reliable and secure proxies as they are not shared between numerous users simultaneously. As a result, you have complete control over each activity.
Overall, proxies bridge your device and the website or app you want to access. It’s an added security layer that keeps your online identity, device, and data private.
Types of Proxies Based on the Direction of Traffic Flow
Types of proxies depend on different criteria, including traffic flow, application, anonymity level, service, etc. But we’re not going to discuss each one of them here. We’re only focusing on proxies based on the direction of traffic flow, which can either be forward or reverse. As for the other types of proxies, we’ll talk more about them in the next blog.
Let’s start by discussing forward proxies.
When you hear someone talk about a proxy, it’s most likely that they are talking about a forward proxy. It’s a server that sits between a client and the internet. When a client requests a resource from the internet, the request is first sent to the forward proxy server. The forward proxy then retrieves the requested resource on behalf of the client and sends it back to the client.
In a nutshell, it functions as a middleman for your online traffic, handling your web requests and receiving the responses on your behalf. People use this proxy type for anonymous browsing, bypassing geo-restrictions, and web scraping.
Depending on the origin, forward proxies can be residential or datacenter proxies.
- Residential proxies
These are obtained from real residential devices (laptops, computers, tablets, and smartphones) used by genuine users. Their IP addresses are registered with actual ISPs or internet service providers, making your traffic appear to be coming from those IPs instead of yours. For that reason, they have the highest IP trust scores and are regarded as the most secure type of proxies.
- Datacenter proxies
These are obtained from other sources, such as cloud services and data centers. Since they are not linked to real users and ISPs, they have a lower IP trust score than residential proxies. On the good side, they are a faster and cheaper option. They’re also better suited for tasks that require high speeds.
Reverse proxies have the same function as forward proxies, providing privacy and anonymity online. But unlike forward proxies, these sit in front of the web server instead of the client, hiding the web server’s identity.
To put it more simply, they do the opposite of what forward proxy servers do. By acting as a filter for incoming requests to a website, they help with caching, privacy, load balancing, security, and encryption.
So if you have a website, service, or app that gets a lot of traffic every day, reverse proxies can help you ensure everything runs smoothly and safely.
The Benefits of Using a Proxy Server
Using a proxy server is an excellent idea for several reasons. Whether you’re a business or private internet user, masking your IP address with another one will help you unlock unlimited access to the internet and make your experience more anonymous and safe.
But let’s go through some of the most significant advantages of using reliable proxy servers for both private and business users.
Improving Your Privacy
Nowadays, every company is trying to track our online activity and get user data. This is why maintaining online privacy is only possible if you use tools like proxies. By hiding your IP address and location, proxies ensure your online activity is impossible to track.
Even though surfing the net anonymously can be helpful to anyone, it’s particularly valuable for businesses, journalists, researchers, and NGOs. It’s the easiest way to increase their freedom of expression, get the information they need, and perform plenty of online business tasks efficiently and safely.
Accessing Geo-restricted Content
Geo-blocking is a common issue that prevents us from accessing the online content we want just because of our geographic location. HBO, Netflix, or any other international content provider can use this method to restrict us from accessing and/or using their content.
Sometimes, it’s the authorities and governments that block certain websites like social media networks and search engines in their countries. No matter who’s behind the geo-blocking, proxies can help.
The reason is that geo-restrictions rely on users’ IP addresses. With proxies, you’ll get another IP address from anywhere in the world, bypassing these restrictions. So if you live in the US and you use a German proxy, the service you’re accessing will see you and treat you as a German resident. This way, you can view German-restricted content from the US or anywhere else.
Improving Your Online Security
Any company or organization can be at risk of cyberattack and become its victim. From financial losses to reputation damage, the consequences can be catastrophic. For that reason, businesses should have a robust online security strategy to protect their network and data.
Hence the need for proxies. Reliable proxies should be a part of a business security strategy because they provide an additional layer of security for all devices on a corporate network. They operate at the application layer of the OSI model, cutting the risk of data leaks. Moreover, companies can use them as firewalls or web filters to stay protected from online threats like malware.
This can be beneficial for anyone, including private internet users. It’s the simplest way to protect your sensitive data and avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
Instead of manually gathering excessive amounts of data from websites, you can use automation tools called web scrapers to make this process faster and easier. Businesses use web scraping for reasons such as market research, price aggregation, lead generation, etc.
However, web scraping can be a sensitive topic, as many website owners don’t want their content stolen or used by third parties. For that reason, they may limit the number of requests from one IP address.
With proxies, you can avoid IP-based restrictions and help your web scraper send requests from various locations. This way, the requests appear as if they are coming from different visitors in different locations. As a result, it becomes impossible for the target web servers to detect and block your scraper.
SEO Monitoring and Research
Thanks to SEO, businesses can get on the first page of Google, which will help them get organic traffic, more customers, and higher revenue. This involves checking search engine result pages regularly and monitoring their competition.
Proxies make this process easier, allowing companies to replicate searches with numerous IPs from numerous locations. As a result, they get valuable SEO performance insights, allowing them to adjust their SEO strategy and improve their search engine ranking.
Providing Faster Speed and Saving Bandwidth
Every online user wants a speedy internet connection, especially when dealing with remote content. Whether gaming or scraping data, proxies can help improve the speed of content delivery and reduce the bandwidth used.
Certain types of proxies can cache frequently accessed content. This feature is particularly beneficial for corporate networks as it makes content instantly available to all users on the network. Aside from saving bandwidth, proxies reduce operational costs by improving page loading speed.
Blocking Access to Unwanted Websites
If you’re a business owner and want to prevent employees from accessing distracting websites during office hours, proxies can help. They allow you to block entire websites, specific URLs, or apps like Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube, ensuring no one is wasting time at work.
This feature can also help you to keep users away from illegal or unsafe websites, thus protecting your corporate data. Likewise, proxies can help network administrators monitor traffic and introduce new rules as necessary.
The list of benefits of using a proxy server doesn’t end here, especially for business users. They often use proxies to manage multiple social media accounts, improve email security, balance traffic to prevent the network from crashing, perform web testing, verify ads, etc.
The Potential Dangers of Using a Proxy Server
Like anything else operating over the internet, proxies can also pose certain cyber threats, especially if they are free and shared. Shared proxies obtained from unreliable providers are not the best choice for anyone who cares about online security, privacy, and speed.
Some of the dangers associated with proxies include a lack of encryption. Unlike VPNs, proxies may not support encryption, making your connection unsafe. They may also run on open ports, which helps cybercriminals gain access to sensitive data.
Another reason why you may want to avoid free proxies is the inconsistent speed and frequent crashes. If you rely on proxy servers to keep you protected, you should be able to rely on them at all times. Therefore, it’s critical that you use premium private proxies from a reliable provider. Only that way can you take full advantage of everything they have to offer.
What is a proxy server definition?
A proxy server is an intermediary between your device and the website or online platform you want to access. It keeps your online identity private by using its own IP address to connect you to the destination server.
What is a proxy server used for?
As long as the proxy is reliable, you can use it for many private and business-related online activities. These include anonymous browsing, efficient web scraping, SEO monitoring and research, bypassing geo-restrictions, protecting sensitive data, online gaming, etc.
What’s the difference between a VPN and a proxy?
While both can protect your online identity and enhance your privacy, they work differently. Proxies are faster and have a more diverse set of features. VPNs, on the other hand, encrypt your traffic by default, which is a plus. However, they’re not suitable for specific tasks proxies can handle.
Why should you NEVER use free proxies?
Free proxies are unreliable, so they may stop working when you need them the most. They usually offer slow speeds and may already be blacklisted by many websites due to their questionable history. Also, cybercriminals can set them up as a front to steal your sensitive data.
Is it legal to use proxies?
Using proxies isn’t illegal as long as you don’t use them for any illegal activities. The legality of using proxies depends on the country in which you plan to use them. Certain countries may forbid using proxies for specific tasks, so make sure to stay up-to-date on local laws and regulations.