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What Is A Proxy Server: A Beginner’s Guide in 2023

In this comprehensive article, we'll answer all of your questions about proxy servers including what they are, how they work, and how to use them.

Carl Gamutan

by Carl Gamutan

Publishing Date: February 6, 2023


Anytime a user connects to the internet, whether through their computer or mobile phone, that device will use an IP address. Akin to your home address, an IP address will serve as a guideline that tells incoming data where to go and provides outgoing data with an address that devices can authenticate. This means that any online website you visit or web application you utilize will be able to see your IP address.

A proxy server is a computer system or an application that acts as an intermediary between a client and a server. It functions as a gateway between your device and the internet, allowing you to make requests and receive responses without directly connecting to the internet. Websites will only be able to see the IP address of the proxy server, and your IP address will be hidden entirely.

How Does A Proxy Server Work?

A standard proxy server configuration is when you request access to a website or web application, the request is first sent to the proxy server. The proxy server then sends the request to the internet on your behalf. The response from the website is then sent back to the proxy server, which in turn passes it back to you.

A proxy server works either for a user or a business. It would give either of them all the benefits. You can use a proxy server to protect your information from the internet and give you anonymity, while businesses can use a proxy server to protect their website or web server from malicious users and even use it to prevent their employees from accessing malicious content.

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How To Get A Proxy Server?

There are three main ways you can get a proxy server:

  • Use a free online proxy service: Many websites offer free proxy servers that can be used to access the internet. These services usually have a simple interface where you can enter a website's address, and the proxy server will fetch the site's content on your behalf. However, keep in mind that free proxy servers may be unreliable and may compromise your privacy and security.

  • Buy a private proxy server: You can also purchase a private proxy server from a variety of third-party network providers. Private proxy servers offer more reliable performance and increased privacy and security compared to free proxy services.

When buying a private proxy server, it is important to choose a reputable provider that offers high-quality servers and good customer support. Check out Geonode’s proxy services here!

  • Build an in-house proxy server system: If you have some technical know-how, you can set up your proxy server by installing proxy software on a computer or server that is connected to the internet. This option provides the most control over your proxy server and the highest level of privacy and security, but it also requires a more significant investment of time and resources.

No matter which option you choose, it is important to research your proxy server options carefully and choose a provider that fits your needs and budget. Before using a proxy server, make sure to understand how it works and what its capabilities and limitations are.

Why Use a Proxy Server?

There are multiple benefits when using a proxy server:

  • Improved security. Through a proxy server, you will be able to hide your IP address from websites. A proxy server can encrypt all of your incoming and outgoing data, which will give you a secure connection. Servers will also not be able to discern where your web requests come from.

  • Enhanced privacy. A proxy server will give you full anonymity when accessing the internet. Your browsing habits will remain private, and malware sites or people with malicious intent will not be able to access your personal information through your IP address.

  • Lower bandwidth and faster loading speed. When you use a proxy server, your computer sends its requests to the proxy, which then makes the request to the website on your behalf. This allows the proxy to cache some of the data from the website, which means that when you visit the same site again, your computer doesn't have to download all the information from scratch.

This can lead to significant reductions in loading times, especially when you're visiting large or complex websites with lots of images, videos, and other data-intensive content.

In addition to its caching capabilities, a proxy server can also help to reduce the amount of data that is transmitted by compressing it before it's sent to your computer. This can further speed up your connection and make the most of your available bandwidth.

  • Better network performance. An excellent proxy provider will have proxy locations all over the world. This means that you can connect to a proxy server that will have a close physical distance to a specific server.

For example, you can connect to a proxy server that’s close to Youtube’s server and you will gain an improved internet connection. This is particularly helpful to gamers as their ping and in-game latency will be minimized.

  • Access to geo-restricted resources. As you can freely change your location to anywhere you want in the world, you will be able to gain access to content that’s restricted only to certain locations. The biggest examples of this would be Netflix or Hulu as both shows limited content to countries due to copyright.

If there’s a show you want to watch, but it’s only available in the United Kingdom, then you can use a proxy server to change your location to the UK even though you live in another country.

  • Control Of Internet Usage. Organizations like companies or schools can use a proxy server to both control and monitor how the internet is being used. They can utilize it to block certain websites from being accessed or see how users are making use of the internet.

  • Avoid bans when using automation tools. Websites don’t like it when you use automation tools like bots or web scrapers on their site because those tools send hundreds or thousands of requests that may slow the server down.

So if they detect that you’re using an automation tool, they would immediately ban your account and may even blacklist your IP address from accessing the website again. A proxy server will let you avoid this from happening.

Read more: Proxy Server Use Cases | Understanding the Benefits of Proxies

What Are The Different Types Of Proxy Servers?

There are several types of proxy servers, each having its unique feature. Proxy servers classifications are based on several things like where it comes from, the level of anonymity it gives you, what protocol it’s using, and many more.

Forward Proxy Server

These types of proxy servers are used to send specific data to various groups of users that are within a network. A forward proxy sits between clients and servers and is used to control access to the Internet.

It acts as an intermediary, allowing clients to make indirect network connections to other servers. For example, a company might use a forward proxy to control Internet access for its employees and monitor their online activities.

Reverse Proxy Server

As forward proxy servers are in front of clients, reverse proxies are in front of web servers. A reverse proxy sits in front of one or multiple servers and acts as the first line of defense against incoming traffic. Its main purpose is to provide additional security, load balancing, and traffic management.

For example, when you access a website, the reverse proxy intercepts your request and forwards it to the server that hosts the website. The reverse proxy then takes the response from the server and returns it to you.

Source Proxy Server (IP Location)

Source proxy servers are based on what types of IP addresses you’re using and where those IP addresses come from. It could be an artificially created IP address or an IP address sourced from an actual user. The three main types of Source proxy servers are datacenter, residential, and mobile proxy servers.

  • Datacenter Proxy Server - These types of proxy servers are provided by a secondary corporation and are not affiliated with an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your requests will be routed toward a physical data center, hence its name.

Datacenter proxies are suited for users that want fast response times while also being a cheap option. The downside to it being fast and cheap though is that it doesn’t offer the highest protection to the user’s privacy and security.

  • Residential Proxy Server - These are the most reliable type of proxy servers because it uses actual residential IP addresses from real devices around the world. This makes the user seem like a genuine user from the location of the proxy server that they chose.

Residential proxies are best suited for users that want to do more advanced tasks like verifying ads, avoiding bans when using a bot, and blocking cookies. The only downside to using residential proxies is that they cost a hefty amount of money compared to other types of proxies.

  • Mobile Proxy Server - Mobile proxies use IP addresses from mobile devices using their mobile data. It has to be specifically mobile data as using Wi-fi for internet connection simply makes them residential proxies instead of mobile proxies. This essentially means that you’ll be utilizing real IP addresses that were assigned by the mobile phone’s mobile carriers and your traffic will be redirected to their network.

Anonymous Proxy Server

Anonymous proxy servers are the types of proxy servers that can change this information depending on the level of anonymity that the proxies provide. The three anonymity-based proxy classifications are Transparent proxies, High Anonymity proxies, and Distorting proxies.

  • Transparent proxies offer the least amount of anonymity of any proxy type. They don’t hide the fact that you’re using a proxy server. All websites you visit and web applications you use will know that you’re using a proxy IP address and will also be able to see your real IP address.

  • High Anonymity proxies offer a moderate amount of anonymity. They are also known as semi-transparent proxies, and they hide your IP address and location, but they don’t hide the fact that you’re using a proxy.

  • Distorting proxies, also known as Elite proxies, offer you the largest amount of anonymity of any proxy type. Not only do they hide your IP address and location, but they will also conceal the fact that you’re using a proxy IP.

Protocol Proxy Server

These types of proxy servers are defined by how your device routes data on the internet, so it’s based on how you connect to websites or web applications. There are a lot of protocol-based proxy servers, but the three most used are HTTP, HTTPS, and SOCKS5 proxy servers.

  • HTTP proxy servers are the most common proxy types, and they use the HTTP protocol that’s quite compatible with most websites.

  • HTTPS proxy server, also known as SSL proxies, are the better version of an HTTP proxy. HTTPS proxies are the most secure type of proxy as they use the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol to encrypt outgoing data and decrypt incoming data.

  • SOCKS5 proxy servers are one of the newest proxy servers in the market. They are versatile and can handle most tasks that you would want to use a proxy on. Not only do SOCKS5 proxies support the TCP protocol, but they are also compatible with the UDP protocol.

Access Proxy Server

These types of proxy servers are based on how you acquire your proxy server. It’s mainly divided into three main types:

  • Public proxy servers are ones you get for free on the internet. There are a lot of services that offer free proxy lists that anyone can use. It’s best to be careful when using these types of proxy servers as they can often be unreliable and untrustworthy. If you’re going to use a free proxy server, it’s best to get it from a reputable proxy provider.

  • Shared proxy servers are ones where you share your data and bandwidth with other users for a lower price.

  • Private proxy servers, also known as Dedicated proxies, are ones you acquire from a proxy provider’s online service.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Proxy Server?

A proxy server is a computer system or an application that acts as a gateway between a user and the internet.

What is a proxy server used for?

The main purpose of a proxy server is to enhance internet privacy and security, whether it’s for a user or a web server, but there are many other different purposes of a proxy server.

Is a VPN a proxy?

No, A Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a proxy server are two different technologies that are used to route internet traffic. While they both have similar functions, they are not the same thing.

Read more: Difference Between a VPN and Proxy Server

What is an example of a proxy server?

There are many examples of a proxy server, here are the most commonly used ones: HTTP proxy servers, SOCKS proxy servers, Forward proxy servers, and Reverse proxy servers.

What are the benefits of a proxy server?

There are many benefits a proxy server can bring, some of which include: improved security and privacy, lower bandwidth and improved loading speed, access to geo-restricted resources, controlled internet usage, and many more.

Residential Proxy versus Datacenter Proxy

When comparing datacenter proxies and residential proxies, datacenter IPs are faster, more stable, and cheaper than residential IPs, but residential IPs give you more anonymity, more different locations, and make you look more like an actual user. The better one of the two though would depend on what you want to use the proxies for and the budget that you have.

Read more: Detailed Comparison of Residential and Datacenter Proxy

What is a Reverse proxy?

A reverse proxy sits in front of one or multiple servers and acts as the first line of defense against incoming traffic. Its main purpose is to provide additional security, load balancing, and traffic management.

What is a PAC file?

"PAC" stands for "Proxy Auto-Configuration." A PAC file is a simple JavaScript file that tells a web browser or application how to determine the appropriate proxy server to use for a specific URL.

Are proxy servers legal?

Proxies are technically legal, but the way they are used can make them illegal. A proxy server can be used for legitimate purposes, such as to provide internet users with enhanced privacy, security, or faster speeds. However, they can also be used to hide illegal activities, such as accessing banned websites, bypassing content filters, or engaging in copyright infringement.

Are proxy servers ethical?

The ethics of using proxy servers is a complex issue with valid arguments on both sides. While the use of proxy servers can provide important benefits, such as improved online privacy and security, it is important to consider the potential downsides and responsibilities involved before deciding to use one.

As with all things related to technology, it is up to each individual to determine what is right for them based on their values and needs.

Which browsers support proxy servers?

Almost all web browsers support proxy servers, although we do recommend using the newest version of whatever browser you’re using.

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