What Is A Proxy Server

A proxy server is a kind of gateway between you and the internet. It’s a middleman server that separates users from the websites they visit. Proxy servers may provide different levels of functionality, security, and privacy depending on your needs, specifications, or company policy. Want to know more about this? Then read our in-depth guide explaining everything about this topic.

Ben Grindlow

Ben Grindlow is the founder of ProXPN, a company that provides reviews about VPN products and services. Ben's interest in cybersecurity and privacy led him to start ProXPN, which has become one of the most well-respected VPN providers in the world. Ben is passionate about his work, and he is constantly exploring new ways to improve ProXPN's in-depth guides.

Last updated: 9:09AM 6/17/2022

ProXPN Expert Picks

4.9/5
3.5/5
4.9/5
3.5/5
4.9/5
3.5/5

Table of Contents

World's leading & most secure VPN provider

🔥 Save 60%! 🔥

If you’ve spent any time on the settings of your internet browser, you have probably come across the options for proxy settings, but precisely what is a proxy, or proxy server?

This article will hope to explain:

  • How a proxy server works, including the different types of proxy servers and how it differs from a VPN
  • What proxy servers can be used for.
  • How to set your own proxy settings.

What is a proxy server?

A web proxy server acts as an intermediary server that sits between the user and the content they seek to access. They can be run on behalf of the user or the web servers hosting the content and have a number of uses including web-filtering and can prevent a hacker from invading a private network.

Modern proxy servers have far more to offer than just this, however.

How do proxy servers work?

Once you set up a proxy server, it appears as if you are accessing the internet as normal, however all of your web traffic is sent via the proxy server.

For example, if you are using a proxy server and you type a URL into your web browser…

  1. Your device sends this request to the proxy server.
  2. The proxy forwards the web request to the website or destination server
  3. The website server sends the requested data to your proxy server.
  4. The proxy server forwards the data on to you.
  5. The website shows up in your browser.

Smart applications

Along with directing your internet traffic, many modern proxies offer smart applications, such as firewalls, web filters, or data security options. These can be used to raise the security of the proxy users, which is often the main goal of proxy users.

You can set a proxy server to either blacklist web servers, and stop the appropriate web pages from being open in the web browsers, or you can set a proxy server to whitelist certain web servers and block access to any web server that is not on the list. It is often used to stop access to popular websites from a school or company network.

What types of proxy servers are there?

There are many different types of proxy servers, with many different available configurations and many different options. Some of the more commonly used are listed below.

Some of the less common ones include HTTP proxies, rotating proxies, and CGI proxies.

Transparent proxies

A transparent proxy is the simplest type of proxy server. It does not hide the user’s IP address but is much faster than other types of proxy servers.

It is mostly used by schools and companies to filter incoming traffic and block access to certain web pages deemed inappropriate.

Anonymous proxies

An anonymous proxy is the type of proxy server people immediately think of when they think of proxy servers. It hides the internet user’s IP address and keeps the websites it accesses from knowing where the web request originated.

However, when making web requests, it identifies itself as a proxy server.

High anonymity proxies

High anonymity proxies, or elite proxies, also hide the IP address of the internet user, but on top of this, they also don’t identify themselves as a proxy server when making web requests. They even change IP addresses semi-frequently, to lower the risk of it being identified as a proxy server.

As the name suggests, high anonymity proxies offer a high level of privacy and protection, higher than many other types of proxy server.

Distorting proxies

Distorting proxy servers act in much the same way as anonymous proxy servers. But while the anonymous proxy server hides your IP address entirely, a distorting proxy server changes your own IP address to a different IP address. This can allow you to access blocked content that is only available in certain geographic locations.

Like anonymous proxies, distorting proxies identify themselves as proxy servers to the web server.

Caching proxies

A caching proxy helps websites load faster on your device by saving a copy of the website when it is visited. The next time it is visited, potentially by a new user, the proxy server can retrieve this copy and use that to load large portions of a website, making it far quicker as the proxy server does not have to make a connection in order to begin to load the website.

Data center proxies vs Residential proxies

Residential proxy servers are run by your internet service provider. This means that the IP addresses they provide are genuine IP addresses that look just like a real IP address.

Data center proxies are cheaper to run, but unlike residential proxies, they cannot issue you a real IP address.

Forward proxies and reverse proxies

A forward proxy and a reverse proxy are used at different stages of browsing the internet. For personal use, people will use a forward proxy to protect them from internet activity, whereas a web server would use a reverse proxy between the users of its website and its website, to filter the requests the users make of the web server and so improve its data security.

A forward proxy receives web requests from the user and checks that they are valid, before sending them to the requested website.

Reverse proxy servers will receive requests coming to a specific web server and are designed to prevent the user from having direct access to data kept on the associated web server.

The same principle can be used for resources on internal networks.

What is the difference with a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual private network) and a proxy often look very similar and can be used for the same purpose. However, Virtual Private Networks always encrypt your data, while with a proxy server this is incredibly dependent on the type of proxy and the proxy settings.

A VPN will also work on any traffic to the internet from your computer, while a web proxy will often only affect traffic that is sent from your web browser.

In general, a VPN is more secure than a web proxy, and a better option if you wish to browse the internet anonymously from multiple apps.

What can a proxy server be used for?

Depending on the type of proxy server you choose, a proxy server can be used for many purposes.

Proxy servers offer:

  • Protection from data breaches.
  • Increased privacy during internet usage.
  • A way to get around blockades by governments and companies.
  • The ability to completely block cookies and trackers.
  • Potentially faster browsing.
  • Some web proxies offer a proxy network, letting you choose the location you appear to be in.

All of these are completely dependent on the type of proxy server you choose and how, exactly, you use it.

Disadvantages of Proxy Servers

Using a proxy server can improve your privacy and security over connecting directly to the internet, however, this is not always guaranteed. This is especially true with free proxies.

Some common problems with free and web proxy servers are:

  • Ad based revenue models mean they will spam you with adverts
  • Whoever runs the proxy website can see your internet activity and potentially sell this data.
  • They may even be able to install malicious software on your computer.
  • They may be able to steal cookies from you and pretend to be you on certain websites.

Assuming you have found a reliable proxy server, there are still a few disadvantages to consider:

  • Certain types of proxies can be slow, especially anonymous proxies
  • Security depends on the proxy – transparent proxies offer no increased privacy online.
  • Like any other web server, a proxy server can have technical issues and be temporarily offline, meaning you will not be able to connect to it.
  • Even with a reliable proxy, your internet traffic still passes through a third party. This can mean sensitive data is compromised.

How can I set up a proxy server?

Setting yourself up to use a proxy server in Windows is easy. Simply navigate to settings within the start menu, then go to ‘Network and Internet’. In the menu on the left-hand side, select Proxy, then ‘Use Proxy Server’ under ‘Manual Proxy Configuration’. Here you will enter the proxy’s IP address and the port associated with the proxy server. Save your changes and check your IP by googling “What is my IP”. If you receive an error message, double-check the proxy server’s address.

Conclusion

There are many different varieties, such as the common transparent proxy server or anonymous proxy. The most common use of a proxy server is to either filter web content or to hide the user’s IP address. Used with care, a proxy server is a useful tool for data security on the internet.

Frequently asked questions

A proxy server is a network or router that serves as a gateway between users and the internet. As a result, it aids in the prevention of cyber attacks by preventing attackers from accessing a private network. It’s a server known as an “intermediary” because it connects end-users to the websites they visit online.

There are two configurations: Automatic or Manual proxy setup. Everything should be set to Off in 99 percent of the situations. Your web traffic might be routed through a proxy if anything is switched on.

You’ve already assigned your ExpressVPN profile to the VPN and Proxy fields. A proxy protects all of your network traffic, whereas a VPN secures individual applications. They both conceal your IP address, but only a VPN routes all of your online data through an encrypted tunnel. A proxy is useful for surfing the web, but it’s not as safe or secure as a VPN.

If you access the internet directly, your computer will just connect to the web and display it for you without the use of a web proxy. Your PC will connect to a separate server, called a proxy, that sits between it and the net.

Proxies are also susceptible to security threats: they may be vulnerable to attack, allowing hackers access to networks or private data. Some proxies can still keep track of (and store) your surfing patterns, as well as capture usernames and passwords – making that promise of anonymity meaningless.

Protect your digital privacy and stay safe on the internet

Curious about our privacy experts' picks?