What Is A Proxy Server [2021 Guide]

What is a proxy?

A proxy acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. When you’re using a proxy server, your request runs through the proxy server (which changes your IP address) first, and only then connects to the website. This is the main thing to know if you want to define a proxy.

What are proxies used for?
Proxies for personal use

There are several reasons for individuals or organizations to use a proxy.

Firstly, for regular internet users, a proxy could come in handy if there is a need to browse the internet more privately. On top of the privacy factor, proxy servers can also improve security levels if the proxy server is correctly configured as users can encrypt their internet requests.

What’s more, a proxy tied to a specific location can unlock geo-blocked content, even if the real IP address doesn’t have the privilege to access this particular information.

Proxies for business use

On a business’s level the same factors come into play as discussed above. Furthermore, proxy servers are widely used internally to control and monitor internet usage among organizations themselves.

Externally, many businesses use proxies to carry out their day to day operations. For instance, ad verification is used by companies harness proxies to check advertisers’ landing pages anonymously. Whereas, travel fare aggregators use proxies to scrape flight prices without IP blocks or bans.

Proxies can also be used to get pricing data, buy limited edition products, create and manage social media accounts, and for many other reasons.

Do you need a proxy server?

Whether you need a proxy server depends on what you are planning to do. If it’s for hiding your IP address alone, a VPN should be more than enough. However, if you’re looking up proxies because you need to gather data in large quantities – you most likely need a proxy server.

For any larger web scraping operation, you will need a vast amount of proxies to successfully connect to the desired data source through your automated web scraping script. With proxies, you will gather your required data from the web server, without reaching the implemented requests limit, and slip under anti-scraping measures.

So to answer whether you need a proxy server in such a case? Yes. Of course, you should know how much data you’ll be needing. In other words – how many requests you’ll be making per day. Based on data points (or request volumes) and traffic you’ll be needing, it will be easier for you to choose the right proxies for your requirements.

Is it safe to use proxy servers?

Most people use proxies to mask their location and hide their IP address, but as you will now be aware, there are many other reasons for using proxies. Either way, it’s worth taking caution when it comes to deciding which proxy server to use.

To put things into perspective, as much as 79% of free proxy servers do not use HTTPS, which could place your private data at risk, with many free proxies also monitoring your connection, or even containing malicious software. For that reason, it’s worth doing your research before deciding to use a free proxy server, despite the fact they don’t cost anything to use.

As an alternative, you should invest in a proven proxy service that takes your online security and privacy seriously and choose one that is suitable for the purpose(s) that you require it for. That way, you’ll be able to utilize all the benefits that a proxy provides – whether it’s enjoying enhanced anonymity, bypassing content filters, scraping the web or otherwise.

Proxy compatibility

Proxy compatibility refers to the ability of specific proxies to be used with different software platforms and tools on different levels, from operating systems to browser addons. Most proxies will work with any software and their compatibility depends on how well the integrations are documented by specific providers.

What are proxy settings?

Proxy settings refer to manual proxy configuration settings on specific applications, such as browsers. On Firefox, for example, apart from providing your proxy IP address by protocol (HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, and SOCKS), there are also more configuration options, such as exempting certain sites from being connected to via a proxy. Not all applications offer proxy settings and others, like Chrome, only allow to use proxies with default system settings out of the box.

Do proxies hide your IP?

Yes, proxies do hide your real IP address and in a lot of cases this is their main function. However, you should also know that there are plenty of other uses for proxies in which hiding the user’s original IP address is only secondary to some other goal, such as bypassing geo-blocks, filtering or scraping web content and much more. You can read all about it in other sections of this article. It is also worth mentioning that anonymization mostly matters to private individuals, while companies mostly employ them for more nuanced activities.

Do proxies really provide anonymity?

Online privacy has undoubtedly become a huge talking point in recent years, with web users looking to prevent prying eyes, including ISPs, the government, and cybercriminals, from tracking their every move online. One of the most frequently used methods to trace online activity is through an IP address, as this provides information such as your approximate location, which websites you have visited, and how often you visit them.

However, there are also other ways in which you can be tracked online, which includes tracking HTTP cookies. These allow marketers to compile data on your web usage, which presents a privacy risk. Another issue is when DNS requests are made to the local DNS server, in which case the websites you visit can track your activity online when you are on their website.

Thankfully, proxies help to combat each of the aforementioned issues by providing a handful of web privacy features, which make it difficult for any third parties to keep tabs on your online life. This includes the ability to hide or change your real IP address. But if you’d like to go a step further in achieving enhanced online anonymity, you’ll need to choose a proxy which utilizes end-to-end encryption while processing your web traffic.

Is VPN the same as a proxy?

Virtual private networks and proxies both work in a similar manner as they both allow you to appear as if you are connecting to the internet from another location. While both tools work in a similar manner, they fulfil very different roles.

Proxies use specific protocols to connect to the web, allowing mostly application specific data to be transmitted over the internet. Meanwhile, virtual private networks route all outgoing traffic (even background processes like Windows Update) through a server to the destination.

VPN services are generally significantly more expensive and slower than proxies but provide a wider range of encryption for outgoing traffic.

Which is better – VPN or proxy?

Both web proxies and VPNs have their uses and one will be more beneficial over the other depending on the task at hand. Proxies are generally better whenever large amounts of data need to be transferred or retrieved and analysed. Proxy servers are significantly cheaper per GB of data than virtual private networks and, at the same time, provide better connection speeds.

On the other hand, virtual private networks are generally better suited for all-around use and privacy purposes. Since all outgoing data (instead of traffic from just a single application) is encrypted, users can be more assured that they are not leaking any unnecessary data to the destination server. Premium VPN services will also allow users to continue doing any activity without significantly increased delay or slowdown.

Wrapping up

Proxies and have a wide variety of advantages for nearly any internet user. From opening up business opportunities and increasing potential profits to enhanced privacy and security when browsing, web proxies can provide something for everyone. If you have any questions about proxies or would like to find out more about any specific topic in our forum.