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What is a Proxy Server? It`s Function, Types, Uses & More

Written by: Stefan Stevanovic



Time to read 14 min

Key Takeaways
- Proxy Server Definition 
How a Proxy Functions 
Different Types of Proxy Servers
Benefits and Limitations of Proxies 
Proxy Server Uses as a Business
- Proxy Server Uses at Home 
FAQ about Proxy Servers 

Proxy Server Definition

Simply put, a proxy server behaves as a middleman between your computer or device and the internet. It takes requests you send from your gadget, forwards these requests to the web server, and then sends the web server's response back to you. Basically, it will act as a gateway between you and the internet.

Proxy servers provide different functionalities such as improved privacy and security, internet filtering, and even access to geo-blocked content by hiding your IP address or using a different one provided by the proxy.

How a Proxy Functions

When you connect to a proxy server, you first send your request to the proxy, which then forwards it to the internet. Once the requested data is received by the proxy from the web server, the proxy then sends it back to your computer’s browser, like Chrome, Safari, Opera GX, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

This is a multistep process that includes the following:

how a proxy server works

1. Request Handling: Your device sends a request to the proxy server, asking it to access specific information on the internet on your behalf.

2. Data Processing: The proxy server processes the request, which may involve bypassing access restrictions, applying filtering guidelines, or caching protocols, all based on the proxy configuration.

3. Forwarding Requests: After assessing the request, the proxy forwards it to the targeted web server.

4. Receiving Data: Next, the targeted web server sends the data back to the proxy server.

5. Data Transmission: Finally, the proxy server sends the data to your device.

This process ensures that your direct IP address is not exposed to the web servers, enhancing your privacy and security. However, it's crucial to remember that different types of proxies work in slightly different ways. These differences can also depend on how people use proxies.

So, what are the different types of proxy servers, and how are they different from each other?

Different Types of Proxy Servers

There are various kinds of proxy servers, each with its own special purposes. Below is an overview of the main different types of proxy servers:

1. Residential Proxy 

A residential proxy obtains its IP addresses from actual residential internet connections provided by Internet Service Providers (ISP). This means that when you use a residential proxy, you're surfing the internet with an IP address that belongs to someone's home network. The benefit of using residential proxies is their legitimacy, making them less likely to be identified and blocked by websites. These proxies have a large pool of IP addresses, which makes them great for tasks like scraping lots of data from the web or automation tasks.

2. Datacenter Proxy 

Datacenter proxies are hosted in data centers and aren't linked to ISPs. Although they're faster than residential proxies, websites can spot and block them more easily due to their non-residential IP addresses. They're mainly used for server-to-server communication, automation tasks, and basic scraping tasks.

3. Mobile Proxy 

Mobile proxies use IP addresses provided by mobile network operators (MNOs) or mobile carriers. This lets your internet activity look like it's coming from a mobile phone, using cellular networks like 3G, 4G, and 5G. What's special about mobile proxies is they can access mobile-specific content, which is handy for tasks needing a mobile internet view.

4. HTTP(S) Proxy 

HTTP proxies are used for browsing the web. They relay requests and responses between your web browser and the server you're trying to access. These proxies come with different types of IP addresses, like residential, mobile, or datacenter IPs, depending on the proxy type and provider you choose.

5. SOCKS Proxy 

SOCKS proxies are more flexible than HTTP proxies because they support various internet protocols like FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), making them suitable for many activities beyond just web browsing. These proxies are useful for online gaming, remote server management, and secure access to networks from distant locations.

6. Forward Proxy 

A forward proxy, also called a client-side proxy, sits between your device and the internet to fetch web content for you. It's commonly used in business networks to manage employees' internet use, apply filters to what they can access, and boost security.

7. Reverse Proxy 

A reverse proxy , also called a server-side proxy, stands between the internet and the servers behind it. It talks to users on behalf of those servers. It's mostly used to shield internal networks from outside dangers like denial-of-service attacks and malware.

8. Transparent Proxy 

A transparent proxy is a server that sits between your computer and the internet, automatically intercepting all requests to the web without requiring any configuration on your part. Unlike traditional proxies, it does not hide your IP address from the websites you visit, making it "transparent" to both the user and the web servers. They are used to cache frequently requested content, speed up browsing, and enforce content policies transparently.

9. Dedicated Static Proxy 

A dedicated static proxy provides a fixed IP address that is exclusively used by one client at a time. Therefore offering a stable and private connection for tasks requiring consistent identity and secure, uninterrupted access to the internet, such as accessing geo-restricted content or maintaining a stable online presence.

10. Shared Dynamic Proxy 

A shared dynamic proxy is a server that assigns changing IP addresses from a shared pool to multiple users, offering cost-effective anonymity and access to the internet but with less consistency and potential for lower performance due to shared resources.

11. Backconnect Rotating Proxy 

A backconnect rotating proxy automatically changes the user's IP address for each request or after a set period, providing high anonymity and access to a large pool of IP addresses, ideal for tasks requiring mass data scraping or avoiding IP bans.

12. IPv4 Proxy 

An IPv4 proxy routes internet traffic through a server using the Internet Protocol version 4, offering a unique and stable IP address for online activities, compatible with the vast majority of internet services.

13. IPv6 Proxy 

An IPv6 proxy routes internet traffic through a server using the newer Internet Protocol version 6, designed to replace IPv4 due to providing a vast range of IP addresses for enhanced connectivity and potential for better performance and security in a newer IP space.

14. ISP Proxy 

An ISP proxy is a hybrid type that combines features of both datacenter and residential proxies. They use IP addresses allocated by ISPs and are hosted in data centers, providing the speed and reliability of datacenter proxies with the legitimacy and lower block-rate of residential proxies, since the IP addresses appear as if they belong to genuine internet users. This setup allows for both high performance and a lower risk of detection by websites.

15. High-Anonymity Proxy 

A high-anonymity proxy , also called elite proxy , conceals your real IP address and masks any identifying details from internet servers, making your online presence virtually untraceable. This type of proxy is ideal for users seeking to maximize their privacy and security on the internet, ensuring that their browsing habits and personal information remain confidential.

Now that we've taken a closer look at the different types of proxy servers out there, let's shift gears and talk about the benefits and limitations of using these proxies to better understand how they can serve us and where they might fall short.

Benefits and Limitations of Proxies

Proxies, whether for professional or personal use, offer significant benefits that markedly improve your digital footprint. Yet, every technological solution comes with its inherent limitations. Let’s delve into the array of benefits that proxies bring to the table, as well as the potential hurdles they present.

benefits and limitations of proxies

Benefits of Proxies

Improved Online Privacy : A proxy server acts like a middleman between your devices and the websites you visit. It helps keep your online activities more private by hiding your real IP address from websites, which is especially important for protecting your information when accessing sensitive data or using public Wi-Fi networks.

Faster Internet Speed : A proxy server speeds up browsing by caching frequently accessed web pages and files. When multiple users request the same content, the proxy server can deliver it directly without retrieving it from the main server again. This reduces traffic on the main server, making browsing faster for everyone, particularly for users who access the same content repeatedly.

Reduced Latency: Proxy servers reduce latency and therefore improve network performance through compressing data, filtering unnecessary data and caching frequently accessed content. Compressing data and filtering out unnecessary data before sending it over the network reduces size and the amount of information transferred. This leads to faster transfers and reduces latency.

Enhanced Security : A proxy server shields your devices from various cyber threats such as DDoS attacks, malware, and man-in-the-middle attacks by checking and stopping suspicious incoming data from getting through. This process helps keep you more anonymous when you're online.

Content Filtering: Certain types of proxies can be used to filter internet access and block specific websites or services, offering some control over internet usage in your home or office network.

Load Balancing : Proxy servers prevent any single server from becoming overwhelmed by evenly distributing incoming digital requests across multiple servers. This ensures stable network performance and a seamless online experience, especially during periods of high traffic.

Traffic Monitoring and Analysis: Proxies are valuable tools for monitoring network traffic and logs, especially those used for enterprise or security purposes. Analyzing these logs requires technical expertise and access, which may be restricted. However, when possible, such analysis can help understand network usage patterns (traffic analysis), identify performance bottlenecks (troubleshooting), and even uncover potential security threats (security auditing).

It's crucial to keep in mind privacy concerns and potential legal implications associated with accessing and analyzing log data.

Limitations of Proxies

Cost Considerations : Free proxies exist, but can be risky when it comes to privacy and security. They might work fine for simple tasks with low risks. However, if you need better security, it's worth considering paid options. Not all paid proxies are expensive, and it's important to look at factors beyond just the price.

Configuration Complexity : Setting up proxies, especially in complex network setups, can be quite tricky and demand technical know-how. Errors in configuring proxies can lead to privacy breaches, exposing sensitive information such as your real IP address or browsing history.

Server Overload: When lots of people use proxy servers at the same time, they might slow down or have connection problems because some servers can't handle too much traffic all at once. The servers get overloaded and don't have enough resources to keep up.

Information Privacy : There are many proxy providers out there, and they handle user privacy differently. Some really focus on protecting your privacy and don't track your activities, while others might collect and even sell your data. Carefully research providers, considering their privacy policies and practices, to choose one that aligns with your needs.

Blocked by Websites : Some websites use advanced security measures to identify and block proxy connections. They do this to stay secure and stop unauthorized access or automated attacks. However, not all websites do this – it depends on their security policies and needs. Even when websites detect proxies, it might only block certain types or ones linked to suspicious activities.

Dependency on Providers : When you use a proxy provider, you depend on their infrastructure and uptime to access their proxy services. Problems like technical issues, maintenance, or shutting down the service intentionally by the provider can interrupt your access to the proxy.

Regulated Usage : Certain regions and industries might have specific regulations or policies concerning proxy usage. These regulations aim to address potential security risks, data protection concerns, or prevent malicious activities.

It's crucial to know about any relevant regulations that apply to your region and how you plan to use a proxy to ensure compliance. Always use proxies responsibly.

After diving into the benefits and limitations of proxies, let's move on to how they fit into our daily lives. Next up, we'll explore the practical uses of proxy servers, whether you're running a business or simply browsing from your living room couch.

Proxy Server Uses as a Business

Using proxy servers in the business world can significantly enhance operational efficiency, security, and market competitiveness. Here are some main reasons why businesses use proxy servers:

Web Scraping

Web scraping allows businesses to quickly gather large amounts of data from websites, especially when manual collection is too slow or simple not practicable. This is especially useful when websites lack a suitable API. However, using a single IP address for scraping can lead to blocks due to request limits. Proxies help by distributing requests across multiple IP addresses to avoid detection. Rotating residential proxies further enhance this by frequently changing the user's IP to ones from real devices, making the scraping activity appear as regular browsing and reducing the risk of being blocked.

Management of Multiple Social Media Accounts

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube aim to prevent the operation of managing multiple accounts from the same IP address to prevent spam and abuse. This causes challenges for businesses and individuals needing to handle several accounts, risking flags or bans. Using proxies enables managing multiple accounts via varied IP addresses, bypassing these challenging situations for both businesses and individuals.

SEO Metrics Monitoring

SEO companies often utilize software tools to automate the process of gathering data from search engines such as Google, Bing, and others. This automation includes scraping search engines for keyword research, rank tracking, and SERP analysis. Proxies enable these companies to make queries to search engines from different IP addresses, reducing the likelihood of exceeding rate limits or triggering search engines' anti-bot measures. By using SEO proxies, the companies can continue to gather the necessary data for their SEO tasks without significant interruption.

Data Aggregation From Multiple Sources

Data aggregation involves gathering data from various sources for services like travel fare aggregation and price comparison. Unlike specific web scraping, it includes collecting, combining, and using data from multiple websites to offer comparisons on price, location, and ratings. Websites may have restrictions to prevent excessive scraping, such as limiting the number of requests from a single IP address or blocking IPs that make too many requests in a short period. Proxies help overcome these challenges by allowing data aggregation services to rotate IP addresses and appear as if the requests are coming from different users or locations.

Ad Fraud & Verification

Ad fraud significantly impacts businesses financially, urging the use of ad verification to ensure ads reach the correct audience and are displayed properly. Fraudsters often employ tactics to undermine ad verification efforts, such as identifying and blocking traffic coming from IP addresses associated with ad verification companies. Therefore complicating accurate ad monitoring. Residential proxies help combat this by allowing ad verification to bypass fraudster blocks, access geo-specific content accurately, and assess ad performance from the perspective of genuine users, all while maintaining anonymity.

Market Research

Market research is a crucial process for businesses aiming to understand their market, competitors, customer preferences, and trends. This process involves collecting and analyzing data on various market factors, such as products, prices, customer sentiment, and other market-related factors. Amazon serves as a valuable data source for this research. However, scraping data from Amazon on a large scale can be challenging, as measures are in place to protect its platform. Using a proxy server helps to overcome these challenges. It masks the IP address of the scraping tool and distributes requests across multiple IP addresses, facilitating efficient data collection.

Brand Protection

Brand protection strategies aim to protect a brand's integrity by combating counterfeit products, copyright infringement, and trademark violations. The internet is vast, with millions of websites, online marketplaces, and social media platforms. Manually monitoring all these platforms for brand infringements is impractical and inefficient due to the sheer volume of data. Besides that, infringers often employ tactics to hide their activities. This can include showing different content based on the visitor's IP address, making it difficult for brand protection agents to identify infringing content. Proxies not only enable the scalability necessary to monitor the vast expanse of the internet but also help overcome the evasive tactics used by infringers. 

Proxy Server Uses at Home

Proxy servers are not just tools for businesses and organizations; their benefits extend to home internet users as well, offering enhanced privacy, access to restricted content, and more. Here's how a proxy server can be beneficial for personal use:

Protect Personal Information & Privacy Online

The primary reasons to use a proxy server at home are to protect personal information and improve online privacy. By hiding your IP address — your online identity— from websites and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), a proxy server makes it more challenging for these entities to track your internet activities and personal data. This added security ensures that your real IP address and location remain concealed.

Access Geo-Restricted Content

Many online services and websites restrict access based on the user's geographical location. Proxy servers can bypass these restrictions by allowing you to connect to the internet from a server located in a different part of the world. This is particularly useful for accessing streaming services, news websites, and other content that may not be available in your country.

Buy Limited Edition Items

Proxies are used to mask your real IP address, allowing you to send multiple requests to a website without being identified as the same user. In the context of buying limited edition items, like sneakers, this is crucial because popular releases often limit purchases to one per customer. Proxies are a key tool in the arsenal of sneaker coppers and by using them correctly, you can simulate requests from multiple, distinct locations, increasing your chances of securing a highly sought-after item.

Feeling ready to boost your online experience? We've walked through how proxies can make a difference for both work and play. Check out our range of proxy solutions and find the one that fits you best or, if you're hungry for more knowledge, explore our other blogs on proxies to become a true expert.

Frequently Asked Questions about Proxy Servers

What Is a Proxy?

A proxy is a server that acts as a middleman between your computer and the internet, routing your web requests to enhance privacy, security, and enable access to region-restricted content while anonymizing your IP address.

Are Free Proxy Servers Safe to Use?

Using free proxies might seem like a good idea, but they often have problems like being slow, not connecting reliably, and having security issues. It's usually safer to choose a paid service from a trusted company.

Is Using Proxies Legal?

Yes, using proxies is legal. However their legality depends on how they are used; engaging in activities such as hacking, illegal file sharing, or violating the terms of service of networks are illegal activities.