What’s all the fuss about proxy servers—and why should you care? Our guide to proxy servers will tell you everything you need to know, including the benefits of proxy servers, different types of proxies, and how you can get started with a proxy.
A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your devices and the internet as a whole. Whether it’s a smartphone, a laptop, or another internet-enabled device, the proxy server acts as a hub for all your internet requests.
Without a proxy, when you type in a website, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) connects to the site using your Internet Protocol (IP) address. When using a proxy, that connection runs through the proxy server first, which uses a different IP address, and then connects to the website through the proxy. In short, the proxy acts on your behalf as a go-between for you and the larger World Wide Web.
Proxies come in many shapes and sizes, and they are used for different reasons. Companies may use proxies to control internet traffic for employees, including preventing access to certain websites. In addition, they often make up part of the security infrastructure for an enterprise; blocking a direct connection between two networks makes it much more difficult to penetrate the network from the outside.
Proxy servers are available from a variety of different sources—some reputable, and others less so. Read on to learn more about the benefits, uses, and types of proxy servers.
People use proxy servers for a number of different reasons, including to:
With so many benefits, as well as an increased focus on internet security, it’s easy to see why proxy servers have grown in popularity over the years. However, not all proxy services—and not all uses of proxy servers—are created equal. The anonymous nature of proxy servers opens the door for a wide range of illicit uses. Some bad actors use proxy servers to obscure their location while engaging in illegal activity, and others use free proxy services to create a botnet that links multiple compromised systems together. For this reason, it is important to thoroughly research proxy services before using one, and think twice about public proxies. It is important to understand how the proxy server is configured and whether or not it is administered by a trusted partner. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, and you could open your system up to significant risk.
Note: Private proxies supplied by Trusted Proxies are only to be used for web scraping, geo-surfing, keyword software, web extraction, and other approved purposes. Secure proxies may not be used for pornography of any kind, online gambling sites, spam email, link-spamming, “black hat” marketing, promoting illegal activity, torrenting files, or distributing files without rights to do so. Please read our Acceptable Usage Policy for more information.
One of the most important distinctions between proxy services is the difference between public and private proxies. There are hundreds, even thousands, of free public proxy services available on the web, and it’s important to understand how and why these services are offered for free.
Public proxies or “open proxies” are usually advertised as free services. Public proxy servers come with a number of risks, most importantly your security and browser performance. The IP address you are assigned typically does not last for long, which may affect your browsing experience, and they can crash frequently if they are not set up to handle a high volume of activity. Open proxies can be exploited for dubious means, and since they are readily available to the public, they can quickly be overrun by an influx of users.
In addition, it’s important to understand the motivation behind setting up a free proxy service. Hackers and bad actors can use free proxy services to harvest unused bandwidth from other computers on the network, essentially turning it into a botnet, or run “man in the middle” attacks to infiltrate other networks. The administrator of the network may even sell your email address or other information to advertising companies, which will manifest in an increase in spam and ads across all the sites you visit. If you don’t know who configured the network or who manages it, you could be at risk of someone monitoring your communications, stealing data, or spreading malware through your system.
Private proxies assign a dedicated IP to each user, resulting in higher speeds and better reliability. A private proxy service has the benefit of sustained, reliable connections that don’t require you to reconfigure your settings over and over. Secure private proxies usually offer much greater bandwidth than public proxies, and users can typically request a refreshed IP address after a period of time. Private proxies have significant advantages in security, anonymity, performance, and more when compared to a public or shared proxy.
Proxies come in many different forms, and the ideal proxy server often depends on the user’s need. Other common terms for proxy servers include:
Anonymous proxy: An anonymous proxy is a general type of proxy server that will identify itself as a proxy to a website, but will not pass along your IP address. A highly anonymous proxy server will pass along a random IP address instead.
Distorting proxy: A distorting proxy is a general type of proxy server that will identify itself as a proxy server to a website, but will pass along an incorrect IP address.
Transparent proxy: A transparent proxy is a type of caching server, but it does not require any configuration for the end user. When using a transparent proxy, the user may not even know that a proxy server is acting as a middleman for their requests. This type of proxy is often used in a large company setting where it is much easier to configure proxies at an enterprise level, rather than on an individual user level. This type of proxy does not typically mask your IP address or other information.
Reverse proxy: While most proxy servers are designed with the end user in mind, a reverse proxy exists primarily for the benefit of the web server in question. A reverse proxy, also known as web server acceleration, will fulfill requests for information from the web server’s cache (rather than querying the website every time). This allows the server to store information that is commonly requests, reducing the load on the server and improving overall performance.
SOCKS proxy: Socks, which stands for Socket Secure, is a type of application more so than a standalone proxy. Socks is an internet protocol that restricts content to authorized users and keeps track of individual connections using sockets. A Socks server is often used within a company firewall, and it can be built into certain web browsers for easy use. Socks proxies often support any kind of internet traffic, but it can be a slower process.
Rotating proxy: When using a rotating proxy, each request you make will use a different random IP address.
Virtual Private Network (VPN): A VPN is often used for large enterprises that want to create a permanent connection for all communication. A VPN typically encrypts all traffic that passes through that connection, providing an extra layer of security.