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What Is a Proxy Server?

What Is a Proxy Server?

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Proxy servers essentially act as a middleman between you and the internet. They can take the form of software or hardware and help you control the internet usage of users on your network.

You may have come into contact with a proxy server if you work from home and have needed to connect to your company’s network to access your files. You may have also seen a proxy server in action while trying to navigate a school or company web filter that blocks access to certain sites.

There are many types of proxy servers and they all serve different roles. This guide will help you understand what a proxy server is, how they work, and when it’s a good idea to use one.

What Does a Proxy Server Do?

Computers that connect to the internet are given a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. This address is used to identify the specific computer in question, helping to determine what kind of information and data should be sent and received.

A proxy server creates its own IP address. When you request access to a webpage from a web server, instead of sending that request directly, your proxy server intercepts it and requests it for you. It then waits for the web server to handle that request and provide the data you wanted. Following this, it collects this data and sends it to your computer, allowing you to load the webpage.

The important part of this process is that the proxy server can make changes to your request. This includes providing the web server with a different IP address so that it doesn’t know where the request is coming from. It can also encrypt the data you send, ensuring it cannot be read by an outside source until it reaches the web server.

Do I Need a Proxy Server?

One of the main reasons you may want to use a proxy server is to monitor and restrict the internet access of users in your home or company. This may include restricting certain sites if you have children, or blocking social media sites if you wish to keep an employee’s attention at work.

Proxy servers are also excellent for online anonymity. They can help protect any information that might be used to identify your original IP address. This means that third-party websites are unable to identify who or where the request came from, helping to stop them from tracking you.

You probably won’t need a proxy server if you aren’t concerned with any of the above, but those who are may see the benefits.

The Benefits of Using a Proxy Server:

Proxy servers can offer plenty of benefits for internet users. They can:

  • Hide your IP address and use the one assigned to the proxy instead, protecting your anonymity.

  • Reduce load times for sites you have already visited due to a proxy’s ability to store or “cache” the data they used to load the site for later use. This works similarly to DNS servers, which save certain data to help you speed up the time it takes to navigate to websites from your search engine.

  • Filter out websites you want to safeguard users from. This can be especially handy if you know about any malicious sites that may contain malware or other computer viruses.

Different Types of Proxy Servers:

Proxy servers come in several different forms. Each offers a slightly different function and varying degrees of anonymity. However, there are two main types of proxy – forward and reverse.

  • Forward proxies retrieve data from the internet and are the most common type of proxy.

  • Reverse proxies are used by websites to collect requests from computers or forward proxies and send them to one of their back-end servers, ensuring users cannot access them directly.

The most common forward proxies are:

  • Transparent proxies are best used for content filtering and website caching because they are unable to mask a computer’s IP address.

  • Anonymous proxies are better for hiding your IP address, but a website will still know you are accessing its content using a proxy.

  • High anonymity proxies can do all the basic functions of a proxy and even mask the fact that you are using one.

Risks of Proxy Servers:

There are a few risks associated with using proxy servers. The most common are:

  • They might slow down your internet connection until the site has been cached because they load the site through the proxy before it reaches your computer.

  • Certain sites will not allow you access if you are using a proxy, so your internet access may be more limited than if you didn’t use one.

  • Free proxies may sell your data, meaning your privacy could be at risk. They may also be less efficient and stop working more frequently.

  • They only work on a site-by-site basis and will need to be applied multiple times for every site or app you visit.

How Do Proxy Servers Provide More Network Security?

Proxy servers provide more network security because they act as another link in the chain. They can help filter malicious websites when you know which ones to look out for and allow you to mask your IP address so you’re not as easily tracked.

The reason masking an IP address is so beneficial is that a hacker trying to access a device will find it much more difficult to track. Proxy servers can continuously change and mask the IP address of the computer at risk.

Proxy Server vs VPN: Which Should I Choose?

You might think that proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are the same, if not very similar. However, there are a few differences between the two.

While proxy servers can mask your IP address, VPNs can do this and much more. For instance, VPNs can encrypt all of your online activity, making it very difficult for someone else to be able to see what you are doing on the internet.

When it comes to choosing between a proxy server and a VPN, it will depend on your motivation. A proxy server can be great if you simply want to speed up the load time of routinely used sites or filter out potentially harmful websites for your network users.

A VPN is more fitting if you want to ensure you cannot be tracked by outside agencies or companies. It will also keep your network users safe from hackers while browsing online.

VPNs can be particularly worthwhile for companies with sensitive data that might be valuable to their competitors. They can help encrypt and protect the data from being stolen.

For this reason, a single user may find that a proxy server will serve the basic functions they need, and will often be cheaper than a VPN. This is especially true if you simply want to load your web pages faster.

But, web proxy servers aren’t the only way to increase the speed of your internet. Your broadband provider plays a massive role in your loading speeds.

Compare the top providers and find out your current internet speed. Check out our price plans to see if you can benefit from switching over to Hyperoptic.

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