What is Proxy Server And How It Works?

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Jump directly to:

  1. WHAT IS A PROXYpr
  2. HOW DO PROXIES WORK?
  3. WHY IS THERE A NEED FOR A PROXY?
  4. TYPES OF PROXIES
  5. REVERSE PROXIES
  6. FREE VS. PAID PROXIES
  7. BENEFITS & USAGE OF USING A PROXY
  8. THE MANY USES OF PROXIES

It is difficult to trace how, when, and where proxy servers began, although there are speculations that proxy servers started around the same time that computer networking was developed. The usage of proxy servers has also evolved throughout the years.

If you are learning about computer networks or you are one of the millions of people and organizations that feel vulnerable when using the internet without some sort of a safety barrier, then you might want to know what proxies are and how they work.

What is a Proxy SERVER

When the word “proxy” is taken outside the context of technology, it has always meant something or someone who is authorized to represent another person or object. Based on this globally accepted definition, there are two prerequisites to being a proxy:

1. Authorized: This means that the proxy is not acting on his or her own volition, but is only doing what the other party has allowed or authorized him or her to do.

2.To represent: The proxy is not acting for their own desires or preferences, but they are there in behalf of the other party.

The same is true when talking about proxies or proxy servers, except that they are computers and not human beings. Simply put, a proxy is a computer (Computer B) that acts on behalf of another computer (Computer A) when sending and receiving requests from yet another computer (Computer C).

Instead of Computer A sending its request for a file or web page directly to Computer C, it routes the request through Computer B, which is the proxy. When Computer C responds with the requested file or web page, it will send the response to Computer B, who then forwards the files to the original requestor, Computer A. If all these sounds confusing, take a look at this tweeted picture to better understand what a proxy is.

In effect, the proxy acts as a go-between or an intermediary between two different computers, enabling them to communicate effectively with each other.

How Do Proxies Work?

Proxy servers act as intermediaries between an end-user (an individual or a company’s network of computers) and external web servers. Being a “middleman,” the proxy server receives the request for files and web pages from the end-user and forwards it to the destination web server. The responses of the destination web server also go through the proxy who then forwards them to the end-user. This is generally how a proxy works, although the intricate details depend on the type of proxy being used.

Illustration (without a proxy):

Matt wants to access or download some files from example.com. Without using a proxy server Matt sends his request for access directly to the webserver of example.com. The destination webserver gets Matt’s IP address and sends the requested files directly to Matt’s computer.

without proxy server

Illustration (with a proxy):

Matt wants to access or download some files from example.com. His request goes through the proxy server which filters it first. If the requested files are not available on the proxy’s cached memory, the proxy server forwards the request to the webserver of example.com. The destination web server takes note of the proxy server’s IP address and sends the files back to the proxy. The website (www.example.com) does not know that it was Matt who requested the files.

what is proxy server and how it works

Why should we Use PROXY?

When the proxy is removed from the scenario in the example above, Matt’s computer sends its request directly to the web server of www.example.com. This is what happens on the internet by default, at any given time and place: Just two computers, usually a user’s device and a website’s server, sending and receiving requests and responses to one another.

Along with the request sent from the user’s device to the web server, the user’s IP address is also sent. IP address or the Internet Protocol address is akin to a residential address. The receiver needs the information so it knows where to send the response back to. To illustrate, when Matt asks to access a certain web page of www.example.com, the web server of the website needs Matt’s IP address so it can send back the information that Matt is asking for.

For Example: How can someone reply to a letter if it doesn’t have a return address? Every web server, therefore, requires the user’s IP address so it can respond with the requested data accordingly.

This is all well and good except that a user’s IP address is his or her identity on the internet. What this means is that if your IP address is exposed to every website you access, the following can happen:

1. You can get hacked: With the right skills and resources, someone can use your IP address to trace and track until a hole is found and the hacker can get into your system.

2. You can get blocked: Websites, governments, and other entities have been practicing IP blocking as way to enforce censorship on the internet, so you can’t access every web page you want.

By using a proxy , you are hiding your identity since it will be the proxy server’s IP address that will be visible to the destination web server. There are a lot more to proxy servers than just being intermediaries.

Types of Proxies

The process in which proxies work involve some intricate details that ultimately depend on the type of proxy being used. Proxies can be a forward proxy or a reverse proxy. The former is what regular internet users usually encounter, while the latter is more commonly used by the destination web servers.

types of proxy server

Below are the most common types of forward proxies:

1. Anonymous proxy

The illustration we used in the previous section perfectly describes how an anonymous proxy works. They act on behalf of the end-user, making the destination web server believe that it was they who made the request when in reality, somebody else is on the other end. Anonymous proxies obviously obfuscate the end user’s identity, which has increasingly become a necessity in today’s zero net neutrality world.

Using an anonymous proxy will keep clients from being bombarded with targeted ads, and will also keep them safe from identity theft. This is done by discarding cookies that are injected when people visit websites which are further used to track the user’s every move.

2. Elite proxy

Elite proxies or high anonymity proxies give utmost security and privacy for internet users as they don’t come off as proxies to web servers. They constantly change the IP address they use when communicating to web servers, so they can’t be detected as proxies. Other people also use proxy switchers, like in the video below:

Proxy or IP address switching is a very important feature especially since there are web servers who have developed a way to detect and block proxies. Elite proxies provide users with the ultimate disguise since the web servers have no idea that they are communicating with a proxy.

3. Transparent proxy

Transparent proxies do not hide the IP address of the end-user, which is why they are called transparent. They still come in between the user’s computer and the destination web server, and all requests go through them, but only to filter the content being passed through the network, and not to anonymize the user.

People who have used their company’s internet network may have come in contact with transparent proxies since offices, schools, and libraries usually use this type of proxies to be able to control what content the end-users can access within their network. Transparent proxies provide no anonymity for the user at all.

4. Distorting proxies

This type of proxy works the same way as an anonymous proxy, although they have an additional feature that spoofs the user’s real location. A distorting proxy sends a false IP address to the destination web server, making it believe that the request is from a certain location. They are usually used as tools to get around geographical restrictions. For instance, people who want to access the US Netflix libraries but are outside the country use a distorting proxy so they can obtain a US IP address and gain access to the content.

The feature that is common to all types of proxy is that they act on behalf of the user in requesting files or web pages from an external web server. As the middleman, proxies can filter content that comes into the network and protect the identity of the user so the destination web server will never know sent the request. The latter function, however, is absent in transparent proxies which only performs content filtering and not user identity obfuscation.

What are Reverse proxies

Forward proxies are used by individuals, businesses, and organizations to connect to the millions of websites and web servers on the internet. These users know that they are connecting to a proxy server.

Reverse proxies are the opposite. The video below will let you know more about the difference between forward and reverse proxies:

Reverse proxies are mainly used by web servers as a tool to balance the load they receive and to enhance the user experience by caching static content. Reverse proxies also improve the security of web servers as they act as an additional layer that hackers have to get through before being able to reach the actual servers.

In addition, internet users won’t necessarily know that it is connecting to a reverse proxy server. Websites that receive huge amounts of traffic mostly use reverse proxies though, so some internet users may already have an idea. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, for example, use reverse proxies to forward the queries to the appropriate web server so it can give the user the information they need.

Free vs paid proxies

Most types of proxies come in two forms: public and private proxies.

Private proxies give you a dedicated IP address that you can use exclusively. This means that the bandwidth and speed of connection are all yours to enjoy.

There are also public or free proxies that are accessible to everyone. Since hundreds or even thousands of people can be using the same server at a given time, using free proxies can slow down your connection speed. Furthermore, they are also unsafe as people with questionable intentions may also be using the same proxy server as you. You can end up getting banned even when you are not doing anything wrong.

In fact, studies have shown that free proxy services end up very costly in terms of security and privacy as most of them log your usage and identity.

Benefits of of using a proxy

You might be wondering why would people need to use a proxy when all they want to do is access a web page or download files from a website. With or without a proxy, these actions can still be done. However, there are some benefits of using a proxy that people are finding very attractive. Here they are:

benefits of using a proxy server

1. Anonymity

: Except for transparent proxies, all other types of proxies mask the client’s real IP address and in effect, they also hide the client’s identity. This allows users to use the internet anonymously, making them relatively safe from data brokers, their ISP, and even hackers.

2. Caching

: Proxies cache web pages and files that have been previously requested by the client. If the client requests for the same page or file again, the proxy server will return the cached version, making connections faster and the browsing experience a lot better for the client.

3. Security

: When used together with an encryption protocol, proxies provide utmost security and privacy. Proxy servers alone will anonymize the connection, but it doesn’t necessarily encrypt the traffic. In effect, network traffic is still visible although tracing such traffic back to the client will be difficult. Encrypting network traffic, however, will render all traffic unreadable to anyone.

4. Bypass restrictions

: Not every website and webpage on the internet can be accessed by everyone. Websites, corporations, and governments have imposed certain restrictions so that people in some countries won’t be able to access certain content. This is why we sometimes encounter error messages that say, “This content is not available in your location.” By using proxies, however, clients can spoof their location, making web servers believe that they are located in a country where access to the content is not restricted.

Step by Step guide to: HOW TO USE STEAM ON A PROXY NETWORK

Uses of proxies

Proxies have as many uses and faces as it has many types. It can be used to control and filter content while it can also be used to bypass restrictions and censorship (as in the case of distorting proxies). Proxies can be used to anonymize user IP address and identity while accessing websites, while websites can also use proxies (reverse proxies in particular) to protect themselves and balance the load of traffic they are getting.

Aside from these general types of proxies, there are even more subtypes as you delve further into the topic. Proxies also have different use cases, and the most common ones are:

1. Ticket booking

: Ticket to events such as concerts and live sports games can be bought online through several ticketing portals. The problem with purchasing tickets through these online ticketing sites is that they limit the number of tickets that can be purchased using a single IP address. Ticketing proxies can solve this problem and allow you users to purchase as many event tickets as they like by allowing them to use hundreds of proxy servers, each with a different IP address.

2. Gaming

Serious gamers who have made a profession out of playing online games often use gaming proxies for several reasons. For one, gaming proxies enable them to access geo restricted portals, allowing them to play with team members from other parts of the world.

3. Web scraping

Marketers and business owners use web scraping tools to get ahead of the competition. Proxies are needed to make these tools more effective in monitoring market prices and gathering big data.

4. Market research

Like almost everything else in the digital world, market research can be automated. Websites, however, are using IP blocking technologies against bots and tools that access their sites for the sole purpose of gathering data. By using proxy servers, you can conduct market research without fear of getting blocked.

The Bottom Line

Proxies have a lot more uses, but these four are the most common and considered as the core use cases. By being able to scrape the web and conduct market research, for instance, business owners can do competitive analysis and further improve their marketing tactics, especially their SEO strategies.

Proxy servers can be used by regular internet users to buy tickets, play online games, and just browse the web under the hood of a proxy server. At the same time, proxies can be used by marketers and business owners to get ahead and succeed in whatever industry they are in.

About the author

Rachael Chapman

A Complete gamer and a Tech Geek. Brings out all her thoughts and love in writing blogs on IOT, software, technology etc

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