Proxies and VPNs are the two main tools most individuals consider when privacy becomes a concern. With ever-growing online security concerns, the internet community and businesses are becoming more switched on, and are exploring ways to protect themselves, as well as place focus on brand protection.
While this is a very reasonable approach, it seems that there is a lot of confusion over the correct tool to be used. In particular, there is a significant volume of search queries, and discussion on which is better – proxy or VPN?
Even though both proxy and VPN, in essence, have a mutually shared purpose – enhance privacy and security levels, they also have some key differences. These fundamental differences allow determining which one should be used and when. Hence, this article aims to define both terms, explore their similarities and differences, and most importantly, to establish when to pick one over another.
A proxy acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. Think of a proxy as a web filter that performs the internet’s request transactions on your behalf. The website that you are visiting will only be able to determine the proxy IP address, meaning your real IP address will be hidden.
There are different types of proxy servers, and their origin classifies the most common ones. In this case, there are two types of proxy servers: residential and datacenter proxies.
Residential proxy. It is a genuine IP address provided by an ISP to a homeowner. These proxies allow to imitate organic user behavior and it is essential for web scraping. Using residential proxies reduces chances of being blocked by targeted websites. Also, hiding a real IP address behind residential proxy guarantees higher levels of privacy. See a more extensive overview of residential proxies in another blog post of ours.
Datacenter proxy. This type of proxy is not affiliated with an ISP. They come from secondary corporations like data centers. Compared to residential proxies, they are faster, but there is a higher chance of being blocked. However, datacenter proxies also ensures high anonymity.
If you want to dig deeper into the differences between residential and datacenter proxies, check out our other blog post, where we covered the differences in detail.
Furthermore, proxy servers can also be categorized by their access type. In this case, there are three types of proxies: shared, semi-dedicated, and private proxies.
Shared proxy. Multiple users use these proxies at the same time. The primary deficiency of shared proxies is low performance. Also, shared proxies have various potential risks because if one user is blocked, the same fate is for the others.
Semi-dedicated proxy. This type of proxy is similar to shared proxies, but it is limited to a certain number of users. This is the reason why a semi-dedicated proxy offers considerably better performance.
Private proxy. This type of proxy is used only by one user at the same time. Private proxies provide the user with complete anonymity and a high overall performance level.
Proxies are mostly used for web scraping projects
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an intermediary that encrypts and transmits data when users connect the internet. VPN is usually used to secure sensitive data and browse the internet anonymously.
Using a VPN allows browsing the internet with enhanced privacy levels. Furthermore, it can unlock geo-blocked content and ensures that all internet communication from the user’s device is encrypted.
On a business’s level, the use of a VPN only comes in handy to secure the employees’ devices while being connected to other networks, e.g. WIFI public spaces. However, a business wouldn’t use VPN as proxy to perform web data gathering operations, as it is simply not built for this kind of purpose.
In a nutshell, a VPN will translate your original IP address into a new one, ensuring higher anonymity level as your real IP address is hidden. It will allow accessing geo-blocked content, and perhaps most distinguishing feature in comparison to a proxy server is that it will encrypt all the internet request coming out from the user’s device.
As you can now understand, a proxy with VPN is often confused because they have a similar purpose. Usually, users do not know what the difference between proxy and VPN is. Let’s take a look at the differences not to raise more questions like “is a VPN a proxy?”
While both VPNs and proxies fulfill the same basic purpose, they are created with different goals in mind. Proxies are generally used by and created with businesses in mind, therefore setting them up can be slightly more difficult. Beautiful user interface and overall design are usually secondary to efficiency for proxies.
On the other hand, ease of use is a key concept when VPNs are developed. Since the intended audience is a single individual, making a VPN easy to set up and use is more important when compared to a proxy. VPNs generally require only a few clicks to install and use.
On a regular internet user’s level, using a proxy allows browsing the internet with enhanced privacy levels. Furthermore, if proxy servers are correctly configured then the user’s internet requests can be encrypted, which consequently improves security levels.
What’s more, a proxy can unlock geo-blocked content, even if the user’s real IP address doesn’t have permission to access this particular information. By choosing to operate under a proxy server that is tied to the required geographical location, geo-blocked content will be a worry of the past.
A VPN, like proxy server, will make a user’s internet traffic seem as it is coming from a different IP address. Furthermore, the use of a VPN substantially enhances security levels and allows to access geo-blocked content. However, after that, there are some key differences in the way a VPN works, and how it benefits the end-user.
Unlike a proxy server, a VPN service installed on the user’s device ensures that all outgoing internet traffic (not just the browser, but any app) on the device are processed under the VPN service. On top of that, the VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for all internet communication between the user’s device and remote network. This ensures that in the case of the internet requests being intercepted by unwanted eyes, it will make it near impossible to decipher the internet request content. Unfortunately, VPNs, unlike a proxy, can cause significant overall slowdowns since all of the traffic is routed through the server.
VPN service is mostly oriented to a single user and is used by individuals who are looking to not only mask their true identity but also to make sure that their internet requests are encrypted.
Whereas a proxy or a proxy server also allows achieving anonymity but is most commonly used by individuals and organizations (in significant quantities) that are performing web scraping operations. If you wish to learn more, our blog on scraping with Python delves into the topic of scraping in a more in-depth way.
On a business’s level, the use of a proxy or a proxy server comes in handy to not only protect their brands, but proxies are also used for market research, web scraping real estate and many more purposes. A common challenge faced by many is to avoid getting blocked by the desirable data source while collecting the required data. The use of a proxy allows overcoming this challenge.
Combining proxies with web scraping allows making it seem as if multiple organic users are visiting the website. And this makes it possible to successfully extract a vast amount of required data without raising any suspicions to the web server.
There is no clear, all-around winner in the proxy server vs VPN battle. Proxies are often much better for businesses as they are more useful for some traffic-intensive tasks while VPNs will be more than enough for almost any individual.
By now you should have a decent understanding of both proxy and VPN, and hopefully starting to understand the purpose of each term. They both do change the IP address before accessing the internet resources, enhances security levels, and allows to access the geo-blocked content. However, the main difference between a proxy and a VPN is that the latter is heavily tailored to an individual while proxies are an essential part of online and offline businesses.
VPN services are mostly oriented towards a single user and are used by individuals who are looking to not only mask their IP address but also to make sure that their internet requests are encrypted. On the other hand, a proxy or a proxy server also allows achieving anonymity by hiding the user’s IP address but is most commonly used by individuals and organizations (in significant quantities) that are performing web scraping operations.
If you want to find out more about proxies or VPNs and how to use them to enhance your business, we have many more blog posts that will help you get started with your scraping projects.
To answer this question is best to learn what is a proxy in general. A proxy does act like a gateway similar to a VPN, however it is best used in scraping projects (when bought in large quantities).
It depends on what your goal is. If it’s surfing the web to stay anonymous, then a VPN is enough. However if you want to find out more about proxies or VPNs and how to use them to enhance your business, we have many more blog posts that will help you to come up with web scraping project ideas and get started.
Your VPN settings will override your proxy settings, so there is no need to use both and won’t give you an extra layer of protection. If you want to make sure to stay anonymous online, we recommend you use residential proxies as a solution.
About the author
Head of PR
Vytautas Kirjazovas is Head of PR at Oxylabs, and he places a strong personal interest in technology due to its magnifying potential to make everyday business processes easier and more efficient. Vytautas is fascinated by new digital tools and approaches, in particular, for web data harvesting purposes, so feel free to drop him a message if you have any questions on this topic. He appreciates a tasty meal, enjoys traveling and writing about himself in the third person.
All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.
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