What is a reverse proxy?
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Iveta Vistorskyte

Oct 19, 2020 7 min read

As you may already know, a proxy is an intermediary between users and the internet. If you are using a proxy, your requests go through the proxy server first and then connect to the internet. You can imagine a proxy as an additional safety layer that hides your real IP address by using one of its own.

However, there are different types of proxies. In this article, we will delve deeper into reverse proxies. They typically direct users’ requests to a specific backend server.

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What is the difference between a proxy and reverse proxy?

Simply put, a regular proxy is used by the users to connect to a web server. It ensures that websites never directly communicate with that specific user. On the other hand, reverse proxies are deployed on the web server’s side. It ensures that clients would not communicate directly with an origin server.

The primary difference between these two types of proxies lies in their purpose. Regular users utilize proxies for privacy reasons, web scraping, and much more. Web servers use a reverse proxy to add additional safety layers from hackers and malicious entities, caching, SSL encryption.

A reverse proxy ensures that users would not communicate directly with an origin web server
A reverse proxy ensures that users would not communicate directly with an origin web server

What is the purpose of a reverse proxy server?

Usually, reverse proxies help increase web servers’ security, performance and prevent overloading. Reverse proxies can also be utilized for:

1. Load balancing. Usually, websites with many daily users cannot handle all the traffic with a single origin server. Therefore, websites allocate their users’ traffic among a cluster of different backend servers. These servers then manage client requests for the same website.

Additionally, a reverse proxy can help any single server to avoid overloading because all of the site’s traffic has to go through a reverse proxy. Only then can traffic access a specific backend server.

2. Protection from hacker attacks. If a website uses a reverse proxy, its server’s address is hidden because hackers can only access the proxy IP address. This poses a challenge for hackers and malicious entities. For example, it’s much harder to make a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack against a website that uses a reverse proxy. DDoS is used to make a website inaccessible to its users by disrupting a hosts services’ connection to the internet.

When a website uses reverse proxies, hackers will only be able to attack these proxies, which will work as an additional security layer.

3. Caching. Caching allows websites to efficiently reuse previously obtained data. It’s a process of storing copies of files in a cache to be accessed more promptly. This allows websites and apps to run more effectively.

A reverse proxy server can be used to cache the website’s content and increase the website’s performance.

For clarity, let’s suppose a user in Canada visits a website that uses reverse proxies with web servers in the USA. In that case, the user might connect to a local reverse proxy server in Canada. It will then have to interact with a server in the USA. Reverse proxy servers cache the response data. Other users from Canada who connect to the site will get the Canada reverse proxy server’s locally cached data. It increases the website’s performance because the response data is temporarily saved and can be used without connecting to another country’s server again.

4. SSL encryption. Encrypting and decrypting Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) communications for each user can be ineffective for an origin server, especially if a website has a lot of daily traffic. A reverse proxy can do this job by encrypting and decrypting all the requests.

As you can see, a reverse proxy is essential for every website that has to deal with numerous visitors every day.

Reverse proxies are essential for websites that have numerous visitors every day
Reverse proxies are essential for websites that have numerous visitors every day

What does a reverse proxy not do?

We already discussed what a reverse proxy server is mostly used for. As you can understand, there are some misconceptions about reverse proxy usage:

1. Using a reverse proxy server guarantees complete security from any attack.

False. Of course, using reverse proxies adds additional safety layers. Still, there is always a chance that sophisticated hackers will find a way to bypass all security measures.

2. Using a reverse proxy server guarantees 100% web server stability.

False. There is a possibility that all systems may have unexpected technical issues. The same goes for reverse proxies. If they are compromised, and there is no backup, the website’s HTTP presence is shut down. In this case, we suggest you choose a reliable reverse proxy server provider that ensures quality and stability. Also, you should always create a backup.

3. Reverse proxies are the same as load-balancers.

False. You can find information that a reverse proxy server helps to ensure load-balancing, but you should notice that these proxies are not load-balancers. Even if these two concepts sound familiar, in simple terms, a reverse proxy accepts all the client requests from browsers and applications and then transmits these requests to the backend servers. They prevent overload because these proxies act as a middleman between a user and a server. On the other hand, load-balancers distribute traffic among the right servers in a way that makes the best use of each server’s capability.

However, you should notice that while the concepts “reverse proxy” and “load-balancer” are indeed different, there are particular reverse proxies that might also be able to perform load-balancing.

Is a reverse proxy secure?

Adding a reverse proxy server is effective in protecting web servers against hackers’ attacks and other abuses. It means that reverse proxy servers are one of the most efficient safety methods for every system or website.

As we mentioned before, reverse proxies sit between clients and your domestic web server. These proxies prevent others from directly accessing your network. The less of a website’s infrastructure is exposed and more additional safety layers are added, the fewer traction hackers and malicious persons will have against essential data.

Reverse proxies act as an additional safety layer from hackers and malicious entities

How to implement a reverse proxy?

There are two options for how you can implement reverse proxy servers into your web servers. Some businesses build and implement their own reverse proxies. Building in-house reverse proxies requires specific knowledge, human resources, software, and additional investment in physical hardware.

One of the simplest ways is to choose a reliable reverse proxy server provider that ensures high quality and security for your web servers. In this case, you’ll have less reverse proxies management and save time for complex and specific engineering knowledge required processes.

Conclusion

Reverse proxies are essential for websites that have numerous visitors every day. They help avoid overloading web servers and act as an additional safety layer from cyber attacks. Reverse proxy servers are also a suitable solution for caching content and SSL encryption.

As with every system, there is always a possibility to encounter unexpected technical issues that can cause various shutdowns. However, you should always choose a reliable provider that ensures stability, quality and 24/7 support. 

If you are interested in more proxy types, we suggest you read our extensive guide on what a proxy server is.

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About Iveta Vistorskyte

Iveta Vistorskyte is a Copywriter at Oxylabs. Growing up as a writer and a challenge seeker, she decided to welcome herself to the tech-side, and instantly became interested in this field. When she is not at work, you'll probably find her just chillin' while listening to her favorite music or playing board games with friends.

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