Forward vs reverse proxies
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Iveta Vistorskyte

Jul 08, 2021 8 min read

In general, proxies are intermediaries between a user and a web server. As you may know, there are various types of proxies used for different purposes. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between the forward vs reverse proxy servers.

First, let’s make sure that we’re on the same page by understanding what a forward and reverse proxy is.

What is a forward proxy?

In most cases, when people mention a proxy server, they refer to the most common proxy type, i.e., a forward proxy. This proxy sits in front of a user and acts as a mediator between users and the web servers they access. It means that the user’s request goes through the forward proxy first and then reaches the web page. Once the data from the internet is retrieved, it is sent to the proxy server, redirecting it back to the requester. From the perspective of the internet server, the request is made by the proxy server itself and not the user. A forward proxy can also cache information and use it to process future requests.

Since a forward proxy can be seen as a point of access and control, it can enhance the security of the users within a private network, regulate traffic and provide anonymity by masking the original IP address.

Forward proxy is an intermediary between a user and a web server
How do forward proxies operate

Types of forward proxies

There are many different types of forward proxies. The most common ones are classified by their origin. In this case, there are two types of proxies – residential proxies and datacenter proxies.

1. Residential proxies. These proxies have a real IP address provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) with a physical location.

2. Datacenter proxies. This proxy type isn’t affiliated with an ISP, as IP addresses come from secondary sources like data centers.

If you are interested in what different proxy types are, check out the video below:

What are forward proxies used for?

There are many reasons for single users or businesses to use forward proxy servers:

1. Accessing restricted geo-locations. Forward proxy servers could come in handy to access geo-restricted content. When users are browsing the internet, they usually see content according to their geo-location. When using a forward proxy, users can access a variety of content intended for other countries. For example, this is especially useful for companies that provide ad verification services. These companies can monitor ads regardless of their geo-location. For example, if you were looking to see if your ads are visible in Brazil, you would use a Brazil proxy, or Germany proxy to access content in Germany.

2. Ensuring anonymity. A forward proxy server acts as an additional safety layer that hides the web server’s real IP address by using one of its own. This is the reason why using forward proxy servers ensures higher levels of anonymity and security.

3. Web scraping. The most common usage of proxies is web scraping. Companies usually gather data to improve their marketing, pricing, and other business strategies. Web scraping helps companies to stay competitive in the market.

Forward proxies can also be used to control and monitor internet usage, create and manage social media accounts, and much more.

What is a reverse proxy?

As the name suggests, unlike a forward proxy that acts on behalf of clients, a reverse proxy server resides in front of backend servers and transfers client requests to these servers. Reverse proxies are generally employed to boost protection, speed, and reliableness. A reverse proxy gets the request from a client, passes it on to another server, and then forwards it back to the client, making it appear as if the initial proxy server processed it. These proxies make sure that users don’t reach the origin server directly, thus providing anonymity to this web server.

While being of no particular use to consumers and regular people, reverse proxy servers are the perfect fit for service providers and websites that have numerous visitors daily. These proxies can protect web servers, increase website performance, and help avoid overloading. Reverse proxies are also used for load balancing, caching, and SSL encryption.

How do reverse proxies operate
How do reverse proxies operate

Types of reverse proxies

In their functionality, all reverse proxies are more or less the same. However, we can distinguish two main types of reverse proxies based on their features. They are regular reverse proxies as such and load balancers

1. Regular reverse proxies. This proxy type intercepts the request from a client, directs it to the server to process it, and then sends it back to the client. This proxy type is mainly used for security purposes. 

2. Load balancers. This proxy is a reverse proxy subtype that leads to multiple backend instances instead of one. It is capable of distributing the traffic among multiple other servers and managing client-server communication between all of them. This type is more specifically tailored to distribute the load evenly among different servers, thus increasing the speed and performance.

What are reverse proxies used for?

Websites and service providers may use reverse proxies for different reasons, and here are some of them:

1. Load balancing. Frequently visited websites may sometimes need reverse proxy servers to deal with the flow of incoming traffic. Instead of handling it on its own, a popular site may distribute the traffic between multiple back-end servers and thus boost its capacity for handling many requests. If one of the servers is overloaded and out of order, the traffic can be redirected to other online servers keeping the web page running. The website engineers may even add more back-end servers to this load balancer to increase capacity and meet rising demand for performance.

2. Caching. A reverse proxy is capable of caching data that is commonly requested. Businesses that store a lot of pictures and videos may also speed up the performance of their websites by caching this content and reducing the load on the internet servers. 

3. Anonymity and security. Since reverse proxies intercept all the incoming requests,  they serve as an additional level of protection for backend servers. It helps prevent any malicious actors from abusing web servers by blocking suspicious traffic from specific IP addresses.

Forward proxy vs reverse proxy: the differences

The key difference between a forward proxy and a reverse proxy is that the first one is used by a client, e.g., a user inside a private network, while the second one is used by an internet server. A forward proxy can be positioned in the private network together with the user, or it can be online.

Forward proxies ensure that websites never communicate directly with a user. On the other hand, reverse proxies ensure that users would not communicate directly with a back-end server.

The differences between forward and reverse proxies

Also, these two types of proxies have another difference, and it’s in their usage. We’ve already singled out some of the most common use cases of each proxy type. Forward proxies are utilized for privacy reasons, accessing geo-restricted content, web scraping, and much more. Web servers use reverse proxies to avoid overloading, add additional safety layers from malicious entities, caching, SSL encryption, etc. Therefore, these proxies are used for entirely different tasks, which is the main difference between them.

Can a forward proxy act as a reverse proxy?

Simply put, a forward proxy server cannot act as a reverse proxy server. Even if these proxies’ concepts may be similar, as we mentioned earlier, they are utilized for entirely different purposes.

A proxy by itself is not only an IP address. Proxies consist of IP addresses and dedicated software that allows them to operate in the intended manner. As forward and reverse proxies are used for different tasks, they each have different software to perform smoothly. This is the reason why you cannot use forward proxies as reverse proxies.

Conclusion

Forward proxies are crucial for privacy and security when browsing the internet, accessing geo-restricted content, web scraping, and much more. Reverse proxies are important for websites with many visitors daily because they help avoid overloading and are a perfect fit for caching content, SSL encryption.

The main difference between a forward proxy and reverse proxy is in their purpose. As they are utilized for different tasks, they cannot be considered as the same proxies.

If you are interested in choosing the right forward proxy type or want to start web scraping, we suggest you check our other blog posts on Python web scraping.

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About Iveta Vistorskyte

Iveta Vistorskyte is a Content Manager 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.

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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