What is a proxy
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Adomas Sulcas

Aug 13, 2020 20 min read

In this article, we’ll answer questions commonly asked among the web scraping community on what is a proxy. For easier navigation in this guide-like article, you’ll find the main topics linked below:

What is a proxy?

A proxy acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. When you’re using a proxy server, your request runs through the proxy server (which changes your IP address) first, and only then connects to the website. This is the main thing to know if you want to define a proxy.

How proxies work
How proxies work

Types of proxies

By now, you should have a decent idea of what a proxy is. However, there are different types of proxies as well. The most common ones, in terms of their origin, being residential and datacenter proxies:

  • A residential proxy – an IP address provided by an ISP to a homeowner. It is a real IP address attached to a physical location, thus allowing users to imitate organic browsing behavior when web scraping. This reduces chances being blocked and hiding real IP behind this type of proxy allows for higher levels of privacy.
  • A datacenter proxy – not affiliated with an ISP, and it only imitates a real internet connection. They come from a secondary corporation and provide you with completely private IP authentication and anonymity.

For more detailed and visual explanation on what are different proxy types, check out our colleague Vytautas Kirjazovas explaining them in the video below:  

Now, taking things a step further, web proxies can also be categorized by their access type – they can be either private (dedicated), semi-dedicated or shared:

  • Shared proxy is used by multiple users at the same time, meaning it will also be accessible to other end users. Shared proxies tend to lack overall performance, and come with various potential attached risks. That’s pretty much all you need to know to define a shared proxy.
  • Semi-dedicated proxy is an upgrade in comparison to a shared proxy. Even though it is still shared, it is done so only by a few users, which offers considerably better performance.
  • Private proxy is a type of proxy that is used only by one user, and this type of proxy, also known as a dedicated proxy, provides a user with completely private IP authentication, anonymity, and high overall performance level.

Other proxy types

Take note that some of the proxy types were created for marketing based reasons rather than actually being a separate technical type. Nevertheless, some of them offer optimizations for specific uses or other improvements. You might encounter these types while browsing the web, so in order to better understand their definitions, we made a list of most types you can find online: 

SOCKS5 proxy

SOCKS5 proxies are used for traffic-intensive network tasks, such as uploading or downloading files, content streaming, VoIP or video calls, and others.

Static residential proxy 

Originating from data centers, static residential proxies can be defined as a combination of data center and residential proxies, offering an exceptionally stable, fast, and anonymous experience to the end-user.

HTTP proxy 

An HTTP proxy is used for multiple purposes. These proxies can serve two mediating roles – as an HTTP client and HTTP server for security and multiple other uses. Acting as a tunnel, the HTTP proxy routes HTTP requests from a web browser to the internet. It also has support for useful features such as caching web data for faster load speeds.

This proxy type allows for tunneling, which means that it can route traffic, acting as a middle-man between a client and their destination. Its usefulness lies in enabling setting up custom rules which make things like content filtering or website caching possible. 

Mobile proxy

These proxies route their users web requests through mobile devices connected to cellular networks. In other words, a mobile proxy utilizes IP addresses assigned dynamically to mobile devices by their Mobile Network Operator (MNO) who at the same time act as their ISP.

Reverse proxy

A reverse proxy server is one which directs client requests to a particular backend server. It commonly sits behind a firewall in a private network – providing reliability and performance benefits while protecting against web server attacks.

Rotating proxies

Rotating proxies, or rotating residential proxies, are harder to detect due to their rotating nature (meaning the proxy IP will continuously change and keep you block- free) and are ideal for challenging targets from various global locations.

Web proxy server

A web proxy server hides your IP address from the websites that you visit. They are capable of masking your true location, which makes websites believe you are accessing the page from another location.

Anonymous proxy

Otherwise known as an anonymizer, an anonymous proxy is used to maintain your privacy on the internet. Using one ensures that your IP address is never disclosed so that you can access the websites you want with there being less risk of getting blocked.

High anonymity proxy

Otherwise known as an elite proxy, a high anonymity proxy provides all the same benefits of an anonymous proxy but with some additional features. It allows users to conceal the fact they are using a proxy server to access the internet, with periodic changes to your IP address preventing any detection.

Transparent proxy

A transparent proxy can be described as one which makes the client unaware that their requests are being processed through a proxy before reaching the server. It acts as an intermediary between client requests and intercepts them for authentication, catching, or acceptable use purposes.

CGI proxy

Useful for devices or networks in which true proxy settings cannot be changed, a CGI proxy can be described as a proxy that accepts requests then processes them in the user’s browser window before returning the result to the client.

Sneaker proxy

A sneaker proxy is a proxy that is specifically optimized to work as efficiently as possible for sneaker copping – a process during which resellers try to buy limited edition sneakers in hope to later resell them at a higher price. This usually requires automated software (sneaker bots) and proxies that are very fast, offer zero to non blocks, and have IPs that look similar to those of organic internet users. Both data center and residential proxies are sold as sneaker proxies.

Suffix proxy

As the name suggests, a suffix proxy essentially adds its name to the end of the URL it is rerouting or processing. This allows users to access websites or programs that would otherwise be blocked – all thanks to a suffix proxy’s ability to bypass web filters.

Distorting proxy

A distorting proxy can be described as the middle level of the three levels of anonymity where proxy servers are concerned – below elite but offering more anonymity than transparent proxies. This type of proxy allows you to bypass content restrictions and prevents targeted marketing by using a substitute IP address.

TOR onion proxy

Short for ‘The Onion Router’, TOR is an open-source network that protects your data with multiple layers of security and provides online anonymity. The downside is that your connection is usually far slower when compared to using other types of proxy, with requests being tunneled through multiple servers instead.

I2P anonymous proxy

Protecting peer to peer communication and blocking any monitoring from external sources such as your ISP, an I2P proxy is an anonymous network of around 55,000 volunteer-run computers through which web traffic flows using end-to-end encryption.

DNS proxy

A DNS (domain name server) proxy converts numeric IP addresses into hierarchical, readable internet addresses and vice versa using a system of connected servers. It allows your device(s) to understand the information you’d like to reach the server.

Proxy types

Elite proxy (or premium proxy)

An elite or a premium proxy is a type of proxy offered by established, reputable proxy providers, offering fast, stable and overall reliable proxies. Most often you will see residential proxies being described as premium proxies, however, data center proxies can also be called elite or premium. In addition to reliability, premium proxy providers offer additional benefits, such as 24/7 live support or a dedicated account manager.

What is considered a cheap proxy?

Cheap proxies are proxies sold at a price that is lower than the market average. However, before buying such proxies it must be considered that the lower cost of these proxies inevitably come with trade-offs.

Cheap proxies are often sold by resellers who provide no added value of their own, which often means that the stability of these proxies is not guaranteed. Furthermore, some of the companies selling cheap proxies are not trustworthy and raise concerns about possible security risks when using those proxies.

How does a proxy operate?

Acting as a gateway between your device and the internet, a proxy server is often used for boosting web privacy, bypassing content filters, and a handful of other reasons. A proxy can do all of this and more by processing web traffic through a server, after which web page data is then forwarded to your device.

In other words, instead of communication taking place between your computer and the server, the computer’s request to obtain a file or web page occurs through the proxy server before being sent to the requesting computer. This process effectively boosts your online privacy as the target server can only see the proxy server as the visitor, as opposed to your device.

So, if you’re looking to hide your IP address from websites that you visit and boost your online anonymity, using a proxy is undoubtedly a good way to go about this. But one thing to bear in mind is that not all proxies are created equal, with each one providing various levels of anonymity and different features. For that reason, it’s important to choose a proxy that suits your requirements.

What are proxies used for?

Anonymous proxies

Proxies for personal use

There are several reasons for individuals or organizations to use a proxy.

Firstly, for regular internet users, a proxy could come in handy if there is a need to browse the internet more privately. On top of the privacy factor, proxy servers can also improve security levels if the proxy server is correctly configured as users can encrypt their internet requests.

What’s more, a proxy tied to a specific location can unlock geo-blocked content, even if the real IP address doesn’t have the privilege to access this particular information.

Proxies for business use

On a business’s level the same factors come into play as discussed above. Furthermore, proxy servers are widely used internally to control and monitor internet usage among organizations themselves.

Externally, many businesses use proxies to carry out their day to day operations. For instance, ad verification is used by companies harness proxies to check advertisers’ landing pages anonymously. Whereas, travel fare aggregators use proxies to scrape flight prices without IP blocks or bans.

Proxies can also be used to get pricing data, buy limited edition products, create and manage social media accounts, and for many other reasons.

Do you need a proxy server?

Whether you need a proxy server depends on what you are planning to do. If it’s for hiding your IP address alone, a VPN should be more than enough. However, if you’re looking up proxies because you need to gather data in large quantities – you most likely need a proxy server.

For any larger web scraping operation, you will need a vast amount of proxies to successfully connect to the desired data source through your automated web scraping script. With proxies, you will gather your required data from the web server, without reaching the implemented requests limit, and slip under anti-scraping measures.

So to answer whether you need a proxy server in such a case? Yes. Of course, you should know how much data you’ll be needing. In other words – how many requests you’ll be making per day. Based on data points (or request volumes) and traffic you’ll be needing, it will be easier for you to choose the right proxies for your requirements.

What is the most popular type of proxy server?

We cannot tell you what is the best type of proxies (without knowing your business use case) but we can tell you which proxies are more popular. 

The findings of the report are based on aggregated internal data on scraping behavior of more than 500 clients, detailing the trends in use of our datacenter, residential proxies

In 2020, we released The Rising Demand for Data: Oxylabs’ 2020 Trend Report. The report was based on the findings of aggregated internal data on scraping behavior of more than 500 clients  detailing the trends in use of our datacenter and residential proxies. 

So what were the numbers? Well, for datacenter proxies, in 2019 there was a substantial 22.7% growth in the total number of requests. Total datacenter proxy traffic volume grew by 45.8% in 2019. This suggests that Oxylabs clients gathered more data per request on average than in 2018.

Data center requests
Datacenter proxies’ requests change by month, 2019 vs. 2018 data. Source: Oxylabs
Data center traffic

Datacenter proxies’ traffic change by month, 2019 vs. 2018 data. Source: Oxylabs

Whereas for residential proxies, in 2019, there was a 165.3% growth in the total number of requests. Meanwhile, total residential proxy traffic volume grew by an impressive 177.5% in 2019.

Residential proxy requests
Residential proxy requests
Residential proxy traffic
Residential proxy traffic

It is safe to say that based on the growth in both request and traffic volumes, residential proxies tend to be the most popular choice amongst Oxylabs’ clients. 

Choosing a proxy server: risks

When it comes to choosing which proxy server to use, you must select a suitable one for the particular task that you are performing. Thankfully, you’ll now be able to make an informed decision on which is the most appropriate proxy to use by referring to the definitions covered in the previous section.

However, there is one thing to be aware of – shared proxies. This is a type of proxy that is widely used across the globe for purposes such as data mining and bypassing website blocks. However, these are far less efficient when compared to using a private proxy – meaning that you’ll suffer from constant connection slowdowns. To make matters worse, shared proxies could potentially even lead to malware on your system, which we are sure you will want to avoid.

Luckily, doing your research before investing in a proxy server will enable you to determine precisely which type of proxy you’ll need. Once you’ve done just that, you’ll be able to make the most out of your chosen proxy without having to worry about things going wrong. Plus, you’ll know for sure that you’ve chosen the correct proxy for the task at hand.

Is it safe to use proxy servers?

Most people use proxies to mask their location and hide their IP address, but as you will now be aware, there are many other reasons for using proxies. Either way, it’s worth taking caution when it comes to deciding which proxy server to use.

To put things into perspective, as much as 79% of free proxy servers do not use HTTPS, which could place your private data at risk, with many free proxies also monitoring your connection, or even containing malicious software. For that reason, it’s worth doing your research before deciding to use a free proxy server, despite the fact they don’t cost anything to use.

As an alternative, you should invest in a proven proxy service that takes your online security and privacy seriously and choose one that is suitable for the purpose(s) that you require it for. That way, you’ll be able to utilize all the benefits that a proxy provides – whether it’s enjoying enhanced anonymity, bypassing content filters, scraping the web or otherwise.

Proxy compatibility settings

Proxy compatibility

Proxy compatibility refers to the ability of specific proxies to be used with different software platforms and tools on different levels, from operating systems to browser addons. Most proxies will work with any software and their compatibility depends on how well the integrations are documented by specific providers.

What are proxy settings?

Proxy settings refer to manual proxy configuration settings on specific applications, such as browsers. On Firefox, for example, apart from providing your proxy IP address by protocol (HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, and SOCKS), there are also more configuration options, such as exempting certain sites from being connected to via a proxy. Not all applications offer proxy settings and others, like Chrome, only allow to use proxies with default system settings out of the box. 

How to configure a proxy?

Proxy configuration settings are application specific, so it would be near to impossible to detail all of them. Most often, all you need to do is to provide your proxy IP list (or a single exit point) and a connection port. To our clients, we offer step-by-step guides that explain how to configure Oxylabs’ proxies on most commonly used applications and proxy software tools:

Clients of premium proxy providers, such as Oxylabs, also usually have the opportunity to ask for assistance via live support.

Do proxies hide your IP?

Yes, proxies do hide your real IP address and in a lot of cases this is their main function. However, you should also know that there are plenty of other uses for proxies in which hiding the user’s original IP address is only secondary to some other goal, such as bypassing geo-blocks, filtering or scraping web content and much more. You can read all about it in other sections of this article. It is also worth mentioning that anonymization mostly matters to private individuals, while companies mostly employ them for more nuanced activities.

How to Hide an IP Address and Stay Anonymous

Do proxies really provide anonymity?

Online privacy has undoubtedly become a huge talking point in recent years, with web users looking to prevent prying eyes, including ISPs, the government, and cybercriminals, from tracking their every move online. One of the most frequently used methods to trace online activity is through an IP address, as this provides information such as your approximate location, which websites you have visited, and how often you visit them.

However, there are also other ways in which you can be tracked online, which includes tracking cookies. These allow marketers to compile data on your web usage, which presents a privacy risk. Another issue is when DNS requests are made to the local DNS server, in which case the websites you visit can track your activity online when you are on their website.

Thankfully, proxies help to combat each of the aforementioned issues by providing a handful of web privacy features, which make it difficult for any third parties to keep tabs on your online life. This includes the ability to hide or change your real IP address. But if you’d like to go a step further in achieving enhanced online anonymity, you’ll need to choose a proxy which utilizes end-to-end encryption while processing your web traffic.

Is VPN the same as a proxy?

Virtual private networks and proxies both work in a similar manner as they both allow you to appear as if you are connecting to the internet from another location. While both tools work in a similar manner, they fulfil very different roles.

Proxies use specific protocols to connect to the web, allowing mostly application specific data to be transmitted over the internet. Meanwhile, virtual private networks route all outgoing traffic (even background processes like Windows Update) through a server to the destination.

VPN services are generally significantly more expensive and slower than proxies but provide a wider range of encryption for outgoing traffic.

VPN vs Proxy
VPN vs Proxy

Which is better – VPN or proxy?

Both web proxies and VPNs have their uses and one will be more beneficial over the other depending on the task at hand. Proxies are generally better whenever large amounts of data need to be transferred or retrieved and analysed. Proxy servers are significantly cheaper per GB of data than virtual private networks and, at the same time, provide better connection speeds.

On the other hand, virtual private networks are generally better suited for all-around use and privacy purposes. Since all outgoing data (instead of traffic from just a single application) is encrypted, users can be more assured that they are not leaking any unnecessary data to the destination server. Premium VPN services will also allow users to continue doing any activity without significantly increased delay or slowdown.

Wrapping up

Proxies and have a wide variety of advantages for nearly any internet user. From opening up business opportunities and increasing potential profits to enhanced privacy and security when browsing, web proxies can provide something for everyone. If you have any questions about proxies or would like to find out more about any specific topic contact us at [email protected].

What is the best type of proxy server?
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About Adomas Sulcas

Adomas Sulcas is a Content Manager at Oxylabs. Having grown up in a tech-minded household, he quickly developed an interest in everything IT and Internet related. When he is not nerding out online or immersed in reading, you will find him on an adventure or coming up with wicked business ideas.

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