Proxy locations

Europe

North America

South America

Asia

Africa

Oceania

See all locations

Network statusCareers

Back to blog

What Is a Proxy Server & How Does It Work?

Adomas Sulcas

Adomas Sulcas

2024-03-2212 min read
Share

In this article, we’ll answer questions commonly asked among the web scraping community on what is a proxy.

What is a proxy server?

A proxy server acts as an intermediary between you and the internet. When you’re using a proxy server, your web request runs through the proxy server (which conceals your real IP address) first and only then connects to the website. In other words, the proxy server forwards your request to web pages. This is the main thing to know about the definition of a proxy server.

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 learn how to hide IP from websites that you visit and boost your online anonymity, using a proxy is undoubtedly a good way to go about this. However, 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.

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, are residential and datacenter proxies:

Residential proxies

A residential proxy is 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 the chances of being blocked, and hiding real IP behind this type of proxy allows for higher levels of privacy.

Datacenter proxies

A datacenter proxy is 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 a more detailed and visual explanation of what the different proxy types are, check out our colleague Vytautas Kirjazovasexplaining 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 proxies

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 proxies

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 proxies

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

Note that some proxy types were created for marketing-based reasons rather than being separate technical types. 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. Learn more about SOCKS vs HTTP proxies.

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 that 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. When it comes to reverse proxies, we should also mention forward proxies.

Forward proxies ensure that websites never communicate directly with a user. You can learn more about reverse proxy vs. forward proxy in our separate blog post.

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. For example, if you are using a Brazil proxy, your requests will appear as if they were coming from Brazil or Germany with a German proxy.

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 as 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 that 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 and 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.

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.

The main proxy types compared

Proxy Type Functionality Configuration Security Performance
Residential Proxies Mimics organic browsing behavior for web scraping Configurable by ISP Higher privacy due to real IP addresses Variable depending on ISP policies
Datacenter Proxies Imitates a real internet connection Typically easy to configure Offers anonymity but less privacy compared to the residential proxy Generally offers high performance
Shared Proxies Used by multiple users simultaneously Configuration varies by provider Limited security and privacy risks Performance may vary based on load
Semi-dedicated Proxies Shared by a few users Configuration varies by provider Better security and performance than shared proxies Offers better performance compared to shared proxies
Private Proxies Used only by one user Typically easy to configure Provides high levels of privacy and security Generally offers high performance
SOCKS5 Proxies Used for traffic-intensive network tasks Configuration varies by provider Offers encryption and authentication for security Generally offers good performance
HTTP Proxies Used for HTTP requests and can act as a tunnel Configuration varies by provider Provides encryption Generally offers good performance

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 comes 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.

What are proxies used for?

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 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 (e.g. for MAP monitoring), 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, do 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.

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.

Most 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) for which you require it. 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

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 add-ons. 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 nearly 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 the 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 cyber criminals, 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 HTTP 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 that 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 fulfill 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 analyzed. 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 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, please contact us at hello@oxylabs.io.

About the author

Adomas Sulcas

Adomas Sulcas

Former PR Team Lead

Adomas Sulcas was a PR Team Lead 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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a public proxy server?

A public proxy server is openly accessible to anyone on the Internet, unlike private proxies, which are restricted. These servers are commonly used for masking IP addresses, bypassing geo-blocks, and enhancing online privacy. However, due to their open nature, they may have slower speeds and security risks.

Related articles

Get the latest news from data gathering world

I'm interested

IN THIS ARTICLE:


  • What is a proxy server?


  • How does a proxy operate?


  • Types of proxies


  • Other proxy types


  • What are proxies used for?


  • Do you need a proxy server?


  • Proxy compatibility


  • Do proxies hide your IP?


  • Is VPN the same as a proxy?


  • Wrapping up

Forget about complex web scraping processes

Choose Oxylabs' advanced web intelligence collection solutions to gather real-time public data hassle-free.

Scale up your business with Oxylabs®