What Is a Proxy Server & How Does It Work?

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 a proxy server definition.

How does a proxy operate?

When a proxy is involved, 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 instead of your device.

Learn more about other proxy types

Transparent proxy

A transparent proxy is one that makes the client unaware that their requests are being processed through a proxy. A transparent proxy acts as an intermediary between client requests.

Sneaker proxy

A sneaker proxy is a proxy that is optimized to work efficiently for sneaker copping – a process during which resellers try to buy limited edition sneakers, hoping to later resell them at a higher price.

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.

DNS proxy

A DNS proxy converts numeric IP addresses into hierarchical, readable internet addresses and vice versa. It allows your device(s) to understand the information you’re sending to the server.

Anonymous proxy

Otherwise known as an anonymizer, an anonymous proxy server 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.

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.

CGI proxy

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

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.

Reverse proxy

Reverse proxies direct client requests to a particular backend server. It commonly sits behind a firewall in a private network. When it comes to reverse proxies, we should also mention forward proxies.

HTTP proxy 

An HTTP proxy is used for multiple purposes. These proxies can serve as an HTTP client and HTTP server for security. Acting as a tunnel, the HTTP proxy routes HTTP requests from a web browser to the internet.

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.

Elite proxy 

An elite proxy is offered by established, reputable proxy providers. Most often, you will see residential proxies being described as premium proxies, however, data center proxies can also be called elite or premium.

High anonymity proxy

Also 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.

Private proxies

A 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 and anonymity.

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.

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.

Transparent proxy

A transparent proxy is one that makes the client unaware that their requests are being processed through a proxy. A transparent proxy acts as an intermediary between client requests.

Sneaker proxy

A sneaker proxy is a proxy that is optimized to work efficiently for sneaker copping – a process during which resellers try to buy limited edition sneakers, hoping to later resell them at a higher price.

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.

DNS proxy

A DNS proxy converts numeric IP addresses into hierarchical, readable internet addresses and vice versa. It allows your device(s) to understand the information you’re sending to the server.

Anonymous proxy

Otherwise known as an anonymizer, an anonymous proxy server 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.

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.

CGI proxy

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

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.

More about proxies

For more information about different proxy types, check out our colleague Vytautas Kirjazovas explaining them in this video. You'll learn more about datacenter and residential proxies and how they vary based on the privacy level they provide.

Benefits of using proxy servers

Higher speeds

A good proxy enhances the overall network performance and speed.

Upgraded privacy

Proxy servers allow you to browse the internet more privately.

Boosted security

Proxy servers offer additional security by encrypting your requests.

No geo-restrictions

With proxies, you can access geo-specific content worldwide.

Do proxies really provide anonymity?

Proxies provide 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.

Difference between a proxy and a VPN

Virtual private networks and web proxies both work in a similar manner as they both mask your IP address, enhancing privacy. However, proxies and VPNs fulfill different roles.

Proxy

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 VPNs and, at the same time, provide better connection speeds.

VPN

Virtual private networks are generally better suited for all-around use and privacy purposes. Since all outgoing data (instead of the web 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.

Free proxy servers: risks

Encryption breaches

Free proxies tend to operate through unsecured connections. It means that any sensitive data, such as usernames and passwords, may be endangered.

Data logging

Proxies store users’ IP addresses and web request data. Depending on the proxy provider and terms and conditions, this data can even be sold.

Open ports

Most free proxies run on open ports, increasing the security risks. Before starting to use a proxy, make sure it doesn’t operate on open ports.

Compromised speed

Free proxies are prone to traffic overload. Servers rarely have the required capacity to be used by thousands of proxy users at the same time. It leads to slow speeds.

Certified data centers and upstream providers

All of our products are insured

All of our products are covered by Technology Errors & Omissions (Technology E&O) and Cyber Insurance.

What are proxies used for?

Ad verification

While ad fraud is on the rise, ad verification companies seek to detect it before it can cause harm. Proxies enable ad bots to test ads without IP blocks and bans.

Travel fare aggregation

Scraping travel fare data sets high standards: it has to be real-time, worldwide, and in large amounts. These demands can only be met with an extensive proxy network.

Price monitoring

Companies need to use price monitoring solutions to keep up with the ever-changing markets. To enhance their effect, they should be complemented with proxies.

Real estate scraping

To stay on top of the extremely competitive market, real estate agencies must collect and analyze tons of online data. Without proxy servers, it’s barely doable. 

Review monitoring

Tracking customer reviews and responding to them in a timely manner is important for a company’s performance. Proxies can significantly boost this process.

Cybersecurity

Whenever you need to identify threats, enhance security, test applications or perform website monitoring in different locations, proxies are a must to do so without IP blocks.

Scale up your business with Oxylabs®