Reverse Proxy vs Forward Proxy

Romj Amon
Romj Amon

Updated · Aug 18, 2022

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There are two main proxy server types: reverse and forward.

Which direction should you take when you want to reroute your online traffic?

Let’s explore the merits of reverse proxy vs forward proxy to get a definitive answer.

What Is a Reverse Proxy Server?

Reverse proxies intercept traffic from end-user devices like smartphones and forward the requests to web servers. Sitting in front of backend servers, they prevent internet users from directly connecting to the computers that store the data.

There are two main subtypes of reverse proxies: regular and load balancing-optimized.

The regular ones perform the above description of how a reverse proxy works.

In contrast, the load balancers reroute traffic across multiple backend instances instead of one. Without such reverse proxies, sites that frequently get a deluge of traffic would crash.

What Are Reverse Proxies Useful for?

The most common use cases of reverse proxies are as follows: 

Load Balancing

When a reverse proxy acts as a load balancer, it distributes incoming traffic to multiple web servers.

This way, a popular site would have more capacity to handle high volumes of requests. Its individual servers would be faster and less prone to crashes.

If one fails completely, the reverse proxy helps the others step up to keep the site running.

In a global server load balancing setup, numerous servers can host a site. In this case, the role of the reverse proxy is to direct users to the origin server near them.

Not only would individual servers be less likely to suffer overloads, but regional visitors would also enjoy better site performance.

Caching

Using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) reverse proxy, you can temporarily save static content to minimize load times.

Caching content cuts the travel time of requests and fetches the requested data more quickly.

Here’s a reverse proxy example:

A user in London could visit a site hosted in Singapore via a local reverse proxy. The proxy could cache the response data and load it when other London-based visitors send the same request.

The traffic of all subsequent visitors from the city and nearby areas wouldn’t have to go to Asia. As a result, users would experience much better performance.

In turn, the origin server could focus on requests coming from within its region and deal with a more manageable load.

Encryption

A reverse proxy can decrypt incoming Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) communications and encrypt outgoing responses.

The encryption process can be compute-intensive. But by handling it on its end, the reverse proxy can free up more of the origin server’s valuable resources.

Cyber-Attack Prevention

Increased cybersecurity is among the biggest reverse proxy benefits.

Reverse-proxied sites help hide the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of their origin servers. That’s because proxies broadcast their own IPs instead.

Without knowing the IPs of origin servers, malicious actors wouldn’t be able to target and take down sites easily. If the hackers choose to attack, they could only try to compromise the reverse proxy.

Understanding their role in site security, the leading proxy service providers are prepared to fend off cyber attacks. They have adequate resources to neutralize criminals, as shielding sites from threats is part of their job description.

Furthermore, reverse proxies can block dubious IPs. If traffic comes from an IP with a bad reputation, the proxy can keep it at bay.

What Is a Forward Proxy Server?

Forward proxies are intermediaries that transmit traffic to web hosts on behalf of end-user devices. Like their reverse counterparts, they also prevent internet users from sending direct requests to origin servers for various reasons.

Forward proxies also have two subtypes: residential and datacenter.

Residential proxies contain IPs that belong to household electronics given by internet service providers (ISPs).

Generally, web hosts don’t give residential proxies a second look because they’re associated with ISPs. They think that the IPs are just ordinary site visitors. Thanks to this illusion, residential proxies are super useful for web scraping and other large-scale, automated online activities.

Datacenter proxies, on the other hand, are not affiliated with any ISP. Rather, their IPs are linked to data centers and other secondary sources.

Datacenter proxies are more affordable than residential ones but don’t stay under the radar as effectively.

What Are Forward Proxies Useful for?

Here are the reasons why may need a forward proxy server:

IP Masking

A forward proxy is key to browsing the internet anonymously. It may not directly prevent Domain Name System (DNS) leaks, but it can help keep your identity a secret. It accomplishes this by hiding your actual IP when using a specific app like a web browser.

As an ordinary internet user, not revealing your ISP-provided IP can improve your online experience in many ways. For example, It can help you get around geo-restrictions used to ban content for people in certain jurisdictions.

A forward proxy can help you snag the best deals too. Some merchants price their products and services by region, charging customers in particular locations more.

Considering that site owners choose to display web content regionally, forward proxies are also instrumental in ad verification.

If you market your business in different countries, using local IPs can determine whether you’re reaching your target customers.

For instance, you can use a Madrid-housed forward proxy to see whether your ads appear to Spain-based site visitors.

Caching

Like a CDN reverse proxy, a forward proxy can store information so that subsequent users can access it more quickly.

Shadow IT Detection

A forward proxy can give you in-depth visibility over the online activity of your employees. It allows your IT team to bust employees who use unpermitted third-party apps.

Usage of unsanctioned programs could endanger your company data in more ways than one.

Plus, it could result in productivity loss. Some apps are notoriously distracting, keeping your employees from accomplishing their tasks during working hours.

Data Protection

A forward proxy empowers your IT department to monitor where your employees share sensitive business data.

Thanks to such insight, your cybersecurity experts can stop any user from uploading files to risky cloud locations.

Threat Neutralization

Unlike firewalls, forward proxies can evaluate the integrity of the traffic before transmitting it. In other words, they can smell threats in transit and successfully prevent malicious files from wreaking havoc on your system.

Reverse Proxy vs. Forward Proxy: Similarities and Differences

Reverse and forward proxies share many use cases like obscuring IPs and improving online experiences.

However, they’re never interchangeable.

Reverse proxies are for web servers, whereas forward ones are for end-user devices.

You’d primarily use a reverse proxy to boost your cybersecurity through SSL and TLS encryption and malicious traffic blocking.

Conversely, you’d need forward proxies to preserve your privacy, prevent data leaks, and perform tasks like web scraping

Wrap Up

Fundamentally, reverse and forward proxies serve different purposes.

So, determining which is suitable for a particular purpose can be confusing. Hopefully, this guide was able to help you easily distinguish between the two.

You’re still not a savant when it comes to all proxy types. But your newfound understanding of how reverse and forward proxies work makes you ahead of most people.

FAQ.


When would you use a reverse proxy?

You would need a reverse proxy when you want to enhance the performance and security of web servers.

If you host a site using multiple web servers, reverse proxies intercept and properly distribute incoming requests for load balancing.

Also, they can cache data to reduce loading times and encrypt SSL and TLS communications to conserve web-server resources.

Lastly, reverse proxies can make web servers difficult to hack by masking their actual IPs and blocking suspicious traffic.

What is a forward proxy used for?

Forward proxies are great at preserving the internet privacy of end-user devices. They broadcast their IPs instead of your electronics’, allowing you to surf the web incognito.

For this reason, forward proxies are highly useful for geo-restriction circumvention and web scraping.

In addition, you can use a forward proxy to evaluate the user activity within your private network. This way, you can monitor and prevent someone from using unpermitted apps and storing sensitive data in unsafe online locations.

Is VPN a forward proxy or reverse proxy?

Judging by the functionality of reverse proxy vs forward proxy servers, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) undoubtedly act like the latter.

Similar to a forward proxy, a VPN intercepts requests from end-user devices and communicates with web servers with its own IP.

In addition, a VPN can encrypt data, obscure all network traffic, and keep ISPs in the dark.

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Romj Amon

Romj Amon

Romj is a veteran copywriter who used to be a Jack of all trades. Now, he's trying to be a master of one: technology. He jumps down the rabbit hole to size the latest innovations up. As a content contributor for TechJury, he hopes to help you keep up in our fast-paced world with his discoveries.

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