What Is a Proxy Server and How Does it Work?

Romj Amon
Romj Amon

Updated · Feb 07, 2023


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People often think a proxy is similar to a VPN (virtual private network). That’s not wrong. But it’s not completely right either.

So what is a proxy server, really? Well, let’s start unpacking its basics.

What Is a Proxy Server?

A proxy is a remote computer that acts as an intermediary between an electronic device and the internet.

It captures traffic data from a source and transmits it to the intended destination. It does the same with the reply it receives.

Routing online communications through a proxy can accomplish different things.

How Do Proxies Work?

So, what is a proxy server used for?

Let’s briefly discuss what IP (Internet Protocol) addresses are first.

On the internet, they help computers (including proxies) transmit data between one another.

Usually, ISPs (internet service providers) assign public IP addresses to users’ laptops, tablets, and smartphones within their networks by region.

That’s why they can reveal the location of the devices they’re linked to.

In general, devices don’t get such numeric geographical identifiers uniquely. So, you may share one with your housemates and neighbors.

When you use a proxy, you can hide your IP address and use what’s assigned to it instead.

So, how do proxies work?

As a go-between for your device and other parts of the Web, a proxy forwards your requests to sites. Afterward, it fetches the content you need.

Proxies don’t always have to communicate with sites to pull the information they need. It can use its own database of cached pages.

If it has a copy of the information you want, it will use it. Tapping its local cache enables it to load your requested pages more quickly.

Forward Proxies and Reverse Proxies

The functionality of forward and reverse proxies is self-explanatory.

A forward proxy routes outgoing connection requests. In other words, it handles the traffic coming from your device.

It fits the definition of a proxy we explained above.

On the other hand, a reverse proxy intercepts incoming traffic from browsers. It sends the requests it receives to web servers and forwards the replies it gets to browsers.

These two make up the Direction category of proxies.

Types of Proxy Servers

Other than the one above, there are many other main proxy classifications. Familiarize yourself with the following to choose the right proxy solution for your task.


People surf the Web with a proxy for one main reason - anonymous browsing. But you see, it’s now always bulletproof.

  • Transparent Proxies - These ones broadcast online that you’re using a proxy IP address. They disclose your own IP address too.

What’s up with the transparency? Well, these proxies are usually the ones associated with public Wi-Fi networks.

Strongly consider using a VPN when browsing the internet through such an unsecure connection.

  • Anonymous (Semi-Transparent) Proxies - These aren’t absolutely transparent. But they do tell everyone that you’re using one.

They are good enough to keep your location secret. It can’t help you access sites that are allergic to proxies.

  • High-Anonymity Proxies - These ones can remove your personally identifiable information before forwarding requests to web servers.

Legitimate high-anonymity proxies can help you cover your tracks. But nefarious vendors may market them as such just to access your data and probably monetize it.

  • Distorting Proxies - These ones are honest about them being proxies. They lie about their identities, however.

They don’t use their own IP addresses. So each one is an anonymous proxy that masks its IP.

When undetected, they can protect your privacy while browsing. Unfortunately, some web servers can notice distorting proxies and block them automatically.

  • Elite Proxies - These ones masquerade as real users. They don’t announce to the world that you’re accessing the internet with a proxy and don’t display any data about your device.


Proxies come from various sources, which can affect their detectability. Those include:

  • Datacenter Proxies - This kind of web proxy is housed in a data center. Hence, the name.

They often deliver good performance and are relatively affordable. But since they don’t belong to the devices of ordinary individuals, many sites immediately deny access to them.

  • Residential Proxies - These IPs are assigned to real-life electronic devices. They generally trick hosting servers successfully because they come off as actual site visitors.
    • Mobile Proxies - This type of residential proxies come from mobile operators. Therefore, they use SIM, not Wi-Fi connections. Shared by hundreds of individuals, they’re probably the hardest IP addresses to block.
    • Static Residential Proxies - This breed of datacenter proxies comes from regional ISPs and disguise themselves as residential IP addresses. This kind of online proxy isn’t good at hiding its identity, though. Web servers can classify them as datacenter IPs 50% of the time. 


Proxies are either communal or private. Types include:

  • Shared Proxies - These ones comprise common pools of residential IP addresses.

All sorts of internet users route traffic through them because they’re cheap to obtain. Because of their popularity, they’re less stable.

In addition, they can suffer from the bad-neighbor effect. Blockers can target them due to the frowned-upon online behaviors of some users.

Even if you use the internet responsibly, you can experience web restrictions if you share IPs with shady characters.

  • Dedicated Proxies - Sometimes called private proxies, they’re exclusive for individual users and particular domains only. They deliver the best performance, but proxy vendors sell them at a premium.
  • Semi-Dedicated Proxies - These IP addresses are shared too. Fewer internet users get to access them, however.

They’re not as bad as shared proxies. But they’re not as good as true private proxy options either.


Proxy rotation refers to the ability of a proxy to change its IP address.

  • Static Proxies - These ones keep their IP addresses the same. More often than not, data center proxies are static.

Static proxies are workable when doing tasks that don’t require multiple identities.

  • Rotating Proxies - These ones indefinitely change IP addresses. Residential proxies are rotating 99% of the time.

The rotating types usually defeat blockers because they’re extremely hard to detect.


Protocols are sets of rules that define how your devices connect to sites and online services.

  • HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) Proxies - Definitely not the most secure proxy servers.

They’re now out of fashion due to safety reasons. But they’re still popular for tasks that involve no sensitive information.

  • SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Proxies - Otherwise known as HTTPS proxies, these secure proxy servers encrypt data to keep snoopers at bay.

But they offer little protection against cybercriminals that do bad deeds through SSL-supported sites.

  • SOCKS5 Proxies - While they don’t do encryption, thеy are quite versatile. They can handle different kinds of traffic. That’s why many go with a SOCKS5 proxy server for gaming, streaming, and downloading torrents.

IP Address Version

Most proxies use two major IP formats. 

  • IPv4 Proxies - All sites and apps support these proxies. IPv4 is the darling of proxy users too.

The problem is that there are just 4.3 billion possible IP addresses. You’d be hard-pressed to find fresh ones.

  • IPv6 Proxies - These IPs are longer than their IPv4 counterparts. Despite being around since 2012, only a small number of sites and apps support them.


You can only get proxy IP addresses in two ways.

  • Proxy Lists - These are explicit lists of static proxies. They’re more demanding to manage since they require manual IP rotation.  
  • Gateway Addresses - Also known as backconnect proxies, they give you access to networks of proxy by way of backconnect servers. The IP address you get rotates on its own like clockwork.


Whether or not a proxy’s price tag is $0, you stand to pay something for using one. Here’s the difference between paid and free options:

  • Free - Free proxies may cost nothing, but be wary of them. They’re not on the market out of the generosity of their providers.

Find out how your prospective free proxy vendor makes money. If it doesn’t disclose its revenue sources, it may covertly exploit your data to earn income through less reputable means.

Despite their likely dangers, free proxies are popular since they’re available for all. Chances are that they’re slow and have high block rates.

  • Paid - Premium proxy services are worth the expense If privacy and cybersecurity matter a lot to you.

You shouldn’t blindly trust any technology company. But unlike providers of free online proxy services, these vendors clearly disclose how they keep the lights on.

Why Do You Need To Use a Proxy Server?

What is a proxy server most useful for? 

As follows are the online activities one is ideal for.

Spoofing Your Location

With a proxy, you don’t broadcast your device’s ISP-assigned IP address online. That’s why you can use one to get around geo-blocking.

Site operators, media outlets, and entertainment companies may deny you access to the info you want due to several reasons. Licensing agreements, illegal content bans, and market segmentation practices are the usual motivations.

An internet proxy can be a good tool to restore what the Web is supposed to be: free and borderless.

Geo-restrictions can be defensible. But the entities that employ them can misuse and abuse powerful web filters.

The demarcations between fair game and unreasonable censorship are sometimes blurry. If you feel a geo-restriction is unjustified, you can use a proxy to successfully bypass it.

Beating price discrimination is a good case in point.

Some businesses show dissimilar sets of prices to consumers based on different locations. Ecommerce retailers and airlines are the typical offenders.

Merchants may use your place of residence against you. It can be particularly unfair if you live near a land border between two countries.

Of course, personal responsibility is important.

If you break the law while using a different IP address (inadvertently or not), the authorities may come after you.

It’s a must to understand the lines you shouldn’t cross when using a proxy. Otherwise, you may be held accountable for any honest mistake you commit with it.

Don’t you think that a proxy can protect your privacy completely, though. The sites you access may not be able to log your real IP address, but your proxy service provider may.

When your vendor stores your IP somewhere, someone may get ahold of it and leak it. 

Blocking Unwanted Sites

A proxy can function as a business firewall.

You can set up proxy servers to block dubious sites. It’s an effective way to keep your system free from malware and protect your organization from hackers.

Aside from stealing your trade secrets and other sensitive information, cybercriminals can also launch a ransomware attack.

Furthermore, regulating web access within your organization can help reduce distractions and discourage procrastination. Minimizing the temptation of social media and other time-wasters can be a boon.

Barring the use of sites that contradict your organization’s principles is another good reason to use a proxy.

Web restrictions aren’t always good for employee morale. But they may be needed to promote a company culture that’s friendly to everyone.

Displaying Localized Content

You can use a web proxy server to show distinct web content versions for different audiences. It’s a good strategy if your business site serves a global clientele.

Localizing your marketing campaigns can increase the relevance of your brand in major regions. Make your messages multilingual - it can result in higher engagement. Content personalization can move the needle in regional sales too.

Technologies like proxies alone can’t exceed the value of local marketing teams. But when used right, they can make your content more appealing to your target international audiences.

Proxies can help you combat ad fraud too. Using IP addresses from various locations can help you verify whether your ads appear as planned and where intended. It’s a convenient way to catch fraudsters and keep any fraud-related losses low.

Copping Limited-Edition Goods

You’ll find an internet proxy useful if you’re a sucker for limited-stock items (especially shoes). You can beat other enthusiasts to the punch with it.

You don’t even need to be an end-user to take copping seriously. Many successful resellers step up their game by using a bot and powering it with proxies.

A bot can help you win in a contest of speed. It allows you to secure large quantities of sought-after items in one release. It also enables you to check out much faster than buyers who do things manually.

Through the use of more than one online proxy, you can maximize a bot’s ability.

Every remote server you attach to your bot represents one identity. The more proxies you use, the more you can pretend to be several buyers. Multiple identities drive up your chances of obtaining limited-edition items.

Usually, using proxies from one country will suffice. But you can capitalize on servers from a variety of jurisdictions to reduce your odds of running into IP blocks.

Performing Labor-Intensive Tasks

Gathering mountains of data from multiple online sources can be a pain. It’s particularly true when there are request limits in place. Market researchers know this predicament too well.

You can set up proxy servers to overcome the usual roadblocks to web scraping and data aggregation.

The use of multiple IP addresses can help you defeat any request limitation. Your automated data collection efforts are unlikely to bear fruit otherwise.

Moreover, SEO (search engine optimization) specialists love proxies. Doing keyword research, tracking web page rankings, and analyzing search engine results pages are less burdensome with several IP addresses.

If you’re a social media manager, you can benefit from proxies too. They enable you to run several accounts from more than one IP address.

Normally, you will encounter blockers since social networking platforms don’t want individual users to control multiple accounts simultaneously.

If Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and the like smell something sketchy, they can ban your accounts. Using proxies is worthwhile to keep your hard work and investment from going down the drain.

If you own intellectual property, a web proxy server can help you bust copyright infringers more quickly. It’s practically impossible to comb the Web manually, especially with just a single IP address.

Proxies make it possible to automate the whole process and get quality results faster.

Also, many offenders are sophisticated enough to cover up copyright infringement depending on the identity of a visitor.

You can outsmart them by pretending to be someone else. Proxies can help you catch content pirates in the act before they can get a clue that it’s you.

Web Proxy vs VPN

On paper, it can be difficult to tell the United States web proxy services and VPNs apart.

These days, the top VPNs and proxies share key features. They can be useful for personal and commercial purposes, too. Some vendors even roll the two services into one.

Having said that, proxies and VPNs aren’t always interchangeable.

We’ve already explained when one is more suitable for certain tasks like unblocking Netflix and Spotify in detail.

But for starters, you should go with a VPN if you need robust encryption and extra security features. It can prevent DNS (Domain Name System) leakage effectively.

A proxy, on the other hand, can be a wise choice if speed and cost are a big deal to you. You can pair it with a private browser like Brave to get rid of intrusive ads and use less computer bandwidth.

When it comes to ease of use, VPNs are usually more intuitive. Typically, installing one is more straightforward than setting up proxy servers.

Sometimes, VPNs do need manual configuration. But you don’t need to be a technical user to get their apps up and running in no time.

Best Proxy Servers

All proxies can do the basics decently. Connection stability and success, however, can vary from one server to another due to fundamental differences.

But when picking a vendor, you have to pay attention to choice, coverage, and cost.

You should strongly consider providers that give you access to gazillions of IP addresses from dozens of locations. Their products should be available at reasonable prices too.

It would be wise to go with a vendor that has a free trial, a money-back guarantee, or both to lessen the risk of your purchase.

Free proxy servers aren’t scams per se. But don’t trust them too easily to avoid compromising your privacy and cybersecurity.

Below are some of the safest proxy services on the market.


This premium proxy vendor has impressive global coverage. Its network encompasses 186 countries and territories across all regions.

Its datacenter and residential proxy pools consist of over two million and 100 million IP addresses, respectively. You can connect to Oxylabs IPs on country, state, and city levels.

Moreover, this vendor offers SOCKS5 and anonymous, static residential proxies. Its Proxy Rotator increases the success rate of datacenter proxies too.

Oxylabs has a wide range of plans for individuals and businesses. You can get started for as low as $89 a month. 

You can take advantage of a seven-day free trial to give an Oxylabs proxy server for small business a whirl at no cost.

What’s in store for individual ones is a three-day money-back guarantee. You’ll get a refund only if you cancel your plan without consuming over 20% of its number of requests.

Bright Data

Formerly known as Luminati, Bright Data has sizable networks of datacenter, residential, ISP, and mobile proxies. Collectively, it can give you access to about 80 million IPs from across the globe.

This vendor provides useful tools for parsing tons of web data. Like other industry leaders, it has its own proxy manager and proxy browser extension. Plus, it supports a minimum of 18 integrations.

Bright Data offers flexible pricing. You can choose from monthly and annual subscriptions as well as a pay-as-you-go model. That’s why you can test this service for less than a dollar.

Bright Data offers a seven-day trial. It doesn’t provide refunds, though.


Smartproxy is one of the best proxy services on the market.

This premium proxy vendor offers more than 40 million IP addresses from at least 195 data centers across eight cities. These proxies support unlimited, simultaneous connections.

In addition, Smartproxy offers residential IPs that rotate every 30 minutes at most. It provides private proxies too.

Smartproxy’s prices start at $30. But you can enjoy a three-day money-back guarantee.

Are Proxy Servers Safe?

Proxies are a great tool to mask your location and bypass censorship filters, but they are not always the safest to use. 

They are more vulnerable to cyber and hacking attacks, compared to VPN tools, which encrypt traffic and make it much more difficult for bad actors to crack the code.

On top of that, proxies aren’t great at protecting their users’ privacy, especially free proxies.

Free vs. Paid Proxies

There’s one general rule that applies to all online services: If you don’t pay for it with money, you pay for it in data.

This makes paid proxies much safer than free proxies. 

So, what are the risks of using free proxy servers?

Christian Haschek, an Austria-based security researcher, looked at 25, 443 free proxies in total and found that most of them forbid secure HTTPS traffic, which is commonly used to encrypt Web traffic. 

This means that the majority of the proxies analyzed can potentially analyze their traffic and steal their users’ logins and analyze their traffic.

Free proxies also manipulate websites. Haschek’s analysis found that about a quarter of them change HTML and modify websites’ JavaScript. Most of them do this to inject ads, but this also allows them to steal your cookies. 

Paid proxies are somewhat safer because they don’t need to resort to methods like selling data to third parties for a profit. They’re also generally faster and more reliable.

Which Proxy is Safest?

If you’re looking for security in a proxy, these are the three most trusted proxy companies currently on the market:

BrightData: A fast and reliable proxy service with a pay-as-you-go plan and flexible pricing.

Smartproxy: A popular proxy server provider that offers plans for both personal and business use and unlimited proxy server connections.

Oxylabs: A top-tier proxy service that boasts over 100 million residential IPs and 24/7 customer support.

Is Proxy Safer Than VPN?

Proxies are like non-encrypted VPNs.

VPN tools route your traffic through a secure VPN server and encrypt your connection; A proxy only passes your traffic through an intermediary server without providing any extra protection, which makes them more susceptible to data interception and hacking.

Since they don’t encrypt traffic, they are less secure than VPNs.

On top of that, proxies work on the application level. They only reroute the traffic of a particular browser or app. VPNs, on the other hand, work on the operating system level, which means they reroute and encrypt all your web traffic. VPN tools come with a lot of security features like a kill switch, double VPN, and AES-256 encryption.

That said, proxies have certain advantages over VPNs. They are faster and are usually much cheaper, which makes them a more affordable alternative to VPN tools.

What Is a Proxy Server – Summary

Proxies address the usual challenges internet users face when carrying out different online tasks.

The wide variety of proxy classifications may confuse beginners. But understanding each type matters to grasp the qualities of different proxies and to compare them properly.

Proxy service providers pretty much make the same promises. But not all have the infrastructure and the credibility to deliver.

Hopefully, this article was able to answer your basic questions about proxies. Use what you’ve learned to pick a service that suits your goals and deserves your trust.


What is a proxy server and why do I need it?

A proxy is a third-party server that can capture incoming or outgoing traffic data. It keeps end-user devices and web servers from communicating as normal. You may need one to browse the internet without broadcasting your location. Also, you can use a proxy to block unwanted visitors from your site.

What is the use of a proxy server?

A proxy can help you hide your IP address. It also enables web servers to filter access requests. The list of benefits of routing traffic data through a proxy for personal and/or business use is long. Circumventing online censorship, filtering unwanted connection requests, and automating data collection are just a few.

Is VPN better than proxy?

When it comes to cybersecurity and usability, VPNs are generally better than proxies. In terms of cost, speed, and versatility, proxies usually trump VPNs. Neither of them is good at everything. It all depends on your end goal.

Are proxy servers illegal?

Usually, if VPNs are legal in your country, then proxies are likewise safe to use. Using a proxy irresponsibly, however, may open yourself to potential legal action. But what is a proxy server for, really? How do proxies work? Read this piece from the top to know when it makes sense to use one and when it doesn’t.


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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