Each of us has probably encountered the concept of proxy or proxy server more than once, whether in the settings of the web browser, e-mail client or computer. In this article, we will look at what a proxy actually is, how to use it and whether it is worth doing at all.
What is a proxy server and what is it for?
The English phrase “proxy” means an intermediary in Polish. This is what a proxy server is – an intermediary between us, the users, and the target server we want to contact. It works both ways, i.e. it applies to both incoming and outgoing connections, blocking direct connection to the server. However, intermediary is unequal – there are different types of proxy servers that differ from each other in what data they send to the target server and which they hide or replace.
What are proxy servers for? They have a wide variety of uses, such as:
hiding the user’s location and other data
ensuring protection against cyber attacks
speeding up the loading of websites
blocking access to certain websites (e.g. in the case of work computers).
Proxy servers (although not all, which will be discussed in more detail later in the article) hide the user’s location by “swapping” his IP address with his own, and it is this fake address that the server with which we connected will save in its logs. Depending on the type of proxy, it will be aware of the substitution or not notice it. By not sharing your IP address with random websites on the Internet, we minimize the risk that someone will find it and want to cyberattack us.
An important function of the proxy is also caching web pages by making copies of them on the first visit to the page, and then loading it on the next visit. Thanks to this, we do not have to download new data every time and we can see the content we are interested in faster.
As mentioned above, the proxy server can filter both incoming and outgoing traffic, for example blocking certain sites. What does this mean in practice? Thanks to such an intermediary, you can, for example, block social media on your work computers, and inappropriate sites on your child’s computer.
The most important types of proxy servers
There are many types of proxy servers and a lot also depends on the way we want to group them. For example, you can divide proxies according to how many users they serve – there are proxy servers that only support one, but there are also intermediaries shared between many different users. However, the most important feature by which the types of proxy servers stand out in most cases is the level of security and anonymity they provide. In this respect, we can talk about a proxy:
A transparent proxy server will come in handy when our goal is not to protect your privacy at all, but simply to speed up page caching. Thanks to such an intermediary, on the first visit to a given page, he will create a copy of it, and the next time he will load it, thus reducing the user’s waiting time. Importantly, a transparent proxy does not hide any of our data, such as IP address. It can, however, allow you to bypass content blockers.
An anonymous proxy is a common choice of users who want to maintain their privacy online. Thanks to its use, we are safer and harder to locate us, while an anonymous broker masks our real IP, but at the same time lets us know that the connection is filtered by a proxy. So the other side does not know our real location, but knows that we are hiding it.
High anonymity proxy
As you can imagine, such a problem does not exist with high anonymity proxies. By modifying the HTTP headers, it is able to convince the server with which we want to connect that the changed IP address is the real one and does not reveal that we are using such a service.
It’s worth mentioning that a proxy isn’t exactly the same as a VPN. More specifically, a VPN is just one sub-type of proxy, so distinctive and different that the terms are not used as identical. A VPN is more flexible, secure and more reliable, but also usually more expensive than a regular proxy, which generally does not require downloading additional programs, but only supplementing the settings with server data. If your only concern is faster website loading or accessing blocked websites, a proxy server may be sufficient, but for privacy and internet security freaks, a VPN is usually the better choice.