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What Is a Proxy Server and What Is It Used For?

Proxies are an essential part of the Internet structure. You likely have used a proxy server if you tried to bypass geographical restrictions or mask your online traces. Right now, online surveillance is at its peak. Governments, BigTech corporations, and social networks collect excessive amounts of online user data worldwide. 

It puts proxies in the spotlight because they can be utilized to combat online surveillance. You can follow this link to learn more about online privacy protection. But what exactly is a proxy server, and what is it used for? A common misconception is relating proxies to solely unlocking bigger streaming services libraries. In reality, there are several more proxy use cases, ranging from cybersecurity benefits to marketing operations.

Let's start with defining different proxy types, and we'll get to the use cases later.

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What Is a Proxy Server and How Does It Work?

What is a Proxy server and how does it work?
What is a Proxy server and how does it work?

A proxy server is an intermediary between your device and the Internet; handling online communication for you. In a real-life situation, for example, a person speaking on your behalf in a business meeting is your proxy. He has the authority to act on your behalf. The same applies to web proxies.

In a typical online communication model, your device exchanges information with a web server. Your device is called a client and has a unique IP address. It makes a request to the web server asking for specific information, for example, access to the Amazon website. The server analyzes the request and returns the results to your IP address.

What Are the Different Proxy Types?

There are several proxy types with unique attributes. They differ in IP address type and quality, online privacy and anonymity level, and additional features. Here are the most widely used proxy types:

Forward Proxy

Forward proxy accepts requests from devices and forwards them to web servers
Forward proxy accepts requests from devices and forwards them to web servers (source).

Web proxies take over this process and communicate on your device's behalf. Instead of the website, your device sends requests to a proxy server, which forwards them to the end destination. That's why most proxy is called forward proxy.

Forward proxies also have their unique IP address that is used instead of yours. They accept your device requests, forward them to the web server, receive the results and send them back to you. It adds an extra layer of security and improves online traffic management.

Residential Proxy

Residential proxy servers come from genuine people's devices. For example, you need a French IP address with an excellent trust score. A French resident can share their device IP address with you and let you access the Internet via it.

There are two residential proxy types: static and rotating. The former will issue a static, unchanging IP address. The latter will rotate your IP address at chosen intervals.

Data Center Proxy

There are many data center proxy service providers. Their IP addresses are non-physical and come from a data center. A single data center proxy server can store hundreds of different IP addresses that share the same IP subnetwork. They are easier to detect and blacklist but excel at connection speed and availability.

Private Proxy

A private proxy (sometimes called dedicated proxy) server is reserved for one person only. It obfuscates the original user IP address substituting it with an alternative. Furthermore, some private proxy service providers apply additional encryption to enhance online privacy.

However, browsing with the same IP address for a long time poses additional anonymity challenges.

Anonymous Proxy

This proxy type is designed to hide the client's information. Anonymous proxies issue web requests as the original sender without exposing the user's IP address. Moreover, some fully-developed anonymous proxies disguise themselves as regular traffic, tricking websites into thinking a proxy server is not involved.

Reverse Proxy

Unlike forward proxies, reverse proxy servers manage server-side online traffic.
Unlike forward proxies, reverse proxy servers manage server-side online traffic.

Reverse Proxy gathers requests from clients and sends them to appropriate web servers. They are a popular choice for renowned websites that receive a lot of traffic. Reverse proxies distribute online data flow helping out with website loading speed.

Mobile Proxy

Just like any other proxies, mobile proxies issue a new IP address. However, the client gets a mobile IP address, which differs from other proxy servers. Mobile proxies are extremely hard to detect and have the best IP trust scores. On the other hand, web servers assume you're a smartphone, which can complicate website layout if you use other technology.

These are the most popular proxy types. Because proxies are highly customizable, there are more types, such as Transparent Proxy, SSL Proxy, Shared Proxy, Distorting Proxy, and more. Which one suits you best depends on what you use them for, so let's jump into proxy server use cases.

What Is a Proxy Server Used For?

We can separate proxy server use cases into two large categories: online privacy protection and business use. Let's analyze cybersecurity benefits first.

Proxy Privacy Protection

Regarding online privacy, almost anyone could benefit from a proxy server. Numerous contemporary online tracking methods monitor the original user's IP address. Moreover, with some work, an IP address could be linked to a specific geographical location. Giving out your actual location over the Internet is risky for many reasons.

How Does Proxy Server Improve Privacy Protection?

Proxies solve these issues by assigning a new IP address. Simultaneously, a client can request to rotate the new address every now and then, preventing multiple online tracking methods. Hacking techniques like IP spoofing and DDoS attacks rely on a specific IP address. Without exposing yours online, you significantly lower the risk of getting hacked.

Lastly, proxies are perfect for hosting Firewalls. Firewalls are a specific type of cybersecurity software that inspects online traffic for malicious elements. They can isolate contagious traffic and prevent it from reaching the internal network. Because proxies are an intermediary between one's device (or corporate network) and the Internet, they are an excellent spot to host a Firewall.

Proxy Server Business Benefits

Many successful businesses use data-driven-decision-making (DDDM) practices. With the emergence of the World Wide Web and Big Data, entrepreneurs can ground their investment decisions on factual and verifiable data. However, gathering that data is not so easy.

The vast majority of websites monitor their visitors' IP addresses and block the ones they deem suspicious. Unfortunately, many consider data-gathering a questionable practice and deny access to crucial information.

For example, you want to compare specific consumer goods prices globally. Instead of manually visiting each site and writing down the cost for comparison, you can use proxies to get the data automatically. It's significantly beneficial to expanding businesses because it saves time and money. 

How Does Proxy Server Benefit Businesses?

Gathering publicly available web data automatically is called web data scraping. It's been given a bad name due to a few irresponsible misuses of the practice. However, professional data scraping is used widely to collect crucial market data for analysis and improve business decision-making.

Proxy servers allow you to scrape hundreds of websites simultaneously. Moreover, because a computer does the process, there's no human error in the results. It's an excellent tool for in-depth market research, examining the competition, and analyzing consumer reviews.

Below you will find four more ways to use a proxy server for business operations:

  • Improved SEO. With a fully-developed proxy server, you can bypass geographical limitations and access the regional Internet. You can get local Google SERP results, keywords, volumes, and more. SEO specialists often work with global brand representation, which is nearly impossible without accessing the regional Internet data.
  • Price comparison. Various consumer goods and online subscription prices depend on the buyer's geographical location. By switching your IP address to an alternative, you can compare different regions' prices to find the most affordable option.
  • Network traffic control. Because proxies handle online communication, they are a great tool for controlling traffic flow. System administrators can utilize proxies to deny access to time-wasting websites during working hours and increase employee productivity.
  • Unrestricted content. The Internet is divided into separate regions with limited content availability. For example, due to GDPR laws, some U.S. websites are inaccessible from Europe. Sometimes it interferes with essential business operations. You can connect to a proxy server in the selected region and gain access to its content.

What to Avoid When Using a Proxy Server?

Free Proxy Server

You might have noticed a bunch of free proxy service providers if you were looking for an affordable proxy service. However, we recommend avoiding free proxy services for two reasons.

Firstly, free proxy service providers often lack sufficient resources to implement the latest cybersecurity protocols. If you choose a free proxy server, you could risk your private business information.

Second, free proxies fall behind regarding Internet connection speed. They frequently share the server between dozens of users to save resources. It could drop the connection speed to unusable levels.

Questionable Service Provider

911 proxy service (911.re), shut down its operation after suffering a data breach.
911 proxy service (911.re), shutdown its operation after suffering a data breach (source).

Because most proxies affect the Internet connection speed, choosing a renowned provider is best. They will guarantee the proxy servers come from reputable sources to mitigate the potential speed drop. It will also ensure better availability. Check out online reviews to verify the proxy service provider can ensure sufficient connection speed.

Lastly, pick a service provider that offers additional features. For example, a web browser proxy manager extension will come in handy. Some marketing operations require city-level targeting. Most importantly, make sure they offer enough servers worldwide.

Do You Need a Proxy Server?

We hope this article illustrates the most popular ways to use a proxy. Whether you should get one depends on your needs. Some people browse the Internet without worrying their data is exposed to third parties. However, if you are concerned about your personal life, you might consider subscribing to a proxy service. 

At the same time, proxies enhance several business operations that give a palpable advantage over the competition. You can save time and money by automatizing data gathering and comparison tasks. Furthermore, access to different regional content will assist with global brand positioning.

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Article by Jason Chow

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