What is a Proxy Server? I often see this question popping out whenever people talk about blocked websites, network security, network load sharing, internet browsing anonymously or even IP address hiding. The most common definition is that proxy server is an intermediary computer server or a software application between a client computer and a destination server on the internet.
Let’s be less Geek and try to understand proxy server in a layman’s language. A client computer is your system from which you try to open a website. The destination server is nothing but the server which hosts your requested site. The proxy server is between you and requested website’s server.
A proxy server might reside on your local computer or a separate computer. Usually, if it exists in a network, then a user may not be even aware of its existence. He just fires a request to open any websites or any online resource available on a different server and waits for the information to get loaded on his system.
In reality, the intermediate proxy server takes the request from the user and sends that request to the targeted website. Target web server sends the result to the proxy server without having any information about the source system or client system.
There are also several web proxies available on internet which are nothing but third-party hosted websites. Any user can access these sites while browsing the internet to facilitate anonymous internet session or opening of blocked or restricted websites in a particular region.
What is a proxy server?
“Proxy” literal meaning is “Substitute”. It acts as your substitute whenever you try to browse any information over a network or website. The whole idea is to keep your identity safe from things which exist in the public domain over the internet.
Still confused! Let’s understands what happens when you try to access a website.
Suppose you opened your internet browser and tried to access https://www.stemjar.com. ISP (internet service provider) receives your request and forwards it to the destination server, which is hosting Stemjar website. In this process, your request carries your IP address since Stemjar server requires the IP address where its website data could be sent back.
In short, your IP address is visible over the internet. If the requested website is compromised, then chances are higher that a hacker or virus may find a way out of infecting even your system.
A proxy server can reside on multiple points in a network such as a client machine, an ISP provider or a separate server. Apart from internet security, the proxy can serve various other purposes such as caching, load-balancing, network monitoring, etc.
Even if you are not a network connoisseur, you must have worked in a network environment where a proxy server might have existed.
The most common example is a corporate internal network, where usually you are not allowed to open porn websites, social networking websites such as Facebook, Google plus, twitter, job hunting websites, online movies websites, etc.
Students also experience similar prohibition in a school or an internal college network having blocked websites.
Most importantly proxy server can track and trace your entire network activity. If you are found violating internal network guidelines then at times it can jeopardise your whole career.
Features of a proxy server
The proxy does have several other features apart from obscuring IP address. The main features are:
Proxy server caches the data whenever it accesses your requested information on the internet. So, next time when you seek for the same website, the proxy serves the content from its cache instead of going again to the destination server on the internet.
Caching saves a lot of bandwidth on the network. Also, you experience a faster response time browsing content over the internet. Most of the time, even if the source goes offline, you will still have access to the static content of the targeted website.
In a way, data caching increases the availability and accessibility of data over the internet.
We just saw how a proxy can conceal the identity of all client users on the internal network from the outside world. No malicious website, virus and hacker can access any information whatsoever about the internal network, preventing any possible cyber-attack.
A reverse proxy can also protect backend servers from DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks. This is nothing but blacklisting or limiting the connection from any particular client IP address.
Any web proxy server has a list of WebLogic Server instances that host a clustered servlet. These instances receive all HTTP requests. Client request forwarding is done in a round-robin fashion.
A proxy server can easily monitor every activity happening on the internal network. It can track the traffic, website usage, block website instances, etc. This log might interest any network administrator for strengthening the network security.
In a broader perspective, there are two types:
Forward proxy server
A forward proxy server sends the client request straightforward on to the destination web server. A web proxy address is the best example of a forward proxy server. A client can either configure the web proxy address in the internet settings or open the website directly through web proxy address through any web browser.
This comes in handy while accessing some website from a geolocation where the site is blocked. Sometimes, it is also used to download illegal copyright materials. You should be extremely careful while looking for free and paid web proxies available over the internet.
Reverse proxy server
The reverse proxy is more robust and secure solution which exists in any protected environment such as big companies, etc. Users are not required to perform any setting from their end. The reverse proxy processes all these requests from the clients to the target websites. The configuration is complicated.
Reverse proxies also perform varied tasks such as load balancing between servers, disable access to specific websites, indirect access to sites and access to internal content over the internet.
Other types of proxy server
Not all proxies behave the same way. Apart from above two categories, there are four types of proxy server.
High anonymity proxy
Provides an anonymous IP address to the destination web server and keeps the proxy and client information completely hidden.
This kind of proxy provides incorrect IP address of your client device to the target server. However, the destination server receives the information marked as proxy IP address.
Anonymous proxy keeps your identity hidden. It does not pass your IP address but identifies itself as a proxy.
It passes the client IP address details to the website or destination server and also identifies itself as a proxy.
People tend to use proxies for illegal reasons, but then at times, we may have some valid reasons as well to use proxies. Take a peek at these benefits of using a proxy if you want to –
- Browse a specific website without disclosing your IP address and current location.
- Watch an internet channel in a foreign country where it is blocked.
- Get access to otherwise blocked websites in a school or college internal network.
- Comment or provide feedback on websites, but you do not want to reveal your IP address.
- Check your email which is geotagged without revealing your current location.
Do you want to try one, think twice?
You should always remember that your company or any other secured network might not like and may also object you from using any proxy. Your activities on any secured network are continuously under surveillance and most of the time proxies are a big no-no.
Also, there are certain websites which block your IP if they suspect it is coming through a proxy.
As I mentioned earlier, you can very quickly find free proxy servers free of cost, but there are risks involved. Sometimes free proxies are itself compromised and may pass on the same risk onto the client machine.
The online world is ever evolving, and it is always recommended to read and understand the risk involved.