Here at Proxyway we have been reviewing proxy providers for quite some time now. And only recently did we realize that we haven’t yet tackled one very important question in a separate article. The question – what are proxies? Furthermore, what are the different types of proxies? How can you use a proxy? Understanding how proxies work is an important part of comprehending the mysterious inner workings of the internet itself, so let’s get right to it!
1. What is a Proxy?
A proxy is an intermediary between a device and the internet at large. Proxy servers handle requests on behalf of the user. It means that your request runs through the proxy server first, and only then connects to the website.
To put it simply, this helps you hide your IP address. When your internet traffic is routed through a proxy, the end server, from which your browser and other applications download online content, receives the IP address of the proxy server, thus hiding your original IP.
Proxies are helpful because the IP address assigned to you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can reveal potentially sensitive information about you, including your approximate geographical location and the name of your ISP.
Your IP address can help webmasters and advertisers track your historic browsing habits and collect information, including how often you visit specific websites, how much time you spend on each page and much more. If you’d like to find out what other information your IP address can reveal about you, I recommend checking out this article.
2. How Does a Proxy Server Work?
Each internet enabled device needs to have an IP address. This address can be thought of as your device’s street address. As is the case with delivering mail and street addresses, your IP address helps servers send data to the right devices.
Every proxy server is essentially a computer with its own unique IP address. Each time you need any web content, be it a webpage or a Youtube video, your device sends a web request. When a proxy is used, the request is routed through it. This means that the proxy server takes your request, makes it on your behalf, gets the response from the web server, and, finally, forwards you the web data. All this looks much more simple when demonstrated visually:
While passing you your web requests, in addition to changing the IP address, any proxy server can also be configured to perform specific tasks, including, but not limited to, encrypting or filtering data. This means that proxies can help secure data in transit or be used as content filters, blocking specific websites (i.e. adult content) by their IP address.
3. Why Use a Proxy?
Proxies are a tool that can be used for different purposes. These are some of the main reasons individuals and organizations use proxies in general:
- Increasing the level of anonymity. For individual use, VPN services are generally recommended instead of proxies. This is because thanks to advanced features, modern VPNs provide a greater level of privacy and more robust security features. However, proxies still offer a degree of anonymity. This is especially true for organizations which often choose proxies as the main anonymization solution, particularly for web scraping (more on that later).
- Bypassing geo restrictions. There is a lot of content online that is exclusive to certain geographical regions. These restrictions can be imposed either by companies or countries. Since your IP is tied to your location, proxies can be used to bypass these restrictions. Thanks to this, you could, for example, watch Netflix content from other countries that is not available in yours.
- Saving bandwidth and improving speed. A specific type of proxies called caching proxies can speed up browsing by caching most commonly visited websites. This is especially the case for organizations which can setup this type of server to increase the overall network performance. How does it work? Proxy servers can cache (save a copy of the website locally) popular websites. If, for example, 50 people at the same organization hit Proxyway.com at the same time, the proxy server can simply serve the latest cached version of the website without having to make 50 separate requests. This results in saved bandwidth and better speeds.
- Controlling internet usage. Organizations and parents can set up proxy servers to control and monitor how their employees or kids browse the net. A lot of companies don’t want their worker bees to browse certain sites, so proxy servers can be configured to deny access to specific sites. Proxies also make it possible to monitor, and also log all web requests, so if you use a proxy at work, don’t get too relaxed!
4. What Are the Types of Proxies?
Different proxy providers often use varying terminology, however, there are some main types that are especially relevant when talking about web scraping. I already took a look at these types in my article on how to surf the web anonymously, but here’s a quick recap. In terms of location, proxies are most often divided into data center (DC) proxies and residential proxies:
Data Center Proxies
This type of proxies run in data centers on IP addresses that belong to a wider set. These are essentially commercial proxies (IP addresses) that are not owned by ISPs and are not assigned to specific homeowners.
- Pros – they are cheap, fast and stable.
- Cons – in some cases, data center proxies might be easier to block if you’re using them for web scraping.
These proxies are assigned by an ISP to a homeowner, making them highly anonymous and hard to detect. To any web server out there, these IP addresses look 100% legitimate.
- Pros – high anonymity, nearly impossible to detect.
- Cons – due to being legit and highly anonymous, they come at a price and are often slower than data center proxies.
However, it’s also important to know whether you’re the only one using the provided proxies or if you’re sharing the same proxies with other users. For this reason, proxies are also divided into dedicated (private), shared and semi-shared proxies:
A dedicated (or a private) proxy is, as the name implies, used only by a single user. These proxies are not shared with anyone else.
- Pros – in the case of data center proxies, dedicated proxies usually have no prior usage history, they are harder to detect, and they’re extra fast since you’re the only one using them.
- Cons – because of all the reasons mentioned above, this type of proxies can get expensive.
These proxies are (obviously) shared with other users. They can, however, still be a great option for many use cases which do not require complete control over an IP address.
- Pros – they are less expensive.
- Cons – as they are shared, they won’t be as anonymous and can be unreliable.
Also called semi-private, this type of proxy can be used between 2 to 5 people simultaneously or given only to scrape a specific target.
- Pros – sort of get the best of the two. A price of a shared proxy but nearly as reliable as a private proxy.
- Cons – not as reliable as private, hence, not as anonymous.
Proxies can also be categorized into forward and reverse proxies. Chris recently covered this exact topic, so if you want to find out more about it, be sure to give it a read!
5. Proxies for Web Scraping
Here at Proxyway, we mostly focus on proxies for commercial use. To be more exact – proxies for web scraping is a use case gaining increasingly greater popularity due to the need for businesses to gather business intelligence data and gain a competitive edge in various industries. This is an entirely different world with its own nuances and we will definitely discuss it in-depth in a future article.
Generally speaking, proxies for web scraping differ from regular proxies since they have to be optimized for specific use cases. For example, proxies for ad verification are used to scrape the same ads from different locations in order to ensure that they’re displayed correctly and that the ad network actually serves the ordered ads. In this case, we would need a provider with a large number of locations and proxies that mimic real users most closely. So going with residential proxies would be the best solution. There are, of course, much more to know about proxies for web scraping, but, as mentioned, we’ll discuss it another article.
Although on the surface proxies seem like a rather straightforward technology, as with most things in life – it gets increasingly complicated the deeper you dive. However, if you know what proxies are, how they work, what they’re used for and the different types and categories of proxies – you’re already way ahead of everyone else.
If there’s anything else you’d like to ask or find out about proxies, be sure to leave a comment in the section below!