We use affiliate links. They let us sustain ourselves at no cost to you.

Proxy vs VPN: What Are the Differences?

We untangle the strengths and weaknesses of each.

proxy vs vpn thumbnail

You’ve probably seen the words “Virtual Private Network” (VPN) almost everywhere by now. Protect your privacy, your identity, and all that. You might have also seen “proxies” thrown into the mix. It quickly starts to get confusing: which one protects your identity, which one gives you access to geo-blocked content, and so on. Don’t worry, we’re here to provide answers. In this article, we’ll look at the differences between a proxy vs a VPN and try to find out which is better.

Let’s begin by taking a quick look at what proxies and VPNs are. If you prefer a video, we have one as well.

Proxies and VPNs: What Are They?

proxy server is an intermediary between you and the internet. Instead of connecting to a website directly, you connect to a proxy server first. The server then accesses the website and returns the information it gets, also through itself. It uses its own IP address to do so.

how does a proxy work

Much like proxies, a VPN, or virtual private network, uses an external server which sends all connections through itself. These connections are encrypted with modern cryptographic algorithms and create a so-called secure tunnel between you and websites.

How does a VPN work

Are There Any Similarities?

Indeed, there is quite a few similarities between the two:

  • Both proxies and VPNs improve your anonymity online – by using them, you get a different IP address. You can use it with applications or browse the web and keep your own IP hidden. This lets you strengthen your anonymity online
  • Both proxies and VPNs overcome website and geo-location restrictions – sending your web traffic through a proxy or VPN , you can reach restricted websites at work, school, or even your country. For example, you can unblock Instagram, and many people use VPNs to reach popular websites like YouTube. A proxy or a VPN can also give you an IP address from any country in the world. This lets you browse like a local and access geo-restricted content or watch the full library of Netflix shows.

Are There Any Differences?

Yes, and important ones at that:

  • VPNs work at the operating system level; proxies are app-based – what does that mean? When you connect to a VPN server, it will affect all your connections, no matter which app you use. Proxies, on the other hand, work at an application level – they only affect the traffic from apps where you set them up.
  • Proxies allow making many connections at once – you can buy hundreds of proxy IPs at once. All the more so, many residential proxy providers can give you access to pools with millions of IP addresses. This enables many commercial activities, such as web scraping and other bulk tasks. VPNs, on the other hand, are best suited for personal use – to improve online security. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the two, and one that clearly distinguishes a proxy from a VPN.
  • VPNs don’t hide the fact that you’re using a VPN – while a VPN might make you anonymous in the eyes of websites and even your Internet Service Provider (ISP), it doesn’t try to hide the fact that you’re connected to a VPN server. A residential proxy server makes you look like a different but still real person. This distinction is generally insignificant. However, it can become very important when someone deliberately tries to block VPNs or in certain use cases like ad verification and sneaker copping.

Proxy vs VPN: Which Is Faster?

A datacenter proxy server will most likely be faster than a VPN. Such proxies use servers in powerful data centers – just like VPNs. But they don’t have such sophisticated encryption methods, so there’s less overhead. A residential proxy will be slower than a VPN. It borrows the connections of real people around the world, who don’t always have a good Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connection at hand.

Proxy vs VPN: Which Is More Secure?

HTTP proxies aren’t secure, and a skilled hacker can steal the data you send through them. But as long as you use a reliable provider and SOCKS5 or HTTPS proxies, they’re generally safe. (Remember to never use free proxies!)

Still, connecting through a VPN server is undoubtedly more secure. A respectable VPN will use one or several encryption protocols like OpenVPN, IPSec, and Wireguard and have additional security features, such as an automatic kill-switch

So, Which Is Better: VPN or Proxy?

It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you only want to improve your security online or unblock content, a VPN will generally be a better choice. But if you need to do bulk tasks that involve automation, proxies will be much better suited for that. So, make the choice based on your needs.

proxy servers as houses

Frequently Asked Questions About Proxy Servers vs VPNs

A good commercial VPN will probably be better for this use case – and give you fewer headaches.

You can but I’m not sure why you’d want to. Each of them will hide your IP address and change your location. Having both on at the same time can make your connection unbearably slow and unstable.

As a general rule: use a VPN when you need one secure connection; use a proxy when you need many connections at once. For example, a VPN is better for protecting your connection, but it sucks for things like web scraping.

Adam Dubois
Adam Dubois
Proxy geek and developer.