The Main Types of Proxy Servers Explained
Learn about the features and uses of different proxy types.
When you start researching proxies, things seem pretty straightforward: get some IP addresses, plug them into your scraper or bot, and get to work. But the deeper you go into the woods, the more trees you find. In reality, proxies come in a range of different flavors. Your choices will have a real impact on what you’ll be able to do with them and how successfully.
This page covers the main types of proxies you’re most likely to encounter. It attempts to explain what they are and how each type differs from the others in practical terms. I hope it’ll help you learn more about proxies and get a better understanding of what you need.
- By Price: Free Proxies, Paid Proxies
- By Source: Datacenter Proxies, Residential Proxies
- By Exclusivity: Shared Proxies, Semi-Dedicated Proxies, Dedicated Proxies
- By Rotation: Static Proxies, Rotating Proxies
- By Protocol: HTTP Proxies, HTTPS Proxies, SOCKS5 Proxies
- By Protocol (Again): IPv4 Proxies, IPv6 Proxies
- By Anonymity: Transparent Proxies, Anonymous Proxies, Elite Proxies
- By Presentation: Proxy Lists, Backconnect Proxies
- By Direction: Forward Proxies, Reverse Proxies
Before going into technical details, you’ll have to choose between paying for your proxies and getting them for free. For many individual users, this will be the first and most important distinction they’ll have to make.
Free proxies (also called web proxies) can be found on various websites online. As the name indicates, you can use these proxy IPs without paying anything. However, they are often slow and overused. Free proxies can also cause you harm: log your data, inject malicious ads, or install malware on your device. Use them very carefully, and never trust them with your personal information.
Paid proxies will cost you money. On the upside, such proxies will give you a much better user experience: they will be faster than free proxies and experience fewer blocks. A trustworthy paid proxy provider will never steal your data, and it will commit to keeping the service running smoothly. If you’re not sure about using proxies or a particular provider, most of them offer a free trial or money-back guarantee.
Another important classification is by proxy source. Some proxies are IP addresses stored in data centers, while others come from real residential users.
As the name implies, datacenter proxies get their IP addresses from data centers and don’t belong to real-life devices. They are a bit more likely to get blocked when comparing them to residential proxies. However, a big advantage of using datacenter proxies is their speed, as well as a lower price.
Residential proxies are IP addresses that belong to real mobile and desktop devices. These proxies are particularly hard to block as when you make the connection via a residential proxy, the target website sees the connection coming from a real device. Residential proxies are a great choice for web scraping, data and market research, social media, and bot automation.
Both residential and datacenter proxies can also be classified by exclusivity. You can get proxies that are shared proxies, semi-shared, or private.
Shared proxies are… You guessed it, shared! Meaning that several people could be connecting via the same proxy at the same time. Shared proxies might not have the most stable connection and have a tendency of getting blocked easier. Even so, they are the cheapest type of proxies out there. Almost all residential proxies will be shared because they use a common pool of IP addresses between all users.
Semi-shared proxies are mostly the same as shared proxies. The only difference is that fewer people use them at the same time. So, they effectively provide a middle ground between shared and private proxies: they are relatively inexpensive and rather stable. But semi-shared proxies can still suffer from the bad-neighbor effect as you can’t fully control how they are being used.
Dedicated proxies (also referred to as private proxies) are exactly what the name implies – private. These proxies are reserved to one user at a time while semi-dedicated proxies can have up to 3 users sharing the same proxy IP at the same time. As a result, they usually perform better but also cost more.
Proxies can be static – keep the same IP address for an indefinite period of time – or they can rotate.
Static proxies give you one or more IP addresses. You can use them however you like, for as long as you like. This works well when you want to keep the same identity for an extended period of time, for example, if you manage social media accounts. But static proxies are not very good for scraping tasks because websites can block them. By default, most datacenter proxies are static and residential proxies rotating. That said, a few providers sell static residential proxies.
Rotating proxies change your IP address, reducing your chances of getting blocked by your target website. Such proxies could be a great choice for those who want to scrape the web (e.g.Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, etc) because of the low block rate – no two connections would be coming from the same IP address. And even if an IP gets blocked, there’s no need to worry as the next one would be provided automatically.
The proxy protocol defines how you connect to websites or services on the internet. There are currently three main proxy types: HTTP proxies, HTTPS (SSL) proxies, and SOCKS proxies.
HTTP proxies are the ones you’ll encounter the most often. They use the HTTP protocol which is compatible with websites. HTTP has been largely phased out in regular use because it sends all traffic in plain text. However, it’s still used for many proxy use cases, such as sneaker copping. You should avoid HTTP proxies if you work with sensitive information.
HTTPS proxies (also known as SSL proxies) are the most secure type of proxies. They use the SSL protocol to encrypt data, which makes it way harder for anyone to get access to the information transmitted. Otherwise, they’re technically the same as HTTP proxies.
SOCKS5 proxies work on a lower level than HTTP(S) proxies. That means they simply send your data without reading it. This allows SOCKS5 proxies to work with all kinds of traffic, not only websites. For example, you can use them for streaming, gaming, or torrenting. SOCKS5 proxies also support the UDP protocol, which allows transmitting traffic-intensive data much faster compared to TCP. However, they are not encrypted.
Proxies are categorized by one more protocol, depending on which IP format they use. The two main types are IPv4 addresses and IPv6 addresses.
IPv4 proxies are IP addresses that use the IPv4 protocol. They look like this:
255.255.255.0. There are only 4.3 billion possible IPv4 IP addresses, so it’s very hard to find fresh, or so-called virgin, proxies. Still, it’s the dominant protocol today, supported by all websites and apps. For this reason, IPv4 is considered to be superior among proxy users.
IPv6 proxies use the more recent IPv6 protocol. They look like this:
2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334. The longer address makes many more combinations possible, so there are billions of unused IPv6 IPs available. However, relatively few websites and applications support this protocol, even though it was launched in 2012. Also, sites tend to ban datacenter IPv6 addresses in huge numbers due to their availability.
Each network request you make online via the HTTP(S) protocol sends headers. Headers provide information about your device. A proxy server can modify these headers, either informing websites that you use a proxy or hiding this information from them. Based on this, proxies are classified into transparent, anonymous (or semi-transparent), and elite proxies.
Transparent proxies clearly announce to everyone that you’re using a proxy. They also show your own IP address You can often find them in public Wi-Fi networks, where proxies route traffic and control which websites you can access. I’m sure you remember having to log in each time you connected to that airport wireless network. This is transparent proxies at work.
Anonymous proxies (also called semi-transparent proxies) do not disclose your IP address or location. But they still include headers which show that you are accessing a website via a proxy. Such proxies are a good choice if you want to browse anonymously, but they are easy targets for anyone who wants to limit proxy access.
Elite proxies disclose no information about you or that you’re using a proxy server. In other words, they attempt to disguise themselves as real users accessing the internet directly from their IP address. Most reputable proxy providers will sell you elite proxies, though they will sometimes call them ‘anonymous proxies’ for marketing or other reasons.
You can get proxies either in the form of explicit IP lists or gateway addresses.
As the name indicates, proxy lists simply give you a list of IP addresses to use. Proxy lists are static, so you’ll have to manage proxy rotation yourself. Up until recently, most datacenter proxies used to come in lists.
Backconnect proxies connect to a gateway server that accesses a proxy network. So, instead of getting a list of proxies, you get one IP address which automatically rotates proxies for you on the provider’s end. Backconnect proxies are much easier to manage than proxy lists, especially if you need proxies for tasks that require IP rotation, such as web scraping. Most residential proxies use backconnect servers.
Proxy direction defines which end of the connection benefits from a proxy server: the user that sends the request or the server that receives it.
Forward proxies simply route your outgoing connection requests through a proxy server. This is the type you’ll encounter when dealing with proxy providers. Most of our listed use cases apply to forward proxies.
Reverse proxies are the opposite of forward proxies. Instead of routing traffic that comes from your device, they capture all traffic that reaches a server. Websites use reverse proxies to achieve multiple goals: increase security, balance loads, save bandwidth, and protect themselves from DDoS attacks.