What Are Proxies? (Everything To Know About Proxy Servers)
Proxies 101: The Complete Guide To What Proxies Are, How They Work, And Why You Need Some
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- What is a proxy?
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- What to look for when buying a proxy
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From ecommerce to social media marketing and gameplay, proxies are providing smart solutions to numerous challenges and contributing to the rapid transformation of various industries. As a newbie to the world of these barrier-breaking tools, understanding all the jargon associated with them can be overwhelming. But, while proxies might seem complicated at a first glance, they are quite simple to understand and use. In fact, we believe that every single person using the internet should be taking advantage of them.
That is why, in this blog post, we attempt to clear up any confusion you might have around the question, “What are proxies?” We also go further by providing you with some common-sense, expert-proven advice to help you feel confident about any decisions you need to make about them.
If you already know proxies pretty well and you’re just here for a quick refresher, go ahead and use our table of contents to find the information you’re most curious about. If not, let’s start at the very beginning.
What’s a Proxy?
Before we can answer the question, “What are proxies?” you must first understand what an IP address is. An IP address is a unique code that represents a connection to the internet.
In certain ways, IP addresses are similar to physical addresses. Just like physical addresses help us identify structures and locate them, IP addresses allow websites to identify and trace the general location of devices that connect to them.
However, IP addresses and physical addresses differ in a few ways. The most relevant difference that you need to understand is that, unlike physical addresses, IP addresses are not tied to specific physical objects. Most people believe that an IP address is tied to a specific device such as a phone or a laptop. But, in actuality, IP addresses are tied to the connections between such devices and the internet. As such, someone using the same Wi-Fi connection as you might have the same IP address that you do.
Okay. So, what’s a proxy?
When we use the word “proxy” in connection with computers and the internet, we are actually referring to a proxy IP address. A proxy IP address helps to shield and hide your actual IP address by acting on behalf of it.
When you access a website, you interact with it by sending requests that the site carries out to give you a specific result. A proxy intercepts these requests and makes them on behalf of your computer, in most cases either drawing responses from its local cache or forwarding the request to the desired site server. Once the request is satisfied, the proxy will then return the data back to you.
Here’s an even easier way to understand how a proxy functions: When you eat out at a café or restaurant, you don’t place your order directly with the chef. You instead give your request to a member of the wait staff who then passes your order along to the cooks in the kitchen. When your food is done, that same waiter or waitress delivers it to you at your table to enjoy. The chef, much like a website, never sees who is placing the orders, only the wait staff – or proxies – handing them the order tickets. In this way, you remain anonymous to everyone but your waiter, even as your order is fulfilled.
The words “proxy”, “proxy IP address” and “proxy server” are often used interchangeably. But these terms are quite different in meaning. The term proxy server refers to a machine in which one or more proxy IP addresses are hosted. Such a server acts as a ‘gateway’ or secondary computer through which all your online requests first pass through on their way to accessing the website or file you’re searching for.
Now that you know the answer to the question, “What are proxies?” and you understand what proxy servers are, we can move on to discussing how proxies are used.
What Are Proxies Used For?
Proxies have a wide range of use cases and there is no way we can cover all of these in a single article. However, to give you an idea of the importance of using proxies, here are a few of the most common use cases:
With the inherent shielding nature of proxies, it is not surprising that increased anonymity is one of the primary reasons people use them. Since a proxy makes requests on behalf of your computer, instead of sharing your computer’s IP address, it shares its own. This not only keeps your identity hidden from the network but also provides you several advantages when it comes to browsing privately.
In the same way, proxies improve privacy and anonymity, they can also help improve your online security. By hiding your identity, they provide an extra layer of protection against bad actors seeking to access your private data.
Even if such individuals are able to access your proxy IP, breaking into the server that stores your data will be difficult. This improved security afforded by proxies is especially great for businesses that handle large volumes of private and sensitive data.
3. Location switching
A proxy IP address – like all types of IP addresses – is linked to a specific location. As such, when you use one, you can make it look like you are accessing a website from a different part of the world. There are several ways that this feature can prove beneficial to you. For instance, you can use a proxy IP address to access region-specific content. This is especially beneficial if you are a frequent traveler that needs to access content from your home country.
In certain cases, location switching can also help you increase your network speed. If you are a gamer, for instance, you can eliminate lag by choosing a proxy closer to the gaming servers you use. By doing so, the requests you make while playing do not have to travel far to be completed. As such, you will experience faster connections and little to no lagging.
4. Web scraping
Web scraping refers to the automatic collection of data from web pages. The process is carried out by bots – which we refer to as web scrapers – that are able to “scrape” information valuable to you from a larger database of information present on specific web pages or applications.
For instance, if you would like to access how users have been interacting with a particular competitor, you can program a web scraper to collect all the likes, comments, and follows on their social media accounts. Within a matter of minutes or seconds, the scraper will collect all this information for you and neatly arrange it on a CSV or Excel file that you can easily analyze.
While you can most definitely get all of this information by yourself, the process of manual data collection is arduous and there is a high likelihood of making multiple human errors. A web scraper makes the process easy, saving you time that you can dedicate to other important tasks.
In addition to this use case we just discussed, web scrapers can be used to collect data for a wide variety of other purposes. These include SEO, sentiment analysis, advanced data analytics, and competitive pricing.
By now you are probably wondering, “How do proxies fit into the picture?” In short, proxies help web scrapers overcome inherent challenges and make the process more efficient.
To collect relevant information quickly, scrapers work by sending thousands of requests per second to websites. As this looks nothing like a regular human user’s behavior, most websites are quick to detect this kind of behavior and ban IP addresses associated with them. By providing different IP addresses for a scraper to use after a ban, proxies are the perfect solution to this problem. Using a large collection of proxy IP addresses, a scraper can easily overcome bans and seamlessly collect as much data as is required.
Are Proxies Safe?
While it would be easy to say, yes, proxies are safe – use them! – the more accurate answer is that certain proxies are safe. When it comes to safety, there are two categories of proxies that you should be aware of:
- Public or free proxies: These kinds of proxies are free to use and typically available to the general public. Users have to share resources such as speed, bandwidth, and IP addresses with multiple other clients. These resources are sometimes limited by the server administrator.
- Private or paid proxies: Such proxies are paid for and are only made available to a single individual or a few clients at the same time. As such, only a few individuals at most have access to the resources associated with the proxy.
As any wise man will tell you, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” In other words, stay away from free proxies. These public servers do not only suffer from unlimited users drawing upon their limited resources, creating sloth-speed load times and unreliable connectivity, but they’re ideal hunting grounds for hackers and scam artists who’d readily prey upon your sensitive information. In fact, the providers of such services sometimes make them free with malicious intent. By offering free services, they entice unsuspecting victims to use their software which grants them access to their sensitive data.
The only proxies you can trust are those provided by reliable paid providers. Such providers need to keep you happy to stay afloat and a huge part of achieving that is keeping your private data safe.
Different Types of Proxies
Proxies are classified into several types based on their purpose, functionality, and origin. Some of the most common types and their uses are described below:
Residential proxies are IP addresses that are associated with a physical residence. They are distributed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Verizon and AT&T. Because of these features, they mimic human behavior and, in essence, look like human users to the websites they access. As a result, it is hard for websites to detect that they are proxies. So, when navigated properly, they are rarely banned. This quality makes these types of proxies ideal for web scraping projects.
Data center proxies
Unlike residential proxies, data center proxies have no association with a physical address. Instead, the IP address is artificially created by a data center network. The proxy will also share the data center’s IP sub-network, meaning that all these proxies look very similar which increases the likelihood of identification and IP bans. However, because of the data center’s enviable network connection, these proxies provide some of the fastest speeds. Check out this blog post if you would like to learn more about residential and data center proxies.
These proxies have a regular change in their IP address because of a constant rotation of a collection of IP addresses. Since the changes to IP address are randomly made, they allow for greater anonymity and security, particularly when utilizing a large proxy pool. The continuous identity shifting functionality means that these proxies are ideal for performing sensitive web activity such as web scraping and competitor research.
Unlike rotating proxies which give you access to numerous IP addresses, static proxies are associated with only a single IP address. There are two types of static proxies: dedicated and semi-dedicated.
A dedicated proxy is one that is the exclusive property of a single user for the duration that it is purchased. This means that, when you use a dedicated proxy, only you have access to the IP address and all the resources attached to it. As such, this kind of proxy is usually faster and more secure. Their exclusiveness also makes them a relatively expensive option. But with the right provider, it won’t cost you that much to buy them.
Semi-dedicated proxies are shared by a few users at the same time. This means that, while using these types of proxies, you have to share the resources attached to them with other people. As such, you might experience slower network speed and, because you are on the same IP address as other people, it is less secure. Another drawback is the fact that other people might get the IP address banned from sites you want to access. There is some good news, however. With a reliable provider, you don’t have to worry too much about the drawbacks. Semi-dedicated proxies are an affordable option if you an on a budget and reliable providers will strive to make them work well for every user.
This list, of course, is not exhaustive of the different types of proxies, and there are many other specialized proxies for niche applications. In fact, the different categories listed above are not all mutually exclusive and some of the proxy types can overlap. For example, you can have a static residential proxy. This kind of proxy is awesome for use cases in which you want your IP address to be associated with a cache but you want to keep the chances of being detected to the minimum – e.g. gaming. There are also rotating residential proxies. Because of the constant rotation and very low likelihood of being detected, such proxies are the absolute best for web scraping.
Proxy Server FAQs
What are proxies?
Proxies serve as intermediaries that separate end-users from the websites they browse, acting as a ‘gateway’ through which all user requests first pass through on their way to accessing the desired web page or file.
How do proxies work?
Proxies work by making internet requests on behalf of an end user’s device and swapping out a user’s home IP address for the proxy server’s IP address to help mask where the requests originated from. This provides the user with several advantages while browsing including added privacy, enhanced security, faster performance, and greater access to restricted content.
What is a proxy IP address?
A proxy IP address is the IP address provided to a website by the proxy server in place of a user’s own computer IP address.
Once you’ve set up a proxy, you can find your proxy IP address by accessing your “Internet Options” from your Control Panel on your PC. From there, select the “Connections” tab and click on the “LAN Settings” button, under which your proxy information will be detailed.
Are proxies safe?
Proxies are only as safe as the type you choose to use. You should never use free or public proxies, as these are often used by hackers and scammers to steal your personal information. Using paid or private proxies ensures that you have optimal security, server support, and data encryption to guarantee safe browsing.
Is my identity hidden when using a proxy?
Yes, your identity remains hidden when you use a proxy. Proxies function by substituting their IP address for your device’s IP address so that websites or other users cannot identify you.
We hope this article has completely cleared away any doubts you might have around the question, “What are proxies?” Whether you’re a business administrator or a private browser, these incredible tools can help you manage your online activity. The key is understanding which type of proxy is best for you and also remembering to always pay for your proxies instead of falling for the enticing option of free ones.
The information contained within this article, including information posted by official staff, guest-submitted material, message board postings, or other third-party material is presented solely for the purposes of education and furtherance of the knowledge of the reader. All trademarks used in this publication are hereby acknowledged as the property of their respective owners.
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