Anyone that has done any browsing online has probably heard about proxy servers. However, many of you probably do not actually know what a proxy server is, how they work, or what their purpose is.

This article will cover everything that you need to know about proxy servers, which includes why you should use one, how they work, how to use one, some proxy alternatives, and more.

What exactly does a proxy server do?

The most common question people have about proxy servers is what they even do. These are some of the more mysterious things on the internet.

Fortunately, understanding what they do is not particularly difficult. The basic concept of a proxy server is that they change the IP address that websites see when you visit them.

The next section will explain how these proxies do this.

How does a proxy server work?

The process that a proxy server uses to change your IP address is somewhat complicated, but the basic concept is relatively simple.

Basically, you connect to a proxy server. This server then connects to any website that you want. The proxy server then sends that information from the website back to you.

It basically acts as an intermediary between you and the website, which allows it to conceal your IP address.

An IP address can be used to track you online and even determine your location. Hiding your location information is part of the reason that you should use a proxy, but not the only reason.

Why should you use one?

As mentioned earlier, hiding your IP address is one of the reasons you should use a proxy. However, there are a lot of reasons you may want to hide your IP address. Unfortunately, most of these reasons are not for entirely legitimate purposes, but they are all still legal.

The most common reason people want to change their IP address is to avoid an IP ban. For instance, if your IP address has been banned from creating an account on a forum, then you might use a proxy to change your IP address and evade the ban. Now, this might sound effective, but webmasters are smart and many have blacklisted proxy IPs from creating accounts.

The next most common reason to use a proxy server is to change your geographic. If you are outside the United States, then you most likely will not be able to access specific entertainment media only available to Americans. YouTube, for example, blocks a lot of content to non-Americans.

Using a proxy server based in the United States is one way around this ban. People also use this when to access restricted Netflix content. However, Netflix has an excellent proxy detection system so it may take a few tries before you find a proxy that Netflix has not banned.

How to use one?

The actual process of using a proxy server is not complicated. It is actually straightforward.

All you need to do is find a proxy service, which you will usually have to purchase. You can then connect to the proxy whenever you want.

There are no further steps involved. You simply browse the internet like you normally would when you are not using a proxy.

When to use a proxy server?

As mentioned earlier, you should use a proxy server when you want to conceal your IP address or change the country associated with your IP address.

More importantly, there are times when you should not use a proxy. You should not use one when you want all your internet traffic to go through a proxy. Unfortunately, a proxy only works through the browser. This means that any peer to peer (P2P) applications will not route traffic through a proxy.

Also, the connection to the proxy is not encrypted. This means that anyone can intercept your web traffic and view the data.

In other words, do not use a proxy if you are doing anything where privacy or security is a significant concern.

If you are just watching geographically restricted YouTube videos, then a proxy server is fine. However, if you are doing online banking or other important work online, then you should use something more secure than a proxy.

Other Alternatives

Something more secure than a proxy would be a VPN or virtual private network. This is the same concept as a proxy. However, the VPN is much more secure because your connection is encrypted. Your connection is also not just limited to your web browser either.

All your internet traffic goes through the VPN. This makes them super secure.

The one downside of a VPN is that they tend to cost more per month than a proxy. You should only use one if you need maximum security while browsing the internet. A proxy server will work fine for most people and for most basic uses.

Final Thoughts

All in all, even the best proxies available are not too difficult to understand. The basic concept is hidden in the name, proxy. They just serve as a middleman between you and the internet.

They have some advantages because they conceal your actual IP address and can even change the IP address to one of a different country. This does have some benefits, but mostly in the sense that you can prevent websites from tracking you.

Proxies also have two major drawbacks though. They do not encrypt your connection and not all your internet traffic will go through the proxy. This makes them a good option for primary internet use, but any online task that requires privacy or security will require a more secure system than a proxy.

Basic internet use, in that case, refers to anything that is passive such as watching YouTube videos or Netflix movies. Anything that requires signing into a secure account should be avoided due to the inherent security risks of a proxy. That said, the lack of encryption does make a proxy server much faster than even the best VPNs available that must encrypt all traffic.

Published by Janice Cook