Technology

The Complete Guide to Proxy Servers (vs. VPN Services)

A proxy server is a computer on the Internet that mediates all the traffic there is between your computer and the rest of the world. So as you browse around the web, your computer sends everything to the proxy server. First, it contacts the target website on your behalf, and then the process comes full circle as the proxy gives your computer (or device) the resulting traffic.

So a proxy server is a middle-man in essence. And why should you ever need a middle-man? So that you don’t have to show your face. In this case, so that nobody finds out your IP address (they will see the proxy’s address instead). VPNs are proxy servers that add encryption into the mix; more on that later.

Public Proxy Servers

We start by talking about public proxy servers. These servers are available to anybody on the Internet without any fees.

Getting all the goodness of a proxy connection without paying anything is tempting. However, this type of service has enough problems so that you should keep away from them except for the most casual occasions.

So why should you avoid public servers?

  • These are volunteering servers that can go offline at any time and stay offline until somebody in their team finds the spare time to fix the problem.
  • They lack resources, such as bandwidth. So your connections will be slow.
  • They have no incentive to respect your privacy. They could be keeping logs on everything you do on the server (some are known to do so). For all you know, that public proxy server you like so much belongs to a group of hackers who are using it to gather data for further criminal activities.
  • Many of these servers will inject ads or pieces of JavaScript into the HTML they deliver to your browsers.

So there is no way to look a the service in a public proxy server favorably. It’s a bad idea from every possible angle. You should never use one, as they pose too many unnecessary privacy, anonymity, and security risks.

Private Proxy Server

Private proxy servers are commercial enterprises that are there to make a profit, for the most part – although you may know of a company or an expert friend who has one online at no charge, but it remains private.

VPNs are the most frequent kind of private proxies. They are different from a standard proxy server if you look under the hood, but we’ll explain that in full detail a little later.

A private server is a better idea than a public server always, but you’ll have to pay a fee to use it. Don’t discard it just because it isn’t free. The fact that the proxy is charging you for the service means that it has an incentive to make you happy with the service it’s giving you, so you do not cancel your subscription. 

On this website, you’ll find many reviews about private proxy servers and VPNs so that you can learn what you can expect from many of the Internet’s leading services.

And can you trust a proxy server with good reviews? Yes, you sure can. The Internet is a medium that amplifies complaints to the maximum. However, when users don’t like something, they’re always very loud about it, so when a service has good reviews in general, the chances are that you can trust it.

Server categories

Let’s get taxonomic now and have a look at the kinds of proxy servers you will find as you keep traveling around the Internet.

HTTP Proxy

The HTTP protocol is the standard tool to connect to a website. That’s why every web address you’ve ever seen starts with “http://.”

This proxy doesn’t encrypt any traffic, and that makes it quicker. But the trade-off for speed is that you can’t access HTTPS websites with this type of proxy –those webpages do need encryption, and they’re becoming the rule. So this type of server will become decreasingly helpful in the years to come.

HTTPS Proxy

Also known as Secure Socket Layer proxy (SSL), this is critical for websites that want to have secure traffic connections with their users. It uses the HTTPS protocol, and the additional “S” at the end stands for “secure.”

SOCKS Proxy

SOCKS is the protocol that can mediate between any client-server pair. So it’s very versatile as it can manage traffic in many protocols besides HTTP (unlike the previous two types). So SOCKS can manage torrents, email IRC, FTP, and everything else.

Web Proxy

These types of proxy have the advantage of needing no additional software to work. It does the job with either HTTP or HTTPS webpages. Most of these are free, but you pay for using them by watching the ads they’ll push towards you.

Remember that this kind of proxy can’t manage a website if it’s too sophisticated (Flash, Java, or JavaScript components).

Forward Proxy

This term, “forward, ” distinguishes a proxy from a “reverse proxy.” So a Forward proxy is any kind of proxy except one that acts between a safety gate between the Internet and a local, internal network.

Proxy Servers vs. Virtual Private Network Servers

We’ve promised you to talk about VPNs several times so far, so let’s be done with it. This is the section in which we will blow off your mind by telling you all about VPNs!

So what are the differences between a Proxy and a VPN server? Mainly two:

  1. Configuration. If you want to use a proxy server, you’ll need to configure every application you want to use individually. On the other hand, a VPN will take care of all the traffic coming out of a device or computer by default, independently of the app that is creating it.
  2. Encryption. HTTPS servers do not provide encryption. The protocol itself includes encryption as an ingredient in the recipe. A VPN server does encrypt everything that goes in and out of your device. Most commercial stand-alone VPNs use AES 256 encryption which is military-grade and impossible to crack (so far). So a VPN will give you more security than a simple proxy server.

Using proxy servers

Using private proxies or VPNs is straightforward because your vendor will give you clear instructions on installing and configuring them.

But if you choose a public proxy, things can get a bit more complicated. You need two pieces of information to connect to a proxy server:

  1. The server’s IP address.
  2. Your username and password (if required).

There are hundreds of free public proxy servers online –and you should never use any. But if you must try one, just hit Google with “public server proxy” and see the results.

From this point on, the configuration is not rocket science. LEt’s say you’re using Mozilla Firefox.

Click this sequence: Options -> Advanced -> Network Tab -> Connection Settings. Add the IP address and port number from your server instead of the localhost IP address. That’s it.

Exclusivity in private proxy servers: How much is too much?

We hope you understand why we have insisted on avoiding public free proxy servers and that you will pick your preferred server accordingly. So, in the understanding that you will be using private proxy servers only, they come in three exclusivity levels:

  • Dedicated proxy. This option tends to be best in terms of performance and stability. With this kind of server, you share your resources with nobody else. If you want a server to bypass geolocation blocks to unlock video streaming platforms, a dedicated proxy is the way to go. This type of server tends to have static IP addresses.
  • Semi-shared proxy. In this type of proxy, you’ll be sharing it with a few more users, three at a time, most frequently.
  • General proxy. The best option in terms of anonymity. The worst option in terms of performance. Performance and stability will suffer because you’ll be sharing this proxy with many more users.

The wrap up

Demand for on-demand video streaming has raised awareness about geoblocking in otherwise unsuspecting users. And then, that arises privacy concerns. So nothing is surprising about the explosion in VPN and proxy server usage we’ve seen in the last couple of years.

And yes, using a free public server always sounds like a great idea. It’s not. Forget about the privacy problems we told you about before. Think about usability alone. These servers are always short on resources and overcrowded with users. The result is that the service they provide is terrible and they will never be helpful for serious tasks. So it’s not that they’re not worth the risk; the user experience is awful as well.

So we’re left with private proxies. But if you’re going to pay for the service, aren’t you better off by using that money with a good VPN provider? We certainly think so. The costs are comparable – some great VPNs are even cheaper, so there’s no point in paying more (or the same) for less.

So look around our website for our VPN reviews. You will find many that will give you a top-notch service without breaking your piggy bank! A VPN will provide you with everything you want from the best proxy server and so much more that you will send us a postcard with a thank you note!