What Are Proxies? (Everything To Know About Proxy Servers)
Table of Contents
If you’re looking to compile lots of data from the web to inform and boost your business, proxies are the essential tool to help you do that without the fear of being blocked or banned.
This complete guide to proxy servers will answer the questions: what is a proxy server, how do they work, what are they used for, and how they can benefit your business. We’ll also go into detail about the best use cases of proxies and answer some frequently asked questions about using proxies for web scraping. If you’re familiar with some of the basics, you can use the table of contents to skip around to the relevant sections.
What Is a Proxy Server?
A proxy server is an intermediary between you and the website you’re visiting. When you aren’t using a proxy server, a website can identify you by your internet protocol (IP) address. Your IP address tells the website where you’re located. It’s similar to your home address, although not nearly as specific. Like your home address, your IP address is tied to the internet connection in a particular location. Just as the physical address of your home is different from the physical address at the coffee shop where you like to work, the IP address is different — even though you may be working on the same laptop in both places.
When you use a proxy, you add an extra layer between your device and a website. You connect to the proxy server first. The proxy server hides your actual IP address and displays a different one (the proxy IP address) to the website. The website then sends its response to the proxy server, which sends it back to you.
Although they’re often used interchangeably, the terms “proxy server” and “proxy IP address” have different meanings.
- A proxy server is the machine that houses proxy IP addresses.
- A proxy IP address is the individual IP address that’s used to conceal your actual IP address.
What Is a Proxy Server Used for?
While it might sound questionable to give out an IP address that’s different from your own, it’s a good idea for many reasons. From privacy concerns to software testing, proxies give you more control over how you use the internet and how much information the websites you visit can collect about you.
Here are some of the most popular use cases for proxies:
If you’ve ever Googled something and then had related ads pop up for days afterward (and who hasn’t), you know that everything you’re doing on the internet is tracked. Although it’s not the only information that’s recorded off your device, your IP address is the primary way that websites track you. Using a proxy will prevent a lot of tracking activity and provide more privacy protection.
Because a proxy server is an extra buffer that encrypts your data before passing it along to a web server, it can provide protection for your sensitive data and help keep you safe from malicious actors. If a hacker tries to access your information, they’ll have to go through the proxy server first, making it harder for them to access the server where your data is actually stored.
However, this benefit depends on the proxy server you choose. It’s essential to make sure you trust your proxy provider because using the wrong proxy server can have the opposite effect and compromise your security.
Proxies can give you access to content that is blocked in your location by making it appear that you’re located in a different area. You might want to do this if you’re traveling but still want to access the internet from your home country or if there is censorship imposed by a local government. This can also be useful for more mundane tasks, such as testing how your software or content appears to someone in a different location.
If you’re looking for faster speeds, proxies can help in several ways. For gamers engaged in massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), seconds can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Using a proxy located near the game’s server allows you to access a faster connection.
This also works for other types of servers and is great for any use when speed is a top factor for your internet needs.
Web scraping is one of the most popular business use cases for proxies. We’ll cover it in more detail below, but briefly, web scraping is the process of using a bot to collect publicly available data from websites for analysis. The web scraping process can be complicated and you may run into hurdles, such as being blocked from the website you’re trying to scrape. Proxies help you avoid bans when you’re scraping by making your bot’s activity appear more human.
Proxies can be used with software to monitor websites that offer limited editions or timed sales. If you’re waiting for something to go on sale that’s likely to sell out quickly, you can use a bot to repeatedly refresh the site and automatically purchase when it becomes available. Because the bot may get banned for often making the same request, a proxy server allows you to switch IP addresses with every request. This makes it appear that each request is coming from a different user.
Web Scraping With Proxies
Web scraping is the most popular use case for proxies. As mentioned above, web scraping involves using a program called a bot to extract publicly available data from a website and export it to a readable format for analysis. The possible use cases for web scraping are almost endless. Some of the most common uses are:
Whether you’re a retailer checking out your competitor’s prices or a manufacturer trying to determine the best price for a component, understanding market prices is essential when you’re in business.
It’s not just about a race to the bottom, however. Analyzing price trends puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting a price strategy. While long-term price trend analysis reports can be valuable, you don’t have to wait for the big data analysis firms to put together a summary. With web scraping, you can collect your own data and set your strategy based on up-to-the-minute information — rather than stale data that may be months or years old.
According to research done by RAIN Group, it takes an average of eight exposures to make a sale. However, selling to the right audience is much easier. By scraping websites and social media platforms where your ideal customer is likely to be, you can generate warm leads that have already expressed interest in your product or service.
Your reputation is your brand’s most valuable asset. Staying on top of your brand mentions helps you ensure your reputation is in top standing with consumers. Brand monitoring is a powerful part of your marketing strategy. Understanding how your customers feel about your brand and your offerings lets you make minor corrections before your company starts heading in a direction you didn’t want to go.
You can use web scraping to monitor your brand and mentions of your brand across social media platforms, review sites, blogs, and forums.
Brand monitoring also allows you to shine when it comes to customer service. In the current “always-on” economy, customers expect brands to respond to complaints or questions almost immediately, regardless of where they are. By responding to your customers quickly, you can turn a potential critic into a brand ambassador.
Effective marketing relies on understanding your customers and speaking to them in a language that resonates with them. Marketing research gathered from web scraping is perfectly tailored to your customers and your business. Instead of following the latest marketing strategy devised by marketers who may not even work in your field, you’ll have data that is hyper-specific to your business. Data analysis gives you the insights to appeal to your customers, not just “35-year-old suburban moms.”
Just as web scraping allows you to understand your customers and communicate with them, it also allows you to find out exactly what they want. Why spend a lot of money designing a product and then even more convincing people to buy it when you can just create what they want? If you scrape keywords and reviews related to your products and industry, you can discover exactly what people want. If you’re analyzing reviews and you keep seeing the same complaint, your product design team can use a built-in audience to develop a product people want.
Regardless of what industry you’re in, you can benefit from analyzing the market with web scraping. A market overview will show you if a geographic area is under or over served by your type of business. Then you can do a competitive analysis to determine the rental market before you invest.
For example, suppose you’re looking at opening a business that requires employees with a specific skill set. In that case, web scraping will let you perform a feasibility study to see if there’s enough qualified local talent.
If you’re building software that uses machine learning, you’re going to need a lot of data. You can design a web scraping application to find the type of data you need. Not only is this cheaper than buying data but it’s also more relevant and current.
You can use web scraping to perform front-end user testing to monitor your software’s performance across different variables.
The most well-known examples of content aggregation are travel sites that compare airline tickets or hotel prices. However, content aggregation is helpful in other fields as well. If you need to stay up-to-date on a specific topic, you can use a web scraper to collect the data from various sources in one place. Content aggregation is also an easy way to feed the content marketing machine.
Sentiment analysis is the process of gathering data about how your customers feel about various aspects of your business. It shows you the emotion underlying your customers’ reviews. Using this data, you can analyze what’s working and what’s not in your business. Then, you’ll be able to decide on a strategy going forward that’s backed by data.
How Does a Proxy Service Work?
Proxies use a server to process web traffic.
- You communicate directly with the proxy server, which encrypts your information.
- The proxy disguises your IP address by displaying another, and then sends it on.
- The website sends its response back to the proxy, which sends it to you.
The server you’re targeting can only see and communicate with the proxy. All proxies provide this type of go-between service, but there are a variety of different types of proxy servers.
Types of Proxies
There are a lot of different terms that are used to discuss proxies. Proxies can be defined in several ways, and most fit into more than one category type. Some of the proxies listed below are obscure or highly specialized, but since this is a complete guide, we’ll define them all.
Residential proxies originate with a physical address. Internet service providers issue them to regular users. This is the type of IP address that you likely have at home. Residential proxies look and perform exactly like ordinary IP addresses because they are. This makes them very valuable for web scraping because a residential proxy address looks like a human user rather than a robot.
Residential proxies are more difficult to ethically source than most other types of proxies, so they’re more expensive. For web scraping, however, they offer unparalleled authenticity and security — as long as they’re obtained from an ethical provider. Residential proxies are the gold standard for enterprise use cases such as web scraping as part of an overall corporate data strategy. When obtained ethically, the proxy provider pays the person who holds the real IP address to use it as part of the service.
Rayobyte leads the industry in providing high-quality, ethically sourced rotating residential proxies. There is simply no better option for enterprise web scraping. Our unmatched commitment to ethics, world-class technical support, and personal partnership with you all help you achieve your scraping goals with the highest level of ban protection. When you partner with us, you can focus on reaching your goals quickly and efficiently instead of dealing with downtime and unnecessary blocks and bans.
Data center proxies
These proxies originate at data centers instead of ISPs (internet service providers). Many of the proxies listed below are also types of data center proxies, and they’re the most common type of proxy. It’s easy for websites to detect the origin of data center proxies. This makes them more likely to get banned when used for web scraping. Some websites will ban entire subnets if they detect bot-like activity from a data center IP address. So, if you use one, it’s essential to make sure your provider has a lot of subnet diversity. Some websites ban all traffic from data centers. If you know you want to scrape a particular website, it’s worth investigating their policies before you decide what type of proxy you’ll need.
Data center proxies are often faster than residential proxies and are plentiful. A data center can generate an enormous number of proxy IP addresses, which is one reason they’re cheaper than residential proxies.
With over 300,000 IP addresses on 20,000 unique C subnets spread across 9 ASNs in 29 different countries, Rayobyte has the volume and diversity of data center proxies you need for your project. Our robust data center infrastructure can handle 25 petabytes per month, allowing for billions of scrapes. We have plans for everyone and their unique data gathering needs, from individuals to enterprises. Contact us today, and we’ll work with you to find the perfect solution for your use case.
Mobile proxies may also be called 3G, 4G, or 5G proxies. These are all proxies that are routed through a telecom provider. As with residential proxies, mobile proxies are real IP addresses issued by a cellular network that also acts as an ISP. They also appear authentic to the websites you visit.
Shared proxies are used by multiple users at once. This often results in poor performance since they get bogged down by lots of traffic. Proxies that many people use are also prone to the “bad neighbor” effect — if someone is using the same IP address as you and they get banned from a website for bad behavior, then you are banned as well. Sharing proxies also opens you up to security risks such as hacking. Shared proxies are generally cheaper, but are especially risky for businesses because of data protection regulations and the dangers of exposing sensitive information.
Semi-dedicated proxies are shared among up to three users. While there are some of the same issues as with shared proxies, the risk is lower because there are fewer users. There is even less risk if your proxy provider thoroughly vets its users. You may still experience some lag time since there are other users, but there aren’t nearly as many performance issues as there are with shared proxies. This can be a good option if your budget is limited but you still want some of the privacy of a proxy with fewer users.
Private proxies are dedicated solely to you. This is the fastest and most secure option available. For businesses who are planning to use proxies for web scraping, this is the best option. Of course, it’s also the most expensive since it requires the most resources. However, the privacy, speed, and productivity you get with private proxies are unmatched. It’s a worthy investment if you’re looking to gather large amounts of data.
Public proxies are shared proxies that are available to anyone. This is a high-risk option that’s almost never the right choice — and certainly never for business use.
Even if these proxies were trustworthy, the tremendous amount of traffic they generate means that their performance is sluggish and unreliable. However, they aren’t trustworthy. Public proxies are a security risk since they’re open to all end users. Since most public proxies don’t use HTTPS, your data is exposed when you use them. Public proxies lack any type of support so if you encounter a problem using one, you’re on your own to solve it.
Every time you make a request, a rotating proxy assigns a new proxy IP address. This is ideal when using a web scraper. Scrapers can generate requests much faster than a human can, which makes them stand out from human users.
Because they assign a new IP address for every request, rotating proxies make it look like a different user is behind every request. So if your scraper sends out a thousand requests, they’ll be sent from a thousand different IP addresses. For web scraping, the best option is rotating residential proxies. The combination of distinct IP addresses that appear to originate from human users makes them the perfect option for enterprise data scraping.
Static ISP proxies
A static ISP proxy IP address is a combination between a data center proxy and a residential proxy. It’s issued by an ISP, but it originates in a data center.
For some use cases, static ISP proxies are the best of both worlds. They provide the speed of data center proxies with the authority of residential proxies. However, they’re not optimal for web scraping because they don’t change with every request. Even though they appear to be normal IP addresses, repeated requests with the same IP address will get banned, even if they’re residential IPs. Static ISP proxies are a good option if you’re using proxies for anonymity, security, or location switching, but you’ll be using them as a normal user rather than with bots.
If you’re looking for static ISP proxies to increase your anonymity and security on the internet, Rayobyte offers a plan for you. We’re the largest U.S.-based proxy company. Our high-quality ISP proxies offer you unmatched control and customization.
This is where things start to get a little technical. Going back to IP addresses — the IP stands for internet protocol. An internet protocol refers to a set of rules that governs how data is transferred over the internet.
An IPv4 address is an internet protocol version 4 address. These were the first types of IP addresses issued back in 1983, and they’re still the most common type in use today. However, the internet of 1983 did not envision the sheer number of devices that would one day be connected to it, and all of the IPv4 addresses have been assigned. The advantage of using IPv4 proxies is that they’re compatible with all websites.
IPv6, which stands for internet protocol version 6 (version 5 was never formally adopted but did go on to serve as the basis for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies), is the newer version currently in use. IPv6 is more widely available now and has been adopted by slightly over 35% of websites.
IPv6 proxies are cheaper and more plentiful. They are also less likely to have been previously used and banned, which may happen with a recycled IPv4 address.
Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an internet protocol that has been used since the 1990s. It’s very effective at transferring data, but it doesn’t encrypt it so it’s risky to use. With so many data protection and cyber security regulations in place for businesses that gather data, failing to encrypt data not only leaves you open to malicious actors but also legal fines and penalties.
There may still be times when an HTTP proxy is a good option, however — HTTP proxies can access HTTPS websites by using a tunnel between the browser and the server to enhance anonymity and filter content.
HTTPS, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol over SSL is a protocol method that encrypts your data and provides much more security. Many websites have switched to HTTPS for this reason.
SOCKS, short for Socket Secure, is a type of protocol that’s compatible with all other types of protocols. There are two current versions, 4 and 5. SOCKS doesn’t access your data, which is why it’s compatible with all other protocols. SOCKS proxies are secure and anonymous but they’re not a good option for use cases that involve interpreting data such as web scraping.
A forward proxy is the most common type of proxy. It’s the type most people are referring to when they talk about proxies. It comes between a user and a website. You forward your request to the proxy and then it sends it on to the website. The website sends the information back to the forward proxy. Forward proxies can cache information to use for later requests.
A reverse proxy is one that’s used by a web server, usually those with a lot of traffic. It acts as an intermediary between you (or your proxy) and the web server you’re targeting. This increases the speed and security of the web server since you don’t access it directly.
Reverse proxies can also distribute traffic to many backend servers for websites that get a lot of visitors to help with performance. Another way reverse proxies enhance performance is by caching frequently requested data so that the server doesn’t need to be accessed when it’s requested.
These are level 3 proxies, and they aren’t useful for anonymity. Level 3 proxies provide the least anonymity compared to levels 1 and 2. Your IP address is easily found using this type of proxy. They are mainly useful for caching data and increasing your speed when you’re accessing frequently-visited websites.
An anonymous proxy tries to make all of your internet activity untraceable. It hides your IP address from the server you’re targeting, but the server may still recognize that you’re using a proxy because it includes some other identifying information passed through in your header. This is called level 2 anonymity. These are also referred to as distorting proxies.
These provide the highest level of anonymity. The server you connect to doesn’t receive any of your device’s identifying information and it can’t even tell that a proxy is making the request. This is level 1 anonymity.
These proxies are rarely used anymore. Suffix proxies work by adding a suffix containing the proxy server URL to the end of the URL of the server you’re targeting. This used to allow you to bypass web filters, but it’s not very effective anymore because filters are more advanced.
Common Gateway Interface (CGI) proxies are used on websites that don’t allow true proxy settings to be changed. It uses a web form in your browser’s window to process the request. Because of more advanced privacy technologies, CGI proxies are rarely used now.
Tor onion proxy
Named “the onion router” because of the layers of encryption software it uses, this is an open-source network designed to provide online anonymity. It routes traffic through a network of volunteers’ servers, adding a layer of encryption at each stop.
12P anonymous proxy
This is a network that builds on Tor’s onion encryption by adding “garlic” routing. 12P encrypts the communication and distributes it through a network of volunteers’ routers. It hides the source of all information to get around censorship bans.
A DNS proxy changes your numerical IP address to a readable IP address that allows your device to understand where you want to go. These are useful for unblocking geo-restricted content.
Cheap proxies are sold at below-market value prices. Though the price may be tempting, cheap proxy providers don’t offer any other services with their proxies, rendering them virtually useless for legitimate use cases. They come with the same type of security and performance risks as public proxies.
If you’re purchasing cheap residential proxies, you have the added concern of unethical sourcing. Many cheap residential proxies were stolen, and being affiliated with these providers could harm your reputation and expose you to security breaches.
Free proxies have all of the same disadvantages as cheap proxies and are not a viable option for business. On top of the security, performance, and legal issues that are present with cheap proxies, there have been cases of free proxies being set up as a trap to allow malicious actors access to their users’ data. Free proxies aren’t worth the liability risk.
The above are different aspects of proxies, but most proxies are a combination of several types. For instance, at Rayobyte we offer rotating residential proxies as well as rotating data center proxies, each with dedicated and semi-dedicated options.
Are Proxies Safe?
When it comes to proxies, the adage “you get what you pay for” is true. Proxies are only as good as your proxy provider. If you choose a free, unreliable, or unethical proxy provider, you’re better off not using a proxy at all. Their performance issues render them practically useless. You may also be exposing your devices and, by extension, your data, to malware.
If you choose a good proxy provider, however, proxies are not only safe to use — they’re much safer than not using a proxy. Proxies that are obtained from a reliable provider protect your identity and your data by processing requests for you. This limits the number of servers that have direct access to your device.
Choosing a Proxy Provider
There are several factors you should take into consideration when you’re choosing a proxy provider. Some of the most important ones include:
IP volume and diversity
Look for a proxy provider with a wide range of locations and subnet diversity. A subnet is a block of IP addresses. There are three levels of subnets, classes A, B, and C. If you’re using data center proxies, subnet diversity is important because there’s a higher risk of entire subnets getting banned when a website bans one data center IP. If this happens and your proxy provider doesn’t provide enough subnet diversity, then your entire scraping project could get shut down.
For geolocation-based use cases, it’s important to have addresses located in a variety of countries. You won’t be able to bypass geo-blocks from a particular country if your proxy provider doesn’t have an IP address that originates in that country.
You also want to make sure your proxy provider has a lot of IP addresses. If you’re in the middle of a scraping project and you suddenly run out of proxies, it will come to a screeching halt.
With data center and static ISP proxies, look for a company that offers unlimited bandwidth and connections so you won’t be slowed down. With residential IP proxies, you’ll probably have to pay for bandwidth to protect IP sources.
As you’ve probably gathered from this article, proxies can be complicated. You don’t want a proxy provider who leaves you on your own to figure out any problems. Data collection is a core business function for many enterprises today. In many cases, a company’s data is considered in its valuation.
Web scraping is no longer just a nice side project — it’s a fundamental aspect of your business strategy. When your data scraping goes down, it’s just as critical as any other software failure. Downtimes are expensive. You want a proxy provider with the expertise and customer support staff to get you back up and running as soon as possible.
No matter why you’re using proxies, you’re likely to get banned. Even if you’re only using a proxy for increased security, you’ll probably run into instances where your proxy IP address is banned. If you’re using an IPv4 address, it could be because the user who had it before you was banned.
Make sure your proxy provider offers at least some free replacements so that you’re not stuck with a useless proxy because of a ban that wasn’t your fault. You’ll also want the replacement to be automatic to save you from the hassle of having to manually replace it yourself.
Although there are many legitimate uses for proxies, there are also many illegitimate ones. There are plenty of bad actors who want to use proxies for malicious and illegal purposes. In addition to the moral implications, being associated with an unethical proxy provider can damage your brand’s reputation. Some proxy providers will grant proxy access to anyone without asking any questions. This can also expose your company to security risks if you’re sharing proxies with them.
Customer and use vetting
When you’re looking for a proxy provider, don’t hesitate to ask how they vet their customers. In fact, you shouldn’t have to ask because they should vet you as well. If your proxy provider doesn’t seem to care why you want to use their proxies, they probably don’t care why anyone else does, either. Ensure your provider has a high standard of ethics so you can keep scraping data without the risk of compromising your data and security.
One reason that residential proxies are expensive is that they’re difficult to source ethically. Ethically sourcing residential proxies involves getting informed consent from every end-user for every IP address. It also includes setting limits on when those IP addresses can be used as well as offering end users a choice about how their IP addresses are used. Obtaining informed consent isn’t a one-time effort, either. Ethical proxy providers should periodically check in with their end-users to ensure their consent is still valid and answer any questions they may have as well as offer simple, easy opt-out options.
The best ethical proxies you can find
At Rayobyte, we know the standards for ethical proxy providers because we set them. We stand behind our proxies and our customers. We are the only proxy provider who meets all of the standards here — although we hope the rest of the industry will soon follow our lead. We believe in complete transparency, so don’t hesitate to contact us with a question about our products or processes.
After reading all of this, you should be somewhat of an expert on proxies, or at least have a more thorough understanding of them than when you started. In this era of big data, businesses that don’t have a well-planned corporate data strategy will be missing out on a lot of opportunities. Web scraping and proxies may seem difficult to master, but it’s worth putting in the effort so your company can benefit from the insights that can only be obtained through analyzing heaps of data.
If you’d like to read additional content answering the question ‘what is a proxy server’, download our free ebook here. If you’re interested in finding out how we can partner with you to help you achieve your business goals, reach out to our team. We’re always happy to hear from you and help you reach your data-gathering goals.
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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