Proxy Server Basics
Better question: Why would you use a proxy at all?
The topic of proxies can get confusing fast, making it hard to figure out what they are, what they do and why anyone would use one.
Just so you know, using a proxy revolves around you taking steps on your computer to help you either: 1) be "anonymous" (somewhat) when you're on the Internet, or 2) help you get around Internet blackouts and restrictions.
For definition's sake, the word "proxy" means "substitute" or "go-between." More on all this later.
Unfortunately, most articles you'll find on the topic of proxies are boring and complicated, which is too bad, because if you understood the purpose of a proxy (or something similar called a VPN), you might be interested in using one.
Especially if you'd like to block advertisers and the government from easily tracking your Internet activity, or if you'd like to use Facebook or Netflix in a country where those services are blocked.
So, let's take a simple look at the term "proxy," and answer the question "what is a proxy server?" to discover how they can help you keep a lower profile online.
A simple analogy will help...
Everyone knows that if you want to travel to another country, you need a passport. A passport isn't like a ticket to a ball game, where whoever possesses the ticket gets in. Your passport identifies you and only you, and lets you in and out. Now, think of these two sticky situations:
- What if somehow your passport was refused when you presented it at an airport, and you were kept from leaving and traveling to a foreign country?
- What if you wanted to visit a foreign country, but wished you could use a different passport (and different name)...one that didn't identify you.
With that in mind, let's talk about IP addresses.
Your IP address is your passport to the Internet.
Your IP address is your computer's passport that lets you travel to different websites around the world. Your IP address doesn't identify you personally, like your passport does...but it does uniquely identify the computer connection you are using. (How does your IP address do that? If you want to know, read this article later.) However, consider this:
- What if your IP address was blocked and you couldn't visit certain websites you wanted to go to? An example of that is when a public school or library uses Internet filters that restricts or blocks their patrons from visiting objectionable websites.
- What if your IP address being blocked wasn't the issue, but it's that you wanted to visit a website and were afraid someone might track your activity back to their computer. (There are more and more people who are worried about being spied on.)
The proxy can help. Sort of.
A proxy server—another term used instead of just proxy—is simply a computer that is working on behalf other computers as their Internet go-between...their "proxy."
How does a proxy server help? By receiving, sending and returning your Internet search requests for you...and substituting its own IP address in place of yours.
To any website, it's not your computer making the website request ("Can I see the video of the gorilla and kitten?"), it's some other IP address. The website doesn't care. They just say, "sure."
It's as simple as 1-2-3.
- Your browser request starts heading out on the Internet to Apple.com or any other website. Unless something changes things, Apple would know your IP address.
- The proxy server you use (or connect with) intercepts your request and sends it along to its destination...but with a different IP address (its own).
- Apple.com gets your inquiry, and sends back to your proxy server (based on the IP address making the request) the page you requested.
Your IP address stays hidden the entire time.
Move over proxies: Here comes the VPN.
If you did a Google search and watched a few YouTube videos tomorrow on "What is a Proxy?", here's what you'd find out—proxies are still used, but not as much as they used to be.
For individuals who want the advantages a proxy offers—hiding their IP address and being able to get around blocked websites—a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is the new way to go.
You can learn more about VPNs, and why they're a superior alternative to a proxy server and proxy, by visiting our Hide IP page.