Proxy vs. VPN: What Are The Differences?

By Doma
proxy vs. VPN - what are the differences

Data privacy and security aren't things to be taken lightly. Most of us rely on the internet every day to do our banking, shopping, collaborate with coworkers, share sensitive information with our business partners, and more. We generate information online and share our private data daily. 

Unsurprisingly, there's no shortage of those who want to access and collect that data. While this can bring some benefits, such as ad personalization, it can also cause various problems if the data falls into the wrong hands. 

To ensure reliable privacy and top-notch data security, you can rely on two solutions: Proxy and VPN. Both can assist to hide an IP address, and both can provide many other advantages as you browse the web, but which one is better for you?

In the Proxy vs. VPN battle, which one comes out on top, and which one should you start using?

Let's take a closer look at each of these revolutionary solutions to find out.

What Is A Web Proxy?

A web proxy is a middleman between your computer and the rest of the internet, separating you and your computer from the websites you want to access. 

Traditionally, without a proxy, your computer would need to communicate directly with a website to retrieve information from it. The site needs to read your computer's IP address to know where to send the requested information. The process also collects additional information about the users regarding their activity on and off the website.

Alternatively, a proxy acts as your gateway, and instead of your computer communicating directly with a website, it communicates with a proxy server. The proxy server relays your message to the specific website on your behalf, the site sends the requested information to the proxy, and the proxy sends it to you. 

In this situation, the website won't collect your information, just the proxy's information. It won't see your IP address but the proxy's IP address. Your personal data, such as your IP address and location, will be kept away from the sites that are trying to gain access to it, and you can browse the internet in relative anonymity. 

Besides masking your IP, proxies are an essential part of web scraping operations. Businesses and governments use proxies for successful data acquisition projects.

Types of Proxy Servers

Depending on your specific needs and browsing preferences, you can choose from several different types of proxy servers. They all have their unique purposes and benefits and could help you keep your data secure. Here are some of the most popular types of proxy servers.

Residential Proxies

Residential proxies are legit IPs provided by an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and attached to a physical location, allowing users to hide their real IP addresses and imitate organic internet behavior. It works by routing internet traffic through a server that acts as an intermediary. When using residential proxies, your digital activity gains a high privacy level and protects you from exposing your browser preferences, cookies, and actual IP information. 

Datacenter Proxies

Datacenter proxiesare the exact opposite of residential proxies, as they come from data centers. Usually, these proxies are employed for infrastructures, such as web hosting or servers. They are speedy and stable. 

HTTP Proxies

HTTP proxies are the oldest version of web proxies. They work on web pages only and are usually installed as a browser extension. Your browser activity will be routed through the proxy, keeping your IP address secure. They are useful for bypassing geo-locked content, as they can make it seem like your traffic is coming from a different (unrestricted) location. 

SOCKS5 Proxies

SOCKS5 proxies are essentially an upgrade on the HTTP proxies. They work for all kinds of online activities, not only for browsing traditional web pages. You can use them on P2P platforms, video games, streaming services, and more. Their versatility makes SOCKS5 proxies a more popular choice, but it also makes them slower. 

Proxy Anonymity

Proxies can differ from one another by the level of anonymity they provide as well. So, we can usually distinguish between transparent and high-anonymity proxies. 

Transparent Proxies

Transparent proxies are quite unique since they don't hide your activity or IP address at all. They "tell" the websites you are visiting that they are proxies, and they share your IP address with the sites. It might seem like this defeats the purpose of using proxies, but that's not exactly true. 

These proxies are often used in schools, libraries, and workplaces to filter content. Managers can use them to prevent workers from accessing social media sites, and parents can use them to limit the types of websites their children can visit, and so on. As you can see, they can be quite useful in some instances. 

High-Anonymity Proxies

High-anonymity proxies are the best proxy solution for protecting your identity online. They don't share your IP address, but they "pretend" to be you. High-anonymity proxies will often rotate their IPs, making it difficult for sites to track their activity and identify them as proxies.

How Proxies Work 

Essentially, every time you browse the internet, your computer needs to communicate with a website you are visiting, and this often leaves traces in the form of cookies. The website tracks your activity and collects and stores all the necessary information on you. 

Proxies prevent this by acting on your behalf and sending in your request from their own servers. The information you requested is then sent back to the proxy servers, and it relays it back to you. 

Dedicated vs. Shared Proxies

Most commonly, users will rely on shared proxies for rudimentary anonymity. As their name implies, shared proxies are used by multiple clients, sometimes hundreds of them, and process all their requests simultaneously. 

This could cause some lagging problems when the servers get overwhelmed. Additionally, should one of the proxy clients be using proxies for suspicious activity, the entire server could be blacklisted and banned from certain sites. So, even if you are doing everything by the book, you would be negatively affected by another user's suspicious activity. 

That's why dedicated proxies are often a better option. They provide you with an IP address that's exclusive and unique just for you. So, you could use them without worrying about other users and without being restricted from accessing sites due to others' suspicious activity.

What Is A Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

While it shares some similarities to proxies, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an IP-masking software. As its name suggests, it acts as a private network regardless of the status of your connection. It masks your IP and online activity and provides thorough encryption, ensuring you have the utmost levels of both privacy and security.

Virtual Private Network - VPN

When you are connected to the web, your device doesn't only communicate with your visiting websites. It's also communicating with your network – whether that's your home or office internet, cafe Wi-Fi, or any other public or private network. Anyone could intercept your connection to a network and track your activities. For example, your ISP always has insight into your online activities and can track and monitor your network behavior.

secure VPN tunnel

A VPN will essentially create a private tunnel for your data to travel. It will hide your IP address, encrypt all data, and scramble it, making it virtually impossible to track and make sense of it. Since all the traffic is routed through the server, a VPN can cause overall slowdowns.

Types of VPNs 

Just as with proxies, there are several different types of VPNs. The most common ones are as follows. 

Remote Access Virtual Private Network 

Remote access VPN is by far the most popular VPN version. It allows you to connect to a private network remotely safely. You will typically be connected to a server located in an entirely different country, so you can enjoy a safe browsing experience and access any geo-restricted sites with ease. The VPN provider will enable you access to their own network and encrypt every piece of data that passes through it.

Site-to-Site Virtual Private Network 

Site-to-site VPN, commonly referred to as router-to-router, is the most popular choice for corporate settings. Companies with offices in different geographical locations can use site-to-site VPNs to create virtual bridges between their networks and collaborate with exceptional security. 

When two or more offices from the same company use site-to-site VPN, it's known as an Intranet VPN. When offices from different companies use site-to-site VPN, it's known as an Extranet VPN. 

Either way, to establish the connection between the distanced locations, the users need proper authentication. Otherwise, they can't communicate through the network.

How VPNs Work

 VPNs work by hiding your IP and redirecting your online activity through remote servers. Essentially, when your device is connected to a VPN, it behaves as if it's on the local network of your remote VPN server – which could be located in any country in the world. Since your device will appear to belong to another network, your Internet Service Provider won't be able to see what you are doing on the device. 

By virtually making you invisible online, a VPN will keep your data private, and its additional encryption will ensure your utmost security. Even if your connection to a network is somehow intercepted, no one would be able to make sense of your information, as it will be encrypted. 

Proxy vs. VPN: What Are The Differences?

As you have seen so far, proxies and VPNs might appear somewhat similar at first glance, but there are many differences between the two:

  • VPNs are oriented to an individual user who wants to mask their true identity and ensure that the internet requests are finally encrypted. 
  • Proxy servers also allow its users to achieve anonymity, but it is also regularly used by companies or institutions for web collection projects. 
  • Proxies mask your IP address; they don't encrypt your data. VPNs hide your IP and encrypt all your information. 
  • Proxies work on specific apps or browsers. VPNs cover your device on an OS-level. 
  • VPNs could cause overall slowdowns because they route and encrypt your data. 

When Should You Use A Proxy?

Proxies are often used for bypassing internet censorship, enhancing security, and performing efficient web data gathering. They can help you hide your IP address and access sites that would otherwise block you.  Also, as modern companies constantly strive to get the most accurate information to stay in a competitive market, using proxies allows them to retrieve real-time data for their business use.

When Should You Use A VPN? 

A VPN should be used if you want to ensure your privacy and information security. Employees should use a VPN when accessing company information from public networks, for example, or you should use a VPN when sharing sensitive data, such as credit card information or other personally identifiable information, with secure sites. The VPNs will hide you from sophisticated detection systems, and they are constantly upgraded to ensure you can bypass any type of internet restriction. 

Proxy & VPN Use Cases 

Proxies are relatively simple, but they can have quite useful use cases. Some of their most common applications are as follows:

  • Extract web data 
  • Collect data for e-commerce
  • Perform ad verification
  • Compare prices on a global scale 
  • Research markets 
  • Monitor and boost email protection
  • Level-up your brand protection
  • Test your site performance and functionality 

Proxies are often best used by companies using web scrapers and trying to collect the right pieces of information to boost their competitiveness. 

VPNs, on the other hand, can be used for boosting personal and corporate security. Their applications are as follows: 

  • Ensure online anonymity 
  • Improve online security 
  • Access public networks securely 
  • Enjoy online content privately 

Wrapped Up

There is no ultimate winner in this Proxy vs. VPN battle since they all have their perks and different goals. Both VPNs and proxies can help you improve your browsing experience, and the best choice for you depends on which features you are looking to get.

If you simply want more privacy, then a VPN can be your answer, but if you want security, easier access to websites, and overcome scraping challenges, proxies are your go-to choice.

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