Proxy Servers: What Are They and What Are They Good for?

Hosting Service 8.9.2012 Comments Off on Proxy Servers: What Are They and What Are They Good for?

I’m writing this for those of you who may never have heard of proxy servers. A proxy is a server that acts as an intermediary between a client (you) and other servers. As you likely already know, all websites and web delivered services are hosted on computers called servers. When you access a site or service hosted on an internal (local) or external (Internet, www) network, your terminal or computer (client) is communicating directly with the server (computer) on which the requested resource (webpage, media, service) is hosted.

As stated, a proxy server acts as an intermediary between you and the host server. Instead of communicating directly with the end server, your communications are routed through another computer first. This proxy server then communicates with the host server in your stead, receives the requested information and routes it back to you. In essence, it’s equivalent to asking a friend to communicate with a third party for you.

But why would you want to do that? Proxies tend to get a bad reputation as they are often used to circumvent content filtering systems, firewalls or to mask illegal or unsavory activities. To be fair, I would venture that this is probably quite true. But proxies, like many other technologies, were initially designed and are still used for a variety of “nobler” intents. Proxies are often used to mask the identity of internal network computers from prying eyes on the Internet (security), to speed up certain network and web resources by using caching, as content filters, to scan inbound and outbound data for viruses or potential leaks – in short, proxy servers are essential network components.

There has been an explosion of proxy servers cropping up over the past few years. Why? People are getting increasingly savvy and are using them, for one, to circumvent content filters at work or at school. Content filters are often implemented in work and school environments in an effort to keep employees and students from accessing “questionable” materials or using company time and resources for “non-productive” activities such as keeping up with friends on Facebook, watching silly videos or playing games. It’s easy to see why they would implement these filters. By the same token, these filters are often ill managed or overly strict and invariably block some useful (sometimes essential) resources.

Another reason to use a proxy is for anonymity. It is possible to communicate via several proxies in an effort to mask your computer’s IP (Internet Protocol address – a unique identifier that could be traced).

A quick Google search for the terms “Proxy List” or “Proxy Servers” will lead you to a host of sites and proxy directories for you to try out.

Marc Roberge is a Computer Sciences educator, business owner and web master. Currently writing under the alias Zeke43, you can find more great articles and tutorials at dodisdodat.com.

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