The internet relies heavily on server infrastructure to deliver the websites, videos, and audio files we consume daily. These servers can be used for personal file hosting or service delivery in the enterprise. In some cases, you may wish to add a middle-man server into the equation to protect your hosting infrastructure, or anonymise your network traffic. This middle man is called a proxy server.

What is a proxy server?

A proxy server sits between the hosting server and the connected client device. When the client device wants to connect to your hosting server, it queries the proxy server first. The proxy server then connects to your hosting server, pulls the requested data, and delivers it back to the client device.

You can see a visualisation of the typical proxy data flow below:

Client Device -> Proxy Server -> Hosting Server -> Proxy Server -> Client Device

By doing this, the client device uses your proxy server domain name system (DNS) service instead of the one from the clients' internet service provider (ISP). This can help client devices to bypass geo-restricted content filters from their ISP and even helps to anonymise and secure network traffic. This anonymity is achieved when the proxy server encrypts network traffic in-transit, preventing your ISP from viewing data packet information. Since the proxy server encrypts data packets before forwarding them, your ISP cannot decipher the network protocol being used, thus preventing any throttling or filtering.

For IT engineers managing hosting infrastructure, a proxy server can be incredibly useful for troubleshooting. Your ISP's DNS cache is usually cleared and refreshed every 72 hours. That means three days of latency for any new DNS records that appear in the meantime. This can cause an error message like ERR_NAME_NOT_RESOLVED to appear in your browser, despite the website being live in reality. By routing traffic through a proxy server, you use the proxies ISP connection rather than your own, eliminating these DNS resolver issues.

What types of proxy server are there?

There are many different types of proxy server, all with different use cases:

Transparent Proxy – a transparent proxy tells the website it connects to that it is a proxy server. This transparent proxy also passes your real IP address along to the website, identifying you to the destination web server. The server host will thus see that you are connected via proxy, and know both your IP address and geolocation.

This type of proxy server is primarily used for content filtering in the workplace and at home. The transparent proxy provides the same internet experience as a direct connection thanks to sharing your real IP. Additionally, it can implement filtering rules to prevent access to not-safe-for-work (NSFW) websites.

This could be used in a school, office, or at home for parental controls on your children's devices. For enterprises, blocking access to Facebook, YouTube, and other sites can increase productivity and reduce bandwidth utilisation. This bandwidth usage reduction will improve local area network (LAN) and wireless area network (WAN) speed and reliability, further increasing productivity.

Anonymous Proxy – much like a transparent proxy, an anonymous proxy will tell the website it connects to that it is a proxy server. Unlike transparent proxies, however, an anonymous proxy will obfuscate your IP address. This means that your IP address is hidden to the hosting server, preventing the website from viewing your IP geolocation.

Advertising content online is targeted based on your geolocation. By obfuscating your IP address through anonymous proxy servers, you could potentially prevent targeted ads from reaching your device, thus protecting your browsing privacy.

Anonymous proxy servers can either be protocol-specific (HTTPS only, Bittorrent only, and so on), or universal with protocol-independent proxies. Protocol-independent proxies require a tunnel, in similar fashion to a virtual private network (VPN). Protocol-specific proxies cannot be tunnelled, as only specific data packets are anonymised in this case.

Distorting Proxy – a distorting proxy functions in a very similar fashion to an anonymous proxy. The main difference here is your IP address is not obfuscated – it is distorted. This means you can trick websites into thinking you are in a different geolocation, despite the reality.

This type of proxy server is typically used to bypass geo-restrictions on web content. As an example, Netflix has a different service catalogue in the UK vs the USA. If you wanted to view this US-based content, you could connect to a distorting proxy in the USA and trick Netflix into thinking you are actually in the USA. Many websites have also implemented GDPR restrictions while they update their policies, meaning you can get around these GDPR-related content blocks with a distorting proxy.

High-Anonymity Proxy – the final proxy on this list is the high-anonymity proxy. These proxies are designed to maximise security and anonymity by rotating IP addresses on a single proxy server or even routing through multiple proxy servers across the world.

This type of proxy is used by the TOR Network, the delivery system for the fabled 'darknet' or 'deep web'. While TOR has connotations with black-market criminal activity, many websites on the darknet are legitimate and legal. These websites benefit from the highest possible levels of anonymity, thanks to the rotating IP addresses and multi-proxy routing we mentioned earlier. Rather than .com or .co.uk, TOR uses .onion, also known as ‘onion links’. This is due to the layered nature of TOR connections, much like an onion has layers!

The downside with multi-proxy routing is latency and page load times increasing. As the connection 'bunny hops' between proxies, you must wait for each proxy server to process and connect to another. The upside here is that each proxy server could be viewed as a potential originator for the connection, virtually eliminating the chance of tracking the data flowing through TOR.

As a test, we connected to fasthosts.co.uk using the Site24x7 Ping Tool. Our latency result from Toronto, Canada to the UK was 85ms. In comparison, TOR .onion connections (at 50KiB packet size) had a minimum of 2 seconds (2000ms) to request and download packets. The packet failure rate for .onion connections also sits between 0% and 12% depending on network conditions, reducing TOR's viability for latency-dependent applications.

Server hosting with Fasthosts

Proxy servers are an excellent way to protect your privacy and bypass geographical restrictions. While we do not offer dedicated proxy services at this time, you can create your own proxy server using our virtual private server (VPS) hosting services. You get full, bare-metal access to server hardware, with complete freedom to install any OS or configure the server as you see fit. Unlimited network traffic makes this a viable proxy server option, and prices start at just £5 per month (ex VAT) on our 'VPS 40' tier.

Find out more about VPS hosting by contacting our friendly sales team on 0808 1686 777, or visit the Fasthosts website to browse our product and service catalogue.