The Advantages of Using a Proxy Server
By Jason Spidle
Proxy servers offer a simple way to mask your Web browsing and other network activity by acting as an intermediary between your computer and the website, files or other data you are requesting when connected to a network. In particular, it is useful to employ a proxy server if you want to browse the Internet anonymously or if you want to overcome some artificial content restriction. Proxy servers also offer network performance improvements in some cases and provide Web developers a tool for testing region-specific functionality in a website.
Since proxy servers come between your computer and the content you are requesting, it severely limits the capability of a server to specifically identify your activity. In other words, if you access a website through a proxy, that website would register your traffic as coming from the IP address of the proxy server, rather than your personal IP address. This anonymizing prevents tracking cookies from modifying your browsing experience on certain websites and protects your computer from malware threats on the Internet.
Proxy servers are often used to overcome region-specific content restrictions. For instance, Internet users in China often utilize proxy servers to access websites like Facebook and Google Docs since these sites are blocked by the government. Often times, overcoming content restrictions is far more innocuous. If you find wholly legitimate content blocked by a corporate Web filter, you can employ proxies to circumvent this restriction. You may also need to use a proxy server to access protected files on a corporate network from a remote location.
Region-specific websites that offer features and language localization offer your visitors many great benefits, but before deploying such a website, it's important to test that the features actually work. Proxies offer a way to view a website as if you were in an entirely different country, ensuring that your website visitors will get the website you intended.
Some proxy servers offer network performance enhancements by utilizing file caches and compression tools. In the case of proxies that cache content, this method only works if the proxy is local. For instance, if you install a proxy in a workplace setting and route all computers through the proxy, those users will be able to more quickly access any content that was already accessed by someone else in the office. As for proxies that compress content, these are especially useful on slow connections. In this case, the proxy modifies the requested content to greatly reduce the file size of the request. One such example of this compression is the Opera Mini browser for mobile phones. This browser routes all connections through a proxy that removes unneeded data from the file, thus providing a way to serve it faster.
If a proxy is only occasionally needed for Web browsing, it is best to install browser-specific add-ons that allow you to turn a proxy on and off with a single mouse click.
Jason Spidle is a technology enthusiast and writer. His writing on computers, smartphones, Web design, Internet applications, sports and music has been published at a variety of websites including Salon, JunkMedia, Killed in Cars and The Columbia Free Times. Spidle maintains a number of blogs featuring poetry, short stories and other fiction.