Proxy Definition in Computers

By Chris Hamilton

An Internet proxy is an online computer server that acts as an intermediary between an Internet user and his destination site. Internet users use an Internet protocol (IP) address (a number assigned to each individual user) to connect to the Internet. This number provides detailed information about the Internet user. When Internet users want to access online information anonymously, they will use an Internet proxy server, which provides a different IP address to the destination website so that the site does not capture their personal information.


Inadequate online security presents a growing threat to Internet users. Many users worry about what kind of information can be traced back to them. Some workplaces and schools block access to certain social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. To get past this block, Internet proxy servers can be used, which act as an intermediary so that the blocked sites never directly connect to the host network. Some websites block certain Internet users by geography, so using a Web proxy located in the Web host’s country will allow foreign users to use the website.


Usually a computer connects directly between the user's server, provided by a telecommunications company such as Comcast or Verizon, and the websites that a user visits. A proxy server acts as a buffer between this connection. The proxy server buffers all of the files that the user is trying to access and stores them in a database, commonly known as a cache. The buffered files from the destination website are then displayed on the user's computer screen.


Free proxies may be found by using a search engine. Sometimes these Internet proxies require changing an IP address manually by going into the user's Web browser settings. Online proxies provide increased convenience. The typical layout of an online proxy looks like a Web bar, where the destination website is entered. From there, the Web can be surfed without any additional hassle.


Direct connections between a user and the requested website work at the top speed of a user’s Internet connection. Proxy servers usually slow down an Internet connection because of the extra time it takes to buffer the information that the user wants to download. The speed of a proxy server depends upon the hosting service. Most free proxies offer slow speeds, as they're hosted on shared hosting plans, while dedicated proxies connect at lightning-fast speeds, often resulting in very little buffering time.


Most proxy servers are not completely anonymous. Web hosts usually keep records of transfer activity, even if the proxy owner deletes the information. Accessing illegal information can be traced back to the Web user in most instances, although this may be averted in countries, such as Russia, which have lax enforcement. Employers may also trace the use of proxies if they're accessing forbidden material at work, although they may not be sure exactly what sites the employee is viewing.