Proxy servers are dedicated software systems that run on a computer and are intermediaries between two endpoint devices. These endpoint devices are usually a personal computer and a server. A server is a central computer from which other computers (clients) request a service. A server can also be described as a computer application or a computer system. A proxy server can exist in different forms; it can be set up on the same computer or reside on a different machine (server). When proxy servers are on a separate computer, the requests made by the computers are forwarded through a firewall.
In computing, the term proxy can be used interchangeably with proxy servers; they both refer to an intermediary for digital requests from client computers seeking resources like files, web pages, or any other resource available from other computers. The proxy server primarily evaluates the requests submitted to it by a client computer to control and simplify its complexity. Although not all proxies were meant to work on the internet, most proxies are web proxies in modern days. Web proxies are proxy servers on the internet that facilitate the access of content and information over the World Wide Web. Web proxy servers can also be used to provide anonymity on the internet and bypass Internet Protocol (IP) address blocking. The invention of proxies purposefully to add encapsulation and structure to distributed systems. A distributed system in computing refers to a system with its components located on several different but networked computers; these computers coordinate their actions by exchanging messages among one another.
Even though these definitions and functions describing proxy servers and proxies sound like they are describing firewalls, they don't. There is a fundamental difference between proxy servers and firewalls. Both proxy servers and firewalls have the ability to allow or block requests according to specific predefined rules. However, firewalls do not route requests, but proxy servers do. Necessarily, proxy servers are meant to obtain requests and forward them to their desired destination. Like firewalls, proxies can also make some logging of the requests made and modify them. Other extended capabilities of proxy servers over firewalls are; the proxy servers can block requests using the protocols used, e.g., HTTP, FTP protocols, provide authentication procedures and anonymity features by default.
Since we already know proxy servers are gateways to the internet, let me explain this as a real scenario. When you are on your Windows 10 PC, and you decide to visit www.geek-computer.com, you will type in the domain name on your favorite browser. When you press Enter, a request is generated and sent to the proxy server by your computer asking for information regarding the website requested. Consequently, the proxy server forwards the request to the server where the website is originally hosted, requesting the data. Data is returned upon a successful request process, and the homepage will be displayed. Remember, the server's data is returned to the proxy server before the proxy server returns it to your home screen.
In Windows 10, proxy settings are set to update automatically. This is normal for individual computer users. However, in a company or an organization environment, with specific network settings and requirements, you may need to alter these proxy settings to access the internet using a configuration script provided by the company's network administrators. Here is how you set up a proxy automatically by using the configuration script provided.
You should see something close to this:
However, setting up proxies automatically using configuration scripts is not the only way to set proxies on your Windows 10 machine. Windows 10 also provides its users with a means to change and set proxies manually. In this method, Windows requires you to enter the proxies port number and IP address manually. To shed some light on these terms, allow me to explain a little further. An IP address is an identification label in number form assigned to all devices that are connected to a computer network. A port number (aka Port), on the other hand, is a communication endpoint. Port numbers identify specific types of network services or processes. In other words, an IP address is essentially used to determine the host or a group of hosts in a particular network. In contrast, a port number is typically used to identify a specific service/application running on your hosting system. Generally, port numbers are limited to a random combination of up to four digits; examples of standard ports are 80 and 8080.
In a company or organization with unique settings, the port number and the IP address details should be provided to you by the network administrators. Once you have them, here is how you manually configure your proxy settings on a Windows 10 machine.
You should expect your window to look like this:
Many organizations use proxies since there are many benefits tied to using them. Here are some of the most common benefits of using a proxy server.
To regulate internet usage by employees and kids.
Proxies are essential for both parents and employers (organizations) looking to monitor and control how their kids and employees use the internet. An example, an organization set up may need to regulate access to specific sites, say social media sites on their network, to ensure employees are not distracted. This can be easily achieved using proxies. Similarly, parents may want to block specific websites from their kids to block adult and extreme content not meant for children's consumption. Again, this is a good practice and use of proxies that have been implemented widely.
To save on Internet Bandwidth and Increase Internet speeds.
When using a good proxy, organizations can achieve better and more efficient internet experiences and performances. Proxy servers often cache frequently visited websites, and this ability makes them save a lot of data. For example, when you request a popular site, it will check to see if it has the latest version of the website; if yes, the proxy server will send it to you. Look at it this way; if 50 employees request geek-computer.com from the same proxy server simultaneously, it will only have to send one request to the hosting server and send the result to all the 50 computers. How magical is that!
Some proxy servers come with added advantages like altering IP addresses and other identity-related information contained in the web requests. These features bring about anonymity features that are incredibly beneficial when browsing the internet in this modern times.
Revamped security measures
Proxies can be used to permanently block widespread and well-known malware peddling sites from access through the proxy server. They can also be configured to encrypt web requests going through it to and successfully keep malicious web scripts from reading the transactions. Most commonly, organizations use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in conjunction with proxy servers for extra security. By introducing a VPN, companies can verify and control their employees, ensuring they can access the information they require without compromising the safety of the company's data.
Provides access to restricted resources online
This is not exactly a good reason for the employers, but it is for the employees. When you know about proxy servers, you can tweak a few things in your internet settings to allow you to access restricted resources. For instance, if there’s a football match you are dying to watch, yet your company proxy servers have limited such websites, you can log into another proxy server without those restrictions and watch your game. Boom! It turns out it's a double-edged sword.
A proxy server mainly operates as a gateway between a computer and the internet. It is a service that handles transactions between end-users and a website hosted on the internet. There are several functions of proxy servers ranging from efficiency reasons to security and privacy reasons. In modern technology, proxy servers have evolved to do a lot more than just handling requests and delivering results. A good proxy server should always offer reliable and efficient services to the client without compromising the privacy of the data.