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Proxy server and VPN proxy explained

If you’re looking to unblock sites and/or hide your IP address online, you’ve probably come across terms like “proxy server,” “VPN proxy,” and “free web proxy.” Is there a difference between a proxy and a VPN? Is one better than the other? Read on to find out.

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Video: What’s the difference between a proxy and VPN?

What's the difference between a proxy and VPN?
Diagram of a proxy server as intermediary between your computer and the internet.

What is a proxy server?

A proxy server is an intermediary between your device and the internet.

A proxy server can sit on your local router, where it increases network efficiency, authenticates users on your network, and enforces content restrictions. These proxies are typically found at Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels or airports. They require no configuration by the user.

A proxy can also be on a remote server, where it helps the user bypass local censorship or restrictions imposed by your local network’s proxy. These proxies need to be configured by the user and help you hide your IP address and encrypt your traffic.

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Why are there free proxy servers?

As with free VPNs, the operators of a free proxy web server need to recover their costs. They can do this by injecting ads into your traffic or by selling your data to advertisers. Either way, there is very little incentive for online proxy sites to keep your browsing fast, secure, and anonymous.

Remember, both paid and free proxy servers should always encrypt their traffic with HTTPS to make sure it is not monitored or altered in transit.

Diagram of a VPN as an encrypted tunnel between your computer and the internet.

VPN vs. proxy server

Technically speaking, a VPN server is a proxy server—the terms “VPN” and “VPN proxy” are interchangeable—although it more commonly refers to HTTPS servers. If the proxy server is using HTTPS (also referred to as TLS, previously SSL), then it is actually very similar to a VPN, although a web proxy would only encrypt web traffic, while a VPN routes and encrypts all kinds of traffic through its servers.

A VPN server needs more permissions on the local device than a simple web proxy and as a result usually requires users to install a separate app. However, to use a proxy, every single application might need to be configured separately, and changing the desired proxy server location might require a complete reconfiguration.

Advantages of a VPN vs. a free proxy

Once you have the ExpressVPN app installed, selecting a location becomes easy and fast, and all your traffic is protected with strong encryption. This helps you bypass threats on your local network and helps you get access to the open and unrestricted internet you expect.

ExpressVPN encrypts your entire internet connection.

Not all proxy servers are malicious by nature, but it can be extremely difficult to separate the bad from the merely harmless. One test of over 20,000 proxy services found nearly all of them to inject some form of malware.

Speed is another important consideration. Free proxy servers are usually choked with an avalanche of users trying to get a free ride on what ends up becoming a very slow, congested highway. A premium VPN is like a private tunnel for you and your data, constantly optimized for stability and speed.

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Should I use a free proxy?

Before connecting to a free proxy server, do some research into whether it encrypts its traffic or merely claims to. You may end up sacrificing more than you bargained for in both speed and security.

A risk-free VPN is better than a free proxy

Skip the uncertainty with free proxy servers. Try ExpressVPN’s fast, private, optimized network risk-free. If you’re not completely satisfied within 30 days, get a full refund. It’s that simple.

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