Choosing between the various types of proxy services and other anonymous browsing methods can be confusing. We have answered some frequently asked questions about free proxies, paid proxies and VPNs to help clarify what they are and when you should use each one.
What is a proxy service?
A proxy service is an intermediary between your browser and the web, allowing you to access websites via a different IP address, thus acting as if you are in any country and on any device.
With a proxy service, the requests for websites you visit and the actions you take on them are routed through a different IP in order to stimulate a different geolocation, device or browser, giving you transparency and safety from being blocked.
Both free proxy services and paid proxy services are available, but for large-scale operations a paid proxy service is needed due to the increased scalability they offer. There are many use cases for proxy services for businesses, and these include price comparison, ad verification and SEO monitoring.
A residential proxies service involves a network formed of the IP addresses of real end users, or peers. Ethical proxy services obtain the full consent of their peers to be used as proxies and let them opt out at any given time.
A mobile proxies service is made up of 3G/4G IPs, and a data center proxies service consists of a pool of IPs in one location.
A rotating proxies service automatically switches between different IP addresses within the network while you carry out web data extraction or any other activity, preventing you from being blocked or served misleading information due to a website receiving multiple requests from the same IP.
What is a proxy web service?
A proxy web service is another type of intermediary between your browser and a target website, freeing you from needing to communicate with the website using SOAP messages. It can also introduce actions to your request, such as adding or removing HTTP headers, terminating or offloading SSL requests, URL filtering and content switching and content caching.
How does a proxy service work?
A proxy service acts as a gateway separating you and the internet, and works by redirecting your requests and putting an intermediary between you and the websites you browse.
Your real IP address and identity are hidden. Proxy servers also cache your browsing activity so your computer won’t store it.
Proxy services grant access to a network of IP addresses, allowing you to gather any data from any website, while posing as one or many real users’ devices around the world.
The proxies, or IP addresses, are usually centrally managed by the proxy service provider, and can be data centre, residential or mobile IPs. With some proxy service providers, you can fully automate the process of rotating IPs and switching between different IP networks and types.
IP proxy services prevent you from being identified and blocked as you carry out activities such as web data extraction operations, pricing aggregation and so on. Website owners cannot trace proxy IP addresses back to you, and having access to many IPs allows you to look like multiple users accessing a website, rather than just one.
Advantages of proxy services
The advantages of using proxy services include:
- Privacy: Everything you do online when you are not protected by a proxy, VPN or similar is subject to tracking and identification. Proxy services allow you to hide your IP address, so what you do online can go undetected.
- Access to restricted content: You can use a proxy service to access content that you are blocked from seeing, either because of your geolocation or a high volume of requests to the target website.
- Speed: Proxies can be faster than VPNs, especially when you use a high-speed proxy service that uses super proxies.
- Scale: For large-scale operations like data extraction or web scraping, proxy services are essential. The Luminati proxy service lets you harness the power of its network of more than 72 million IP addresses, using super proxies that act as load-balancing servers in close proximity to peers around the world, for the fastest possible data collection speeds.
- Ability to test: When you use a proxy service, you can decide the geolocation behind the IPs you use. This means you can check how your website looks to end users, ensure ads are shown to the right targets and monitor SEO performance country to country.
- Cost: Some proxy services are free. Even with paid proxy services, they are a cost effective way to collect large amounts of data.
Why use a proxy service?
If you are serious about collecting accurate online data and running valid tests on a medium to large scale, there is no better option than a proxy service.
As long as it is large enough, a proxy network can handle these types of operation and lets you carry them out without being identified, blocked or misled. Global IP proxy networks allow you to select the location or device of the IPs your requests are coming from, which is especially useful for gathering unlimited price and product data from e-commerce and travel websites which are different depending on where in the world you access them from.
As long as you use a proxy service with enough IP addresses in its network, a paid proxy service is the fastest web scraping method when compared to the alternative free proxy and non-proxy methods. A legitimate proxy provider will offer other benefits like high speed operations, maximized uptime and customer support.
How do proxy services get their proxies?
Proxy service providers usually collect their IPs via an SDK placed inside apps and software on a user’s device.
A proxy service should always obtain IP proxies ethically, which means gaining full consent from the end user to use their resources, usually offering incentives in return such as an ad-free user experience. Your provider should be able to transparently answer questions about the source of their proxies.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case, so you should not be afraid to ask a proxy provider questions about how it gets its proxies. To help you recognize whether a proxy provider is ethically and legally sound, we have written a guide to making sure you are using a legitimate proxy provider and not a virus.
What is the difference between VPNs and proxy services? When should you use them?
VPNs and proxy services are both ways of masking your identity and achieving privacy online, but they work differently and both are best suited to specific use cases. A VPN, or virtual private network, also hides your IP and identity by routing your device’s internet connection through the VPN’s private server.
Like proxies, VPNs provide security and safety against censorship when accessing websites. They are often used by individuals wishing to access geo-restricted content, and can also be used for small scale, manual web scraping. Any automatic, large scale and complex scraping operation requires a proxy service.
Disadvantages of using VPNs include slow speeds when using them for bigger operations due to the traffic encryption process, and the fact that they are not usually set up to handle large scale data collection. Typically, VPNs do not use a network of different IP addresses and they are shared networks, so VPNs can be blocked from websites.
A secure proxy service will protect you from having your identity or other information leaked or hacked, and increases your level of privacy on the web.
Using a proxy service on its own is our recommended way of carrying out large scale data collection and testing, as they offer faster speeds and lower latency than VPNs, due to the cache system. At Luminati, we provide access to the largest IP network, with more than 72 million residential IPs, as well as automatic rotation per a set number of minutes or requests.
When should you use free proxy services, and what are the disadvantages?
Free proxy services, also known as open or public proxy services, can be used, at your own risk, for anonymous web browsing temporarily and on a small scale, such as a one-off task.
Disadvantages of free proxy services include security issues, as they may have been set up by hackers in pursuit of private information, and slow speeds and low uptime due to many people using the same proxies at the same time.
Like VPNs, free proxy services from a trusted provider may mean you can safely access blocked content and browse the web privately, in one tab of your browser. For anything more sophisticated than this, it is best to steer clear of free proxies.
To guarantee scale, uptime and accurate data, you must use a reliable paid proxy service or private proxy service. A paid proxy service provider should provide service level guarantees around speed and uptime, as well as around-the-clock customer support.
What is the best proxy service?
The best proxy service for businesses will depend on your precise needs, but it will almost certainly be one that is ethical, reliable and fast.
If you want to collect data at scale, it is important to compare providers against your needs. If you need to switch IPs frequently, find one with the best rotating proxy service. Without this automatic feature, you will have to manually disconnect and reconnect every time you are blocked by a website and this is unsustainable when scraping large amounts of data.
The Luminati IP proxy network is the largest one available, with more than 72 million residential IPs. With limitless rotation of IPs and 99.99% uptime, our service is an effective and efficient way to gather unlimited amounts of data. Fortune 500 companies across the globe trust us for their data collecting and ad verification needs.