What Is a Web Proxy?

Access the web anonymously by hiding your real IP address

A web proxy is one method for hiding your IP address from the websites you visit.

They're a bit like search engines, so they're really easy to access. Just enter the website you want to visit into an online tool. This causes the site you're viewing through the tool to not see your real location (they see the proxy's), so to them, you're accessing the page from somewhere other than where you really are.

What Is a Web Proxy?

Web proxies act as shields between you and the website you're visiting. When you're viewing a web page through a web proxy, the website sees that a specific IP address is accessing its server, but the address isn't yours because all the web traffic between your computer and the web server is first passed through the proxy server.

Another way to visualize a web proxy is as a middleman. For example, when you request the Lifewire site through an online proxy, all you're really doing is telling the proxy server to access Lifewire for you, and then when they receive the page you want, they send it back to you.

If that's not helpful, you can think of something more tangible. Say you bought a pair of shoes from a store and then resold them at your yard sale. The buyer only knows where they got the shoes (from your sale), so they are like the website, which knows only the location of the proxy (your yard sale). The buyer doesn't communicate directly with the store, and neither do you communicate directly with the destination website when you're on a web proxy.

The website you're viewing sees the proxy's IP address now instead of yours. This happens over and over, very quickly, so that you can browse the website normally while hiding your identity, and without giving up your real public IP address.

Graphic of woman using computer with shadowy figures behind her
 Marcus Butt / Getty Images

Should You Use One?

Web proxies can be helpful for a number of reasons, but it's also important to know when not to use one.

Most people use one for anonymous web browsing so their searches are private from their Internet Service Provider (ISP), from the websites they're visiting, or from other agencies that might be tracking web habits. If you suspect that a particular website is logging your activity, you might jump on a web proxy to help keep your private information from the wrong hands.

Maybe, for whatever reason, you were banned from a website, and you want to get back on it. Similarly, if the website is banned in your country, and you want to unblock the site so that you can access it, a proxy is one solution. Either way, if the website is blocking your IP address, the web proxy can help you unblock it by giving you a new IP address.

Some other benefits (depending on the one you use) are to block ads, compress data to save on usage, suppress pop-ups, remove scripts, and disable cookies.

However, you want to research the proxy carefully before diving too deeply into it. The last thing you want is to put your faith in a company that's ultimately logging your bank credentials, storing your social media passwords, and accessing your email—basically defeating the whole point of using it. Depending on the country where the proxy is operating, it might provide your real IP address to authorities if asked, so keep that in mind also. Always read the fine print.

Proxies in general (not web proxies) are also useful for businesses. Due to the nature of how they work, a company can monitor network activity to ensure that employees aren't breaking internet usage policies.

Web Proxy Limitations

An online proxy can only do so much for you: in short, it hides your real IP address. However, even a truly encrypted and anonymous one won't mask your identity if you're using an online account that's tied to your real identity.

For example, if you log in to your Gmail account through a web proxy, your emails aren't suddenly anonymous; your identity is still tied to the account you're using. The same is true for any account you log in to while using one, such as your bank or Amazon account. Neither is payment information anonymous when used during a proxy session.

Web proxies also don't hide your internet usage, so you can't expect one to let you bypass data limits. If your phone can access only 10 GB of data each month, passing your web browsing traffic through a web proxy won't hide any additional data usage from your carrier. That said, there might be some proxies that help by compressing the data.

Something else it won't do is hide your web browsing history. The proxy is only responsible for relaying information between you and the destination website, but all the sites you visit (including the proxy URL itself) will still be stored in the history area of the browser you're using.

All web browsers let you clear the history, so you can either do that when you're finished using the website proxy to ensure that local users can't see what you were doing, or you can access the proxy site through the private mode in your browser.

A web proxy also only applies to URLs you access through the proxy site, not your entire internet connection. This means that websites you access in another tab, through a software program, on a different computer, through your smart TV, on your gaming console, etc., won't be affected by the proxy site. The solution there is to encrypt the entire connection, something you can do with a VPN.

Something else to remember is that you can't hide it completely. Your ISP will still see that you're accessing the proxy. They won't see the sites you access through the web proxy, but the fact that you're connected to the proxy site is still visible.

Similarly, your connection to the proxy site isn't protected because it's only the website you're visiting that won't be able to identify you (i.e., your connection to the proxy site isn't encrypted simply because you're using the online proxy). Anyone monitoring your connection to the internet can still see what you're doing.

More Information on Website Proxies

Website proxies (HTTP proxies) are much easier to use compared to proxies that you have to set up manually with their IP address and port number. However, those are compatible with all sorts of devices and applications, whereas an online proxy is only useful on the web (when accessing web pages in your browser). You can know if a proxy website is a web proxy if they have a place for you to put in a URL.

You'd be wise to find out your public IP address each time you connect to one, just to be sure it's actually working as advertised. You can check your IP address before and after you connect to compare the two.

Some web proxies cache websites for you to speed up your internet access. When you want to access the same page again soon, the page can be delivered to you more quickly because the proxy server itself has a copy, meaning that it doesn't have to request a new page from the destination site.

Free Anonymous Web Proxies

Finding a web proxy is easy. A quick search provides a list of dozens, each of which function basically the same, although some might include features that others don't have.

For example, one might let you pick the server from which to access websites anonymously, and others might let you disable features like JavaScript and cookies for extra security. Hidester Proxy is one example.

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