What Is a Web Proxy?

Access the web anonymously by hiding your real IP address

Anonymous internet access illustration

A web proxy is one method for hiding your IP address from the websites you visit. Web/online proxies are a bit like search engines, and so are really easy to access. When you use an online proxy, the websites you visit are unable to see your real location because the proxy makes it look like you're accessing the page from somewhere else.

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 of 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. 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.

Should You Use a Web Proxy?

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 a web proxy for anonymous web browsing so that 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, maybe the website is banned in your country and you want to unblock the site so that you can access it. Either way, if the website is blocking your IP address, a web proxy can help you unblock the site by giving you a new IP address.

Some other benefits to a web proxy (depending on the one you use) is to block ads, compress data, suppress pop-ups, remove scripts, and disable cookies.

However, you want to research the web proxy carefully before diving too deeply into it. The last thing you want is to put your faith in an online proxy that's ultimately logging your bank credentials, storing your social media passwords, and accessing your email — basically defeating the whole point of a web proxy. Depending on the country where the web 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, a web proxy, 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 through a web proxy, 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 bandwidth usage, so you can't expect one to let you bypass data limits. For example, if your phone can access only 2 GB of data each month, passing your internet traffic through a web proxy won't hide any additional data usage from your carrier. With that being said, there might be some web proxies that help by compressing the data.

Browsing the web with an online proxy also won't 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 web 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 web proxy to ensure that local users can't see what you were doing, or you can access the online proxy 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, 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 about a web proxy 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.

Although a web proxy has its limitations, other methods are available for staying safe online: for example, use an anonymous email service, erase your personal information online, use a virtual phone number, or fake your phone's GPS location.

More Information on Web Proxies

Web 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 proxy servers are compatible with all sorts of devices and applications, whereas an online proxy is only useful on the web (that is, when accessing web pages in your web browser). You can know if a proxy website is a web proxy if they have a place for you to put in a URL to browse the web through the proxy.

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

Some web proxies also 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

Web proxies are easily found. 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 web proxy 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. A list of top-performing free anonymous web proxies can help you make a decision.