What Is a Web Proxy?

Access the web anonymously by hiding your real IP address

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A web proxy is one method for hiding your IP address from the websites you visit. Web proxies are a bit like search engines, and so are really easy to access. When you use a web 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 a web 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 to keep their web searches 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 someone is monitoring your internet traffic, 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.

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 a web 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.

More Information on Web Proxies

Web 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 a web 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.

Web proxies do not hide your internet bandwidth usage, so you can't expect one to let you bypass your data limits. For example, if your phone can access only 2 GB of data each month, passing your internet traffic through a web proxy will not hide any additional data usage from your carrier.

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.

A web 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, will not 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 are not suddenly anonymous; your identity is still tied to the email 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.

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.

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 your decision.