If we consider the purpose of VPNs and proxy servers then you may think that these are two absolutely identical products. It is true that the functionality of the two overlap but there are some fundamental differences as well that get reflected on the use cases of VPNs vs proxies.
In this article we will put a VPN against a proxy to find out what makes them different and when you should choose one over another. First, we will start with the differences behind the two technologies and walk our way to business applications and user experience related to both VPNs and proxies.
Proxy and VPN Defined
Now, if we put a proxy server vs VPN (or Virtual Private Network) then we should say that they both serve one purpose of hiding your IP. Only in case of a VPN all your traffic gets routed through an encrypted channel.
Typically a VPN comes as an application or browser extension and a proxy is procured as an IP with authorization information. Now, let’s get into details to straighten out some things in the VPN vs proxy differences debate.
What is a VPN and when do you need it?
A VPN or Virtual Private Network hides your IP address and helps encrypt your web activity. A VPN creates a secure encrypted channel between devices and networks thus protecting the user’s activity against the ISPs (Internet Service Providers).
Now, if we consider the purpose of using VPNs by people, it is reported that almost a half of all users turn on a VPN to ensure security and online privacy of their internet connections. A third of users report that they use VPNs to access web pages that otherwise remain inaccessible due to geographical and other restrictions.
Privacy issues. People in the World are becoming more and more concerned about all sorts of security breaches and hackers’ attacks that can cause troubles to data integrity. VPNs are capable of significantly increasing the privacy of your information by providing encrypted channels for data transfer.
Access to Streaming Services. Another area of VPN application is related to overcoming the geographical restrictions imposed by some online media services. So, if a streaming provider is blocked in your country of residence or you just want to check out what is on Netflix UK, for instance, you can use your VPN to change your IP to be able to access the server in another country. Sometimes users do it to be able to watch TV shows that are just not available in their home country.
Bypassing Government Restrictions. In countries like China or Russia the Internet is censored. This is clearly why you need a tool with VPN’s capabilities to grant you access to websites and online services otherwise not available due to country-wide restrictions.
Accessing Business Networks. This topic has become extremely trendy over the past few years of overcoming the pandemic. Workers tend to work more frequently from home, accessing their office using VPNs. Virtual Private Networks made it possible to use split tunneling on home wifi to be able to access the office business networks.
How does a VPN work?
After learning what you can use your VPN for, it’s time to dig deeper into how exactly a VPN functions.
Now, the main purposes of a VPN is to hide your IP, conceal your browsing history and alter the information about your current location in order to hide it from your ISP.
In order to perform its activities VPNs engage encryption methods to hide your IP. Currently, most VPNs out there use AES-256 encryption standards (among others).
As far as protocols used by VPNs for transferring data, there is a whole list of such. Let’s just name a few: DH (or Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange), IKEv2 and IKEv6 (Internet Key Exchange Version 2 and 6), L2TP (Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol), PPTP (Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol), and many more.
How can a VPN protect me?
A VPN is a great tool to provide you (and your computer) protection against all types of digital intrusion, including hacking attempts and identity theft.
And as far as anonymity goes, some services claim that they can supply a truly anonymous VPN. However, a VPN cannot be 100% anonymous (like you will get with using Tor browser, for instance) since the VPN provider will still be able to read your original IP.
Protection against hacking. Imagine you need to use your online banking account while using a public wifi. Your banking credentials become vulnerable for a digital intrusion. With a VPN you will be able to hide behind a different IP and avoid hackers’ involvement.
Preventing identity theft. You would be amazed if I told you that over four billion cases of identity theft are registered on an annual basis worldwide due to hackers getting access to unprotected computers. A VPN provides a good enough protection of your web traffic, significantly reducing the chances of leaking your private data.
Avoiding retargeting. You probably have already come across retargeting ads that follow you from a website to a website showing you the same merchandise again and again. This may become super annoying after a while. A VPN can help you fool the ads and the cookies by replacing the IP to avoid the retargeting campaigns directed at you.
Different types of VPNs
And finally, while we are talking solely about VPNs, let’s consider the types of Virtual Private Networks available to you.
VPNs for Home use. VPNs that you can use from the comfort of your home for providing extra security to your browsing (anti-tracking), or for streaming from geo-restricted web services.
VPNs for Business. This type of VPNs allows you to use split tunneling, when you can use your home networks and use the office’s private network simultaneously. The cost of subscription to such VPNs normally depends on the number of users in the system and is reduced on a per user basis.
VPNs for Traveling. Now this type of VPNs is suitable for travelers to countries and locations blocking IPs. You can carefully choose a VPN for a particular country by analyzing how many servers it has in a particular destination beforehand.
What is a Proxy and When Do You Need It?
A proxy is a server (or a computer) that becomes a mediator between you (the user) and the target site you are about to access. Its purpose is to hide the original IP address of the user for performing one of a range of possible missions like scraping data for SEO or lead generation, parsing information from social media or helping you buy rare sneakers online.
From the technical perspective proxies operate on HTTP/HTTPS or SOCKS5 protocols. To learn more about the difference between SOCKS5 and HTTP proxy please follow this link.
From the user’s perspective we can start with describing two types of proxies: public and private. Public or shared proxies are normally free to use IPs that you can easily find on the web. But if you put such proxies vs VPN then the latter will be a clear winner since public proxies are normally less reliable than their private counterparts: they get banned easily and fail to connect to various sites.
For the purposes of this article we will be talking about paid private proxies and how they compare to paid VPNs. This will allow us to see what users are actually paying for when they make a choice between VPN vs proxy.
Level of Anonymity of Proxies
Now, if we consider the difference between proxies vs VPN from the anonymity perspective, then we should mention that there are two types of proxies available here: transparent and anonymous.
Transparent proxies are normally used for restricting user’s access to some parts of the network (or some select sites) in public wifi areas and the anonymous proxies replaces your IP to prevent the target site from seeing it. Although, the anonymous proxies leave HTTP_VIA line in the header to show that the connection is done through a proxy.
Now, if we compare anonymous proxy vs VPN, then a VPN would be more like an elite anonymous proxy. The one which does not appear to be a proxy and completely hides your IP to the target.
Reverse Proxy vs VPN
You would use a VPN when you are concerned about your own privacy and to avoid leaking your IP to a hacker. Now, a reverse proxy is a technology that allows preventing malicious activities inside your network if you’re a webmaster. You can place such a proxy as a firewall to prevent bad actors from entering your servers. All hosting companies use reverse proxies for security purposes.
Datacenter and Residential Proxies vs VPN
You have to remember that a proxy operaties of an application level and a VPN works on the operating system level. For the user it means that when you want to use a proxy inside some script or bot, you can easily do that by providing the IP and authorization info into such an app.
And with a VPN your IP changes for the whole system without being able to control it from a script or bot. This limitation makes proxies a winner in the game of proxies vs VPN when it comes to setting up, for instance, sneaker bots, for buying items online. If we compare VPN vs proxy in terms of speed, then a good datacenter and especially residential proxy will be normally faster than a VPN connection considering the time required for encryption of all the traffic in the tunnel in case of VPN (please follow this link to learn more about static residential ips).
Rotating Proxy vs VPN
In a situation when you want to have several different IPs changing one after another and remain undetected by some websites equipped with an antibot system, your clear choice is a rotating proxy. Where with a VPN you will only have one IP per connection, which you will not be able to control, in case of a rotating proxy you may expand your IP pool and have up to thousands of IPs with ability to set intervals between sticky sessions (when your IP remains the same). A rotating proxy works as a smart tool in scraping social media without getting blocked, whereas with a VPN with a single IP you always have a chance of being red-flagged.
Private Proxy vs VPN
So after considering several cases of using a web proxy vs VPN, it is time to summarize key similarities and differences between the two technologies.
Key Similarities of VPN vs Proxy Server
- Both VPNs and proxies hide your IP address.
- Both VPNs and proxies can be used for accessing geo-restricted video streaming and gaming services (read this article to learn more about proxies for games).
- Both technologies will slow down your browsing speed for time required to reroute or encrypt your traffic.
- Both technologies are good for overcoming geo-restrictions imposed by countries or governments.
Key Differences of Proxy vs VPN
- The main difference between a proxy service vs VPN lies in the fact that a VPN has a strict encryption policy where the proxy relies on the site’s policy for encrypting the traffic during transfer.
- In terms of integration VPNs are designed for personal use, which means they are ready to use out-of-the-box. Proxies can be supplied as IPs with authorization info and may require more technical skills to set up and operate.
- VPN is more oriented for personal use by a single client and proxies can be used in large numbers by businesses for large data handling operations.
- VPN works on the operating system level and a proxy works on the application level.
Using VPN and Proxy Together
There is no practical advantage of using a VPN with proxy at the same time. But if you decide to do so for the purpose of adding a layer of anonymity to your connection, you should remember that the quality of your Internet connection should be stable and fast.
Should I Use a Free Proxy or a Free VPN
Everything has its cost, and if you are lured by “free” in this equation, you should expect that the free service providers will somehow benefit from your involvement. You can expect background analysis of your browsing data or a lot of ads, or some kind of limit on the amount of traffic you can use.
Only with paid subscriptions can you have high-end services with fastest protocols and continuous 24/7 tech support that will be available to you as a part of the package. So, when you decide on using a free VPN or proxy for your business operation, it may cost you more in the long run.
Get Your Trusted Proxies With PrivateProxy
We hope that now you have a better understanding about when and how you can use private proxies, especially when you compare using proxy vs VPN. Our major goal is to guide you through all the technical intricacies of using proxies and provide you with the best proxy solutions for your online missions.
You can always approach our account managers with direct questions on using proxies and we will gladly show you the advantages of using private proxies in various use cases. So, do not hesitate to start a chat with our representative to advise you on the best choice in proxies the industry has to offer.
Where a VPN can be considered a great out-of-the-box tool for accessing restricted sites and providing you a good level of security on the web, you still need private proxies for all sort of missions where you need to change your IP (sometimes multiple of times) to access social media sites and online stores through special software like bots and proprietary scripts. We hope that we gave you a better picture of similarities and differences in two technologies and showed that they cannot be fully interchangeable when it comes to business and personal use.
Frequently Asked Questions
Please read our Documentation if you have questions that are not listed below.
Is VPN the same as proxy?
No. in some cases a proxy can be inside a VPN but not necessarily. A VPN or Virtual Private Network is meant to change your IP and to provide more secure traffic exchange between your computer and the target. And a proxy is a server that is meant to hide your IP but without necessary encryption of info being transferred from the target.
Do I need to use a proxy if I have a VPN?
That entirely depends on why you want to use VPN in the first place. If you are unblocking a streaming service, for instance, and you need just one IP, then probably you are OK with just a VPN. And if you want to start scraping social media or search engine results, or buying items online, you will likely need a lot more than one IP. In this case you should think about buying good and reliable proxies instead of a VPN.
What's the difference between a VPN and a proxy server?
The main difference between a proxy server vs a VPN server lies in the technology behind the two. Where a VPN is an out-of-the-box product working on the operating system level, a proxy server is an IP with authorization info, requiring some technical skills for setting up. A proxy server works on the application level unlike a VPN.
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