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Proxy vs VPN: the differences

Ah, Proxy vs VPN. The never-ending debate. Internet geeks and enthusiasts have argued about this duel for years and years now, but today is the day where we draw the line.

If you’re still trying to figure out what is the main difference between VPN and proxy, you have come to the right place. Today I'll present you with a detailed approach to the specifics of each tool and, hopefully, help you to choose the right product.

What is a Proxy?

First things first, let’s dive into a proxy server before we speak about this proxy vs VPN duel.

In simple words, a proxy server is a gateway between the user and the internet. Once users connect to a proxy server, their personal IP address goes through another network, so they browse the internet anonymously.

If you look on Google for a definition of the word “proxy”, you’ll find that, in standard terms, it means a “substitute who stands in for another”. That’s basically the definition of a proxy server, too.

When you use a proxy server, another device stands in for your computer or cell phone. After you submit a request on your browser, let’s say to visit a website that’s only available in China, usually, you wouldn’t be able to access it from the United States.

However, with a proxy server, the access will be granted if you select a server that’s located in China. You basically connect to a device in China. It redirects you to the website you want to access by collecting your request and sending you the response from the site.

Proxy vs VPN: proxy features.

While there are thousands of different proxy servers available worldwide, their security, speed, and functionality differ. I think you can say the same about their competitors in this “proxy vs VPN” battle.

There can be situations where a proxy server uses cache to perform its client’s request. If the client accesses the website which was already visited by other users, a proxy server uses the cache to fulfill the client’s request faster.

That means a proxy server checks if it has the resources of a website and if the data is new. If the operation goes pretty quickly, a website pops on to the screen faster than usual.

It’s worth knowing that proxy servers, sadly, have some flaws. Yes, you can access foreign websites just on your PC, but most of the proxy servers offer no security at all.

Your personal IP address you’re using to connect to a proxy server will always be visible to the owner of the server. Moreover, most of the proxy servers offer no data encryption - your sensitive information could be easily exposed once you select a dodgy server.

Before you decide which services to choose, check if your IP address is visible with our tool!

If you’re using a public proxy server, your connection speed is going to be horrendous, too. Too many visitors congest a proxy server so much that it becomes unusable.

It is also worth knowing that proxy servers are unpredictable. It's unusual for a proxy server to last a long time because websites are able to deal with such tools, and it takes not too long before the website's creators notice unwanted visitors and take down a proxy server.

What is a VPN?

Let’s leave proxies for now and move to the second participant of this “proxy vs VPN” duel.

A VPN, or a Virtual private network, is a tool that hides your IP address and allows you to surf the internet anonymously. This service creates a private network that will enable you to hide your IP address and protect your connection.

How a VPN works is by transferring your device’s request to a VPN server and encrypting your data. Then your request is executed in a particular server, and the result you wanted (a website) pops up on your screen. 

If you want a more detailed description of how a VPN works just before we dive into this “proxy vs VPN” battle, check our in-depth tutorial here.

Before using a VPN, you’ll need to install your chosen provider’s software. Usually, it takes only a few minutes to do. Worth knowing that you can also install a VPN software on your router - that’s how the whole family can enjoy completely private sessions online!

The top VPN providers are known for offering top-notch security features. Full data encryption allows you to stay calm while thinking about all the data you send and receive online. Clearly, we now have a frontrunner in this “proxy vs VPN” duel.

While I have to reveal that with a VPN, you won’t be able to hide your actual IP address from your Internet service provider (ISP), all the data you send or receive is going to be private from anyone who would be able to access it normally. That includes your ISP, as well as hackers, governments, advertisers, and so on.

Also, most of the better VPN providers offer a variety of other security services, including DNS leak protection and NAT firewalls, and there is a variety of data logging policies to choose from when you’re selecting your paid provider.

Proxy vs VPN: VPN features

I have to warn you, though. If you’ve ever wondered about getting a free VPN service, don’t even think about security. I don’t want to go from a “proxy vs VPN” battle to a “free VPN vs paid VPN” thing, but I’ll just say a few words. 

Usually, free VPN services make their money by selling their customers’ data to third parties or advertising networks. You probably shouldn't put your data online while using a free VPN service - most of the time, someone will make use of your information by selling it, and surely you don't want this to happen.

Finally, free VPN servers are very slow - many users are accessing them at the same time. However, if you decide to choose a paid VPN provider, which only costs a few dollars per month, then you shouldn’t face any safety or speed issues. The top VPN providers usually slow your actual internet speed only by 10-30Mb/s!

Why Should You Need a Proxy?

Since we’ve talked about the definition of a proxy server, let me explain why people could need this tool before we start a proxy vs VPN debate:

Firstly, people use a proxy when they want to access geo-restricted content. For example, if you’d like to watch the Harry Potter saga in the US on Netflix, you would need a proxy.

Since these blockbuster movies are available only in particular countries, you would need to access them through another network. Probably, this is the most common reason why proxies are being used, but still, it makes no difference in this proxy vs VPN debate, because you can access geo-restricted content also using a VPN.

Secondly, just in case a user wants to hide its IP address for short tasks, such as accessing some foreign websites, a proxy could do as well. While most of the time, it doesn’t offer you any data encryption, I suggest not entering any personal details while using a proxy server. You can regret this afterward.

Proxy vs VPN: exposing personal data

Moreover, not so long ago, an analysis of proxy servers showed that only 14% of servers are working without any issues - that's a really worrying stat

Many companies also use proxies to track their employees. Some parents use them also to monitor their kids’ activities online. They simply set up their proxy network at home or office and can easily see which websites a particular user visits.

Proxies could also be used to speed up internet surfing. As it was mentioned earlier, if a proxy server has the data of a required website, your request will come up on the screen straight away. That is probably the only factor in this “VPN vs proxy” battle where the latter has the upper hand.

Why Should You Need a VPN?

The proxy vs VPN battle will now take a twist. As I mentioned earlier, top VPN providers offer data encryption and security while browsing the internet - it’s possible to send and receive data entirely anonymously with a VPN. That’s something very few proxy servers offer.

Of course, a VPN offers such features as accessing geo-restricted content, but also allows users to download torrents safely. You won’t be noticed doing this not-so-legal activity because of the data encryption feature that most of the top VPN providers offer.

Another advantage that a VPN has in this “VPN vs proxy” battle is that it hides your IP address entirely from other users. Your ISP will only see your primary IP address if you’re using a VPN service. A proxy server vs VPN one loses here once more - the owner of a proxy server can see your IP address, and it’s impossible to hide it.

It’s essential to notice that the data you send and receive is always private with a VPN. Your ISP will only see your four IP address numbers and that you’re connected to another network.

After getting a VPN service, you would never have to worry again when writing anonymous comments online or doing any other stuff where you do not necessarily want to be noticed.

Proxy vs VPN: staying anonymous online.

Moreover, if you accidentally lose your connection to a VPN network, you would never have to worry about your data being exposed.

Most of the top VPN providers offer you a kill switch feature, which immediately turns on when you lose connection to a VPN and protects your data.

A VPN kill switch disconnects your device from the internet until your connection to a VPN network is restored. That's how you can be sure that none of the online activities you're doing will be exposed to other users.

Another cool feature a VPN has is that you can access your home computer while you’re spending time anywhere in the world. You can set up your VPN software to access your home network while traveling and browse it with any mobile device!

As I mentioned before, of course, with a VPN, you can also access geo-restricted content, such as exclusive features on movie streaming platforms Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. Imagine having all the protection AND enjoying full Netflix content. What else could you want?

Proxy vs VPN: The Differences

Now, let’s get onto the canvas in this proxy vs VPN battle. Since we’ve reviewed why people are using a particular service, we can compare now.

The main difference between a VPN and a proxy has to be security. Very few proxy servers offer their customers data encryption and anonymity while browsing online. Moreover, your IP address is public to the people who created the proxy server you’re using. 

With a proxy server, you can easily be exposed while you’re entering your personal information or logging into your social networks. A proxy server very often keeps detailed user data logs, while the best VPN providers have adopted a strict no-logs policy through the years of hard work.

Proxy vs VPN: switching between services.

Top VPN providers have worked hard so you can have secure options to choose from. Providers such as NordVPN, ExpressVPN, or CyberGhost offer you top-notch security, data encryption, a no-logs policy, and anonymity.

If you wonder, which VPN provider should you choose, you can always check our comparison tool, where you’ll definitely find the best option!

The proxy vs VPN battle only can be legitimate if we are speaking about short tasks that take only a few minutes. If you simply want to access a website that’s blocked in your country, then you can choose a public proxy. If you're going to use a VPN, you will need to install your provider’s software, and that will take a little longer to do.

A proxy server vs VPN one also wouldn’t stand a chance when it comes to locations and devices. Most of the top VPN providers offer server locations in the majority of countries and usually, their services can be accessed on desktops, Android or iOS devices, and even routers.

A proxy server doesn’t have such a wide variety of devices to choose from - usually, proxies are only accessible on desktops.

Conclusions

It turns out that a VPN vs proxy battle was a one-sided affair. VPN servers are superior to proxy ones in every vital aspect - security, online anonymity,logging policy, variety of devices & locations to choose from.

A proxy server vs VPN one only had its arguments while speaking about short tasks (that require no personal data) or surfing the internet using proxy’s cache.

While most of the proxy servers are free, VPNs are no different - most of the top VPN providers offer a 30-day trial of their services so you have enough time to assess their features!

Surely, the proxy vs VPN debate is done and dusted.

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FAQ

What is the difference between VPN and proxy?

The main difference between VPN and proxy is in security levels. While proxy servers do not ensure their users are protected online and can surf the internet anonymously, top VPN providers offer much more safety online. If you're using a proxy server, you can easily be exposed while you’re entering your personal information or logging into your social networks. A proxy server very often keeps detailed user data logs, while most of the top VPN providers have adopted a strict no-logs policy.

Which is better - VPN or proxy?

A VPN is undoubtedly better than a proxy server. Top VPN servers are superior to proxy ones in every vital aspect - security, anonymity online, logs policy, variety of devices, and locations to choose from. It’s essential to notice that the data you send and receive is most of the time private with a VPN. Only your Internet Service Provider will be able to see your IP address and that you’re connected to a VPN network.

How do you decide which provider offers the best VPN?

Deciding which provider has the top VPN is not an easy task, but it sure is fun! We have a dedicated team of professionals who test each VPN from start to finish, measuring all of the most important features. We buy all the VPNs ourselves, use machine learning & data science algorithms, get opinions from hundreds of real users, MIT professors, internet security experts and more. The top VPN services are decided by measuring all these important metrics, and never by the request of the providers.

Is VPN legal & safe?

VPNs are totally legal, well, at least in 97% of the world. Some countries only allow government-approved VPNs, like: China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey & United Arab Emirates.
Nonetheless, it’s completely legal in most countries. Usually, top VPN providers are really safe too, but to make sure, look for the information logging & DNS leak topics in our best VPN reviews. If the provider of your interest logs your personal data & doesn’t pass the DNS leakage test, you should look for a more safer VPN.

What are the benefits of using a VPN?

What top VPNs do is mask your real IP address to hide your current location. If the VPN has great quality, it won’t leak or log your personal information. You can freely roam around the internet not having to worry about the exposure of your privacy and information. Also, you can access geo-blocked content on Netflix, or other censored types of information. A VPN can also give you an extra layer of safety for Peer-to-Peer sharing function while using torrents. Every VPN has different pros and cons, so be sure to check them in our in-depth best VPN reviews.

Can VPNs be used to unblock content?

Yes, it can. The most popular content platform for top VPNs to unblock is Netflix. Even though it’s available almost everywhere, USA users have a much bigger content variety. That’s why a lot of people use VPNs to view that kind of content via USA-located servers. If the content you want to view is geo-blocked, you can look up which servers (in which regions) the top VPN providers possess and which ones are right for you. You can easily find this information for each best VPN service in our VPN reviews.