The Difference Between a Reverse Proxy and a Forward Proxy

James Keenan

The automation and anonymity evangelist at Smartproxy. He believes in data freedom and everyone’s right to become a self-starter. James is here to share knowledge and help you succeed with residential proxies.

Proxies mediate all kinds of online connections. Various proxy types deal with different dimensions of those connections. Some indicate what devices act as proxy servers or how they handle privacy and data management. Other proxy types denote the relation of clients and the proxy server. This last type – the structural position of a proxy – is what makes a proxy either a reverse proxy or a forward proxy. And it’s not hard to know which is which when you know the difference.






what is reverse and forward proxies



We run a reverse proxy network, so it’s only natural that we get asked what are the differences between a reverse proxy server and a forward proxy server. In reality, those two are so different that they cannot be easily compared. In any case, we will do our best to tell you what is a reverse proxy, as well as what is a forward proxy in this short article.

What is a forward proxy

how forward proxy works

A forward proxy is what most people call ‘a proxy’. You send a connection request to it, and the forward proxy retrieves data from the internet. It usually lets clients on an otherwise firewall-restricted network to access the internet.

The best example of how a forward proxy can help you is by bypassing a network block. If your network blocks Instagram you can forego the block with a proxy. You will connect to a forward proxy instead of Instagram’s services, and get the information without alerting the firewall.

With a forward proxy you send a connection request through it, and it retrieves data from the internet.

Other times, forward proxies provide anonymity. An anonymous forward proxy will hide the original client’s IP address from any connection target.

What is a reverse proxy

how reverse proxies work
Reverse proxies control access to a server on private networks. A reverse proxy can perform authentication tasks, as well as cache or decrypt data. Although many sites claim that reverse proxies perform load-balancing, they are not load-balancers. In essence, a reverse proxy is a gateway to a server or group of servers.

Reverse proxies provide anonymity for the back-end servers, not the clients. They mask the real location of the servers clients are accessing. A reverse proxy is a must-have for sites with millions of visitors, because they use many servers. All of the site’s traffic must pass through a reverse proxy and only then access the servers as to not overload them. It also brings two or more servers into the same URL space.

A reverse proxy can perform authentication tasks, as well as cache or decrypt data. In essence, a reverse proxy is a gateway to a server or group of servers.

A reverse proxy is useful even if you have only one server. It can serve as the front-facing part of your service. It adds security and flexibility to a site. As clients can only access a network through a reverse proxy, it keeps out malicious attacks. It also lets owners change server configurations without any impacting their users. Reverse proxies can also boost site speed by storing a cached site at the front-end of the service. This is useful whenever back-end servers are performing poorly.

reverse proxies vs forward proxies

Forward vs reverse proxies

As we’ve said, you cannot really compare the two. Though their names seem to deal with the same dimension, it only concerns the position of the proxy in the client-service connection. As intermediaries, they are in opposite sides of the connection. A forward proxy is the intermediary that the client puts forward between itself and any server. The reverse proxy is at the other end – something the server puts forward between itself and any client.

A forward proxy is the intermediary that the client puts forward between itself and any server. The reverse proxy is at the other end – something the server puts forward between itself and any client.

In short, a reverse proxy is an intermediary on the side of the server you are connecting to. And the forward proxy is the intermediary on your side of the internet.

In essence, forward and reverse proxies do different tasks, but they both:

  • mediate a client’s traffic,
  • can authorize or block access,
  • can be a single access point for either devices or servers.
  • Benefits of a forward proxy

    A forward proxy is what most people simply call proxies. Proxies are great for avoiding country restrictions, like the great firewall of China. The client simply connects to blocked resources via the forward proxy.

    Forward proxies can also hide the identity and location of the original client by changing their IP address with that of the proxy. It’s actually the proxy that connects to the end server.

    benefits of reverse and forward proxies

    Benefits of a reverse proxy

    Reverse proxies are excellent at balancing server loads and serving cached site versions. As an intermediary point between a web server’s back-end and the client, the reverse proxy is a vital point for directing and managing incoming requests.

    If you are a server owner, you can use a reverse proxy and hide the rest of your servers behind a firewall that is only accessible via the reverse proxy. Your clients will see the reverse proxy as the server, anyway. It is a good idea to have cached content on the reverse proxy server to improve your site’s speed.

    Reverse proxy servers

    Proxy servers like ours use a reverse proxy to give access the whole proxy pool. It is called a backconnect proxy server, because it gives you a single connection point to use for a rotating proxy pool. Backconnect proxy servers make proxy lists obsolete and unnecessary.

    Read more about various types of proxies on our blog.

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