What's better - proxy or VPN?
- Jun 22, 2023, 11:58 PM
- 10 minutes
If you don't have time to delve into it
Proxy and VPN are different technologies and which one will suit you will depend on your tasks. Proxy and VPN can solve the same tasks. This creates the impression of the interchangeability of this software, but this is not the case. The functionality of a proxy is significantly greater than the capabilities of VPN, but it is not always needed by ordinary users.
If you just want to bypass site blocking by changing your IP or encrypting traffic, then the simplest and most convenient solution will be VPN. If you have more complex tasks, such as working with hundreds of social media accounts, parsing web pages, organizing regulated access to sites, then only a proxy will help here.
What is VPN and proxy?
To make a correct and accurate comparison of VPN and proxy, we first need to understand what they are. And while we're at it, let's refresh our memory on what an IP address is.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a unique address that identifies a device (laptop, smartphone, server, printer, webcam) connected to the Internet or a local network. Examples of IP addresses: the most common protocol IPv4 - 220.127.116.11, the new IPv6 - 840f:3ec6:d644:baf4:337d:9c98:8c15:1043. The new protocol was introduced in 2012 because the capacity of the old one was no longer sufficient.
Knowing an IP address, you can determine where the device is located. With the help of open services, the location is available with an accuracy of up to the city. The Internet service provider knows the exact address with the apartment number. At the request of law enforcement agencies, it can provide this information.
Multiple sites can be hosted on one server, and they will all have the same IP address - the address of this server. In order to transfer data to the user's device, the site needs to know the IP address of this device. Therefore, at least to the city, sites know where the user who contacted them is located.
What is VPN?
VPN is software that allows you to create a secure connection between a client device and a server.
VPN or Virtual Private Network was originally created as a tool for anonymizing and protecting transmitted traffic. Developers aimed to solve the problem of remote connection of computers and mobile devices into a single network. For example, to access the head office's local network from regional branches, employees' homes, mobile devices, and any internet access point where an employee may be on a business trip. Read more about VPN in our article.
What is a proxy?
A proxy or proxy server is software located on an intermediate server through which a user accesses the internet and is designed to act as an intermediary between the user and web resources. A proxy can be used to hide (replace) a user's IP address, bypass territorial blocks, modify traffic to speed it up or restrict access to certain sites. A proxy combines several classes of programs used for various purposes. Figure 2 shows the proxy's operation scheme.
If you do not use a proxy, the sites you visit will see your real IP and know where you are. Read more about what a proxy is in our article.
When is VPN better?
VPN and proxy are often compared only in terms of changing the device's IP address. But there are many scenarios for their use. Let's consider the most common ones.
Changing IP to bypass blocks
Both tools help to hide (change) the IP of the user's device and, as a result, the geolocation. When a user uses a proxy or VPN, the site does not see the user's real IP. The site sees the IP and location of the VPN or proxy. If the server is in the Netherlands or Vietnam, then the sites "think" that the user came from that country.
If your goal is to access a blocked website, you need to change your IP address. In this case, the easiest way is to use a VPN. VPN applications are very simple to use, easy to install, and available for any device. With just a few clicks, you can change your IP address, country, or server. And there are many VPN providers to choose from. Any user can handle it.
There are also disadvantages to using a VPN, the main one being that many devices use the same IP address. This increases the likelihood of being blocked due to the actions of other users. However, changing your IP address is very easy - just choose a different country or server.
Proxy providers limit the number of devices on one IP address. In most cases, there are one to three users. Although there are also public proxies where the number of users is not limited. Having a small number of devices on one IP address reduces the likelihood of being blocked due to the actions of other users, but it still does not exclude it. If you are blocked, you need to buy a new proxy. You cannot simply choose another server, as with VPN, which can be considered a disadvantage.
Encryption of outgoing and incoming traffic is the main advantage of VPN. As shown in Fig. 1, the VPN client encrypts the outgoing information from your device, and the VPN provider receives and decrypts it on a remote server. Therefore, no one can intercept the traffic between your computer and the server, for example, in the Netherlands, no matter how many intermediate servers there are.
Neither the internet provider, nor the government, nor hackers can find out which website you are going to, what data you enter on its pages, or what you are doing on it.
The traffic outgoing from the VPN provider's server is encrypted on the server side and decrypted on your device by the same VPN client (see Fig. 1).
Encrypting traffic on the user's device leads to a slight slowdown in device performance.
With certain types of proxies, traffic can also be encrypted. Some sources claim that this approach is even better than VPN. However, choosing and configuring a proxy for encryption requires knowledge.
VPN by default works with any type and source of traffic, while a proxy needs to be specifically chosen and configured.
When is a proxy the only option?
A proxy changes the IP address just like VPN. But there are tasks where only a proxy will do.
Parsing is the process of collecting data from website pages. For example, automatic collection of product prices on marketplaces, ticket prices for flights, and collection of key positions for CEOs. Only proxies allow you to:
- Speed up data collection by using multiple IP addresses. You can parse multiple threads from the same website. One thread = one IP address. And there can be thousands of such threads.
- Regulate the cost and speed of one IP. Proxies come in different types. They differ in price and quality. For example, mobile IPs are rarely banned, so parsing from a mobile IP can be done quickly. But often mobile proxies are the most expensive. You can learn more about them in our article "What are mobile proxies".
- Automate data collection:
- Automatically detect website blocks and change data collection strategies. For example, when a captcha is detected, redirection, blocking, hosting (complete cessation of interaction from the server side), etc., data collection should continue, not stop;
- Perform repeated requests from other IPs if the search encounters errors, blocks, timeouts;
- Reduce the risk of blocking. To do this, use a User Agent to mask the behavior of the proxy pool. For example, regular IP rotation or, conversely, requests from the same set of IPs, randomization of the time delay when sending requests, changing/saving geolocation;
- Manage the proxy pool - rotate proxies, regulate traffic, organize work sessions, pass data collection requests, etc.
VPN is not suitable for parsing because:
❌ It was originally created to connect through one IP;
❌ Parsing through VPN will be much slower than through proxies because only one data collection channel works, not hundreds.
❌ It is more difficult to get several different IP addresses from one country through VPN.
❌ VPN providers often raise their exit nodes on servers. Therefore, their IPs are often server-based. This type of IP is easier to recognize and has the lowest trust.
And with proxies, you can choose the type of IP yourself. VPN providers rarely provide a choice of IP type.
❌ Many users share one IP on VPN. This increases the risk of IP blocking due to the actions of third parties;
❌ VPN has no tools for managing pools of IP addresses.
Multi-accounting is the practice of working on one or more devices under the names of hundreds of accounts on a single website. For example, mass writing of reviews on websites or social media, increasing chances of winning in lotteries, sports betting, and more. Only proxies allow for working with multiple IP addresses, while VPN only allows for one. To create multi-accounts, an anti-detection browser must be used in conjunction with IP switching. This is necessary to bypass the website's security system and make the site think that all these accounts are different people. More information on the principles of anti-detection browsers can be found in our article on browser fingerprints.
What else are proxies better for?
Proxies can also be useful in speeding up traffic through data caching, balancing server loads, monitoring server performance, setting up one domain to work on multiple devices, and much more. VPNs do not have this functionality.
Solving these tasks requires a comprehensive approach and the use of not only proxies but also additional programs. Setting up and operating such information complexes requires certain knowledge and is usually performed by qualified specialists.
Where to get VPN or proxy?
You need to contact providers of these services. A provider is usually an organization with a website that has instructions for connection, necessary programs or plugins for downloading, payment options, or conditions for free use. There are many such websites on the Internet. However, anyone can be a proxy provider. It is enough to have suitable equipment and look for clients yourself. We wrote about earning on proxies in our article.
There are both paid and free providers. Many paid providers have free plans with limited functionality. The difference between providers is in reliability, quality, and speed of connection, the set of provided options, the number of IPs per account, etc.
To change your IP and geographical location, you can choose a provider that inspires more trust or is more understandable.
Guarantees of VPN and proxy operation
Is access to a website guaranteed through VPN or proxy? The answer is no.
Website owners do not sit idly by. They constantly improve both software and hardware means of detecting suspicious activity, and they are available to everyone. There are API services that allow you to determine what a user is using - proxy or VPN. For example, ipinfo.io.
The reaction of protected websites to "intrusion" varies from harmless blocking of the substituted IP to calling competent authorities to the user's door.
As a rule, it is easier to recognize VPN than proxy. VPN providers have fewer IPs, and they are often server-based. And proxies can be residential - i.e. having the IP of a real device. And if this IP behaves like all users, then it is difficult to distinguish it from others. More details in our article about residential proxies.
Trust in Providers
The topic of how much trust can be placed in VPN or proxy providers is one that deserves its own article. In short, it is not advisable to fully trust them. There have been many cases where providers have collected information about users and their actions for commercial or law enforcement purposes, and some were even created specifically for this purpose. Even harmless web scraping involves using someone else's information and computing power for commercial purposes. Well-known websites, such as Amazon and AliExpress, process billions of requests daily not from users, but from all kinds of web scrapers. Website owners write usage terms, build protection, and even use providers to find scrapers and hold them accountable.
A good example is the six-year legal battle between LinkedIn and HiQ. It dealt with the issue of collecting data from open user profiles on social networks. Here is a link to the news article.
Some free, homemade providers have been known to deceive users. For example, a VPN provider may claim to encrypt traffic, but in reality, no encryption takes place.
Some examples of unscrupulous provider actions are discussed in our article "What is VPN and how does it work"
If tasks require a high level of confidentiality and action concealment, it is recommended to rent a virtual machine in a neutral country, install your own VPN or proxy provider on it, and operate the system personally.
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