The difference between a proxy and a VPN

PROXYSecurityvpn

There are several service providers out there that allow a user to circumvent firewalls or anonymize their web access.

Some of them use proxies, some use VPNs. Most people say that VPNs usually work better than proxies. They are also generally more expensive.

For example, a proxy will grant an international user access to Pandora.com, but not Hulu.com. A VPN will work for both.

How does a proxy work differently than a VPN and why does that make a difference?

Best Answer

The two are very different concepts:

Proxy Server

From Wikipedia:

In computer networks, a proxy server is a server (a computer system or an application) that acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking resources from other servers.

Your computer would connect to the proxy server and make a request for a resource (say a web page). The proxy server then goes and gets the resource, and then passes it back to you.

VPN

Again from Wikipedia:

A virtual private network (VPN) is a computer network that uses a public telecommunication infrastructure such as the Internet to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organization's network.

You connect your computer (or network) to a remote network through a virtual network connection. This is effectively the same as running a cable from the remote network to your computer, but a lot cheaper. Your computer is then a part of the remote network. Requests for internet resources (or resources on the remote network) travel down the virtual connection and through the remote network to the internet as if it were the computer's internet connection.

That's all very well, but what's the difference?

  • VPNs are more difficult to set up but any software can use the internet can use a VPN.

  • Proxy servers are cheaper and often easier to set up for mass users, but they require specific software support at the user's end to make the requests to the proxy server.

  • In general a VPN can only support a connection between one computer or network and the remote network. To handle multiple users you need to set up multiple VPNs. (There are special-case exceptions to this but most of the time this is the case).

  • A single proxy server can service hundreds or thousands of users.

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