Proxy vs Reverse Proxy – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

Proxy vs Reverse Proxy – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). A proxy server is one of the tools that help protect a network and the assets that are connected to it. They make sure users, data packets and computers are safe and can communicate effectively.

We will have a look at Proxy vs Reverse Proxy, make a comparison to distinguish which one should be used, their use cases and pros and cons for each proxy.

But, let’s start with the definitions:

What is a proxy server

A Proxy Server , also known as a Forward or Traditional Proxy Server  is a server used for routing traffic between clients and other network systems, which are usually beyond their networks.

Proxy servers can be software solutions (on-premises or cloud proxy) or a hardware device sitting on the network. They are meant to cater, or offer their services, to users sitting behind them and connected on a local network.

The main tasks of a proxy server include:

    • Regulating traffic as per set policies
    • Masking outwards facing clients’ IP addresses (as packets go out)
    • Converting IP addresses to the internal network’s addresses (as packets come in)
    • Enforcing protocols
how does the proxy talk
Alice's identity is hidden from Bob thanks to the forward proxy server

All traffic that the internal users want to direct to the internet – whether it is using their browsers or directly connecting to a target machine – is passed through the proxy server which then “forwards” the request on if it is allowed, and denies it if not.

Now, if the request is permitted, the query or packets are forwarded to the firewall and then on to the target machine.

The target machine will only see the proxy server’s IP address and not the individual user’s internal IP addresses. Any responses are sent back to that IP addresses. And the proxy – which keeps track of requests sent out – also knows which user to send the incoming response to.

What is a reverse proxy

Reverse Proxy is a type of proxy server that is used to protect the servers on its network from external users.

As the name suggests the Reverse proxy does the exact opposite of what the forward proxy does.  This proxy accepts incoming requests addressed to one of its servers, forwards the request to the server – if it is allowed – and returns the results or response from the server to the client as if it had processed the request itself.

the webserver hidden from the Internet
As far as the Internet is concerned the webserver is the reverse proxy server

The client, on the other hand, only communicates with the reverse proxy server and doesn’t know that it is another server, behind the reverse proxy, that is addressing the query or processing the request.

An Internet based attacker would find it very difficult to acquire data found in a shared server than if they didn’t have to deal with the reverse proxy server in front of it.

Just like forward proxy servers, reverse proxy servers also provide a single point of access and control. They are typically set up to work alongside one or two firewalls to control traffic and requests directed to internal servers.

Proxy vs Reverse Proxy - why or when do we use either proxy

Forward proxy communicates on behalf of clients (or requesting hosts). Meanwhile, a reverse proxy communicates on behalf of servers. A reverse proxy server accepts requests from external clients on behalf of shared servers that are stationed behind it.

This means: a forward proxy hides the identities of clients while a reverse proxy hides the identities of servers.

Forward proxy – to protect the users

A forward proxy server benefits:

    • There is a need to protect users or groups of users on a network.
    • Anonymity is required to make sure no client can be targeted because their IP address has been exposed.
    • All users must be protected or prohibited from accessing harmful sites, malicious content or any data that contradicts set policies.
    • Access Control is required over the content and packets that are allowed into or out of the network.
    • A central point of control is required instead of having to roll out configurations and policies to individual endpoints.

Reverse proxy – to protect servers

A reverse proxy server benefits:

    • Anonymity is required to mask the servers so hackers or other malicious users can target them by targeting their exposed IP addresses.
    • Servers must be protected from packets and traffic that could prevent them from functioning efficiently – or even make them crash. Examples include Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks.
    • Control is needed on who can access resources shared on servers.
    • A central gateway is required to manage traffic policies, instead of having to configure each server individually.

A point that needs to be made here is that a proxy and a reverse proxy are not mutually exclusive – they can both be implemented in a single network. One protects the clients and the other covers the servers.

What are some use cases of each type of proxy

Let’s have a look at some real-life use cases to make sense of proxy vs reverse proxy functions:

Use case for traditional or forward proxy: monitoring working hours and securing a network

A business can set up proxy servers to control and monitor how its employees use the Internet. Purposes for doing this include:

    • They may have policies in place that prevent employees from going to a certain website while they are still on duty. E.g.: Facebook, Instagram
    • Access to malicious or adult sites can be denied – either during office hours or completely – and anyone trying to do so is shown a message stating that they are acting against company policies.
    • Perhaps, management wants to know the time spent cyberloafing on the Internet. After all, the information about employees’ web requests and the time spent on each site is saved and can help with analytics and reports.

Use case for reverse proxy: on-boarding and off-boarding of employees

Traditionally, businesses that want to onboard new employees and grant them access to allocated online resources. This means they need to create and configure new accounts for each user – which becomes an issue when there are many servers involved.

The way to tackle this issue is to configure the access rights on the reverse proxy. All traffic is then diverted through the reverse proxy. This way, any server that is behind the reverse proxy need only communicate with the reverse proxy – where the access configuration has been centralized for all users.

Proxy vs Reverse Proxy

Although both forward and reverse proxy servers are used to protect digital assets, they do have pros and cons when it comes to their uses. Let us have a look:

Traditional or forward proxy server


    • Safe browsing that protects employees (office) and minors (home) from accessing inappropriate websites.
    • Caches website data so it can be served to shorten response times and bandwidth wastage.
    • A remote proxy server can also be used for bypassing blocked websites. They can also be used to access websites that are geographically restricted.


    • Proxy servers can save user information – including usernames and passwords – which makes them weak points that need extra protection. A good example is Google Proxy – the tech company provides the proxy service for free but still retains some data.
    • It needs careful configuration – incorrect configuration could result in a bottleneck or even a fail-point that could stop users and applications from getting through. This means a network administrator will be needed to configure the proxy and monitor it to spot any alerts or other suspicious activities.
    • Although a proxy provides the benefits of anonymity, it is still lacking when it comes to encryption. Also, most proxy servers use SSL certificates for encrypting data. This isn’t strong enough to prevent today’s SSL stripping attacks.

Reverse proxy server


    • It enables caching which reduces the load on web servers.
    • It narrows the whole company’s digital profile of its servers to the one IP address of the reverse proxy server – making it almost impossible to understand what servers there are and what they are used for.


    • Again, here too, a user can use a forward proxy to overcome that reverse proxy’s policies. It can be fooled by an IP address that was sent out by a traditional proxy.
    • It can become a single point of failure if all servers rely on a single server – the failure of the reverse proxy could end up shutting the whole world out. This could turn out to be a costly affair, especially if it isn’t remedied in the shortest time possible.

Proxy vs Reverse Proxy – What’s the Difference? Conclusion

We have seen that forward proxy servers and reverse proxy servers are integral parts of a network and its security. But, we have also seen that they can turn out to be the network’s weak points too – if care is not taken.

Our final advice, as we leave you, is that you do install a proxy server and a reverse proxy server too. Just make sure there is a professional at hand – to install, administer, and monitor it – to make sure everything is optimized for watertight security.

Avatar for Liku Zelleke
Liku Zelleke

Liku Zelleke is a technology blogger who has over two decades experience in the IT industry. He hasn’t looked back since the day, years ago, when he discovered he could combine that experience with his other passion: writing. Today, he writes on topics related to network configuration, optimization, and security for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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