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

Reverse Proxy vs Forward Proxy – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). Proxies are intermediaries between the clients and the server that reduce the workload and add more security. Today, it has become crucial for organizations to have a system that protects their sensitive data from malicious use. By using proxy servers, you can filter content, defeat hackers, cache content and track packet headers and payloads.

A forward proxy and a reverse proxy are the two main proxy servers. Forward proxy servers act on behalf of the clients to hide their identity, and reverse proxy servers act on behalf of the web servers to hide their identity and protect them from the attackers.

This article about Reverse Proxy vs Forward Proxy will discuss both proxy servers in detail. We will highlight the benefits and disadvantages of each proxy server and then we will compare both and point out key differences. We hope it will be easier for you to choose the best proxy best suited to your business.

What is Reverse Proxy

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

A reverse proxy is a server that acts as a middleman between a web server and users. It adds more security to the original web servers by hiding their identities. As a result, the attackers will find it more difficult to acquire data from the original web servers (file transfer servers).

The role of the reverse proxy is to interact with the user and accept all their requests on behalf of the original server. Users are unaware that any original web server exists as the reverse proxy is only visible to the clients.

The reverse proxy intercepts all the requests sent by the client to the original server at a local network. It also provides a single point of access and control similar to the forward proxy.

If you run websites with regular heavy traffic or are service providers, then reverse proxy is the best fit for you. These servers provide all time protection to the original servers, improve website performance, and reduce overloading.

In most cases, these are also used for caching and load balancing to increase capacity, reduce load, and speed up the website performance.
With the help of reverse proxy, businesses are able to block all suspicious traffic received from specific IP addresses, perform A/B tests without inserting JavaScript, cache dynamic and static content, etc. It adds more security to the web servers and plays a key role in improving performance.

Additionally, using the reverse proxy, you can manage all incoming and outgoing traffic and scrub them before forwarding. It supports various features like SSL encryption, IP masking, Load balancing (NGINX), content caching, DDoS attack protection, data compression, etc.

There are various reverse proxy softwares such as:

Pros of Reverse Proxy

  • Reduces latency and improves availability using content delivery networks (CDNs).
  • Load balancing (NGINX).
  • Hides the backend server’s identity and protects data from the malicious client and other people.
  • Improved Backend Security Features and Secures server instances.
  • Web acceleration (more efficient and secure SSL encryption and
    protection from DDoS attacks and security issues).
  • Backend infrastructure configuration alerts.
  • Offers global server load balancing (GSLB).
  • Incoming and outgoing traffic management services (great for large e-commerce website).
  • A feature that backlists a client’s IP address.
  • Proxies have the permission to change backend infrastructure configurations.
  • Provides faster response time using caching and compression techniques.
  • Allows administrators to customize error pages.
  • Authentication.
  • Single Sign On

Cons of Reverse Proxy

  • Applications might get blocked on enabling security cloud.
  • Web Application auditing problems.
  • Hard coding by the developers.
  • Single point of failure.
  • Setting up a reverse proxy is difficult in certain cases.
  • Lack of visibility into client requests results in troubleshooting issues.
  • Additional network resources and processing power is necessary for smooth operations.

What is Forward Proxy

A Forward Proxy is a server that acts as a middleman between clients and a web server like the reverse proxy, but this time client’s identity is hidden.

It means that the client makes the request and the forward proxy passes it to the webserver that retrieves data from the Internet and passes it to the proxy redirecting the client. Now, if we talk from the web server’s point of view, the request is made by the proxy server and not the client.

Forward proxy has full authority to allow or deny the received requests. Under forward proxy, file transfer servers believe that the request is issued by the proxy server and responds to it only. But, when the proxy receives a response to the request it sends it immediately to the client (the original sender).

The proxy server role is to keep account of all requests, response, source and their final destinations. It can accept and deny requests. It also supports a single point of access and control. Thus, helps enhance users’ security within a private network and offers anonymity by masking IP addresses.

Residential proxies (Affiliated with the Internet Service provider with a location) and datacenter proxies (not affiliated by ISP as received from other sources like data center) are the two types of forward proxies.

These proxies are generally used to access restricted geo locations, web scraping, and to add higher levels of anonymity and security.

Proxy can serve as a single point of access and control, making it easier for you to enforce authentication, SSL encryption or other security policies. A forward proxy is used with a firewall to enhance an internal network’s security by controlling the traffic.  Forward proxy enforces security on client computers in your private network.

Pros of Forward Proxy

  • Bypass firewall restrictions.
  • Masks the IP addresses, and protects data from hackers, and malicious content. Attackers cant trace the original IP address.
  • Forward proxy can act as a cache server in an internal network.
  • Content filtering. Restricts certain users from logging onto certain websites. Hence, it helps improve overall productivity.
  • Email security.
  • Compliance Reporting.
  • Allows accessing geo restricted sites regardless of your location.
  • It caches data to store a visitor’s essential information. This feature helps fastens the response time.
  • Web scraping.
  • It has full access to accept or deny a client’s request.
  • It acts only as an intermediary and does not store any data or account information. Improves security.
  • It helps to route outbound connections located inside the secure network.
  • Supports SSL encryption and other security policies.

Cons of Forward Proxy

  • It might be slower, if the item isn’t in the Proxy cache.
  • It supports SSL certificates for encrypting the data, which might not be enough for your security. Data leaks are possible with TLS and SSL encrypted connections.
  • Not always compatible with your local network.
  • All requests can be tracked.
  • The setup and maintenance of a proxy server are a bit expensive.
  • Configurations are pre programmed for limited goals.

There are many different kinds of forward proxy such as web proxy (Squid Proxy) , HTTP proxy or SOCKS proxy. For example Squid Proxy supports caching through HTTP and FTP servers.

Reverse Proxy vs Forward Proxy – Key Differences

Both forward and reverse proxies differ in various ways. First and foremost, it is clear that one proxy server is used by the client and the other by the web servers. A Forward Proxy is used by a client to hide its identity and can be positioned within a private network. Whereas, the reverse proxy is used by the webserver to hide its identity.

A forward proxy is used by a client to for example monitor employee online activity, whereas the reverse proxy is used by an internet server. A forward proxy guarantees that websites don’t communicate directly with a user. A reverse proxy ensures that users don’t communicate directly with a backend server. Additionally, it hides a client’s IP address and blocks malicious incoming traffic.

Based on the usage, forward proxies are used to access geo restricted content, web scraping, Content Filtering, Compliance Reporting, etc., and reverse proxy is used for adding extra safety layers from malicious entities, speeding up performance, Content Switching, Application Firewall, Server Obfuscation, caching, and load balancing.

Forward proxy plays a key role in restricting internal users from accessing a restricted site. While, a reverse proxy restricts outsiders from getting access to private networks.

Forward proxies do not support Application Delivery. However, the reverse proxy is specifically built for Application Delivery.

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

The concept of proxy was introduced to protect your servers from unsafe or malicious sites. With the help of a proxy server, you can select requests and block the ones you find suspicious. Also, with the help of these proxies, you can cache responses, and log and monitor every single request sent by the client.

Forward proxies are most used for privacy and security when browsing the internet, accessing geo-restricted content and web scraping. Reverse proxies are important for websites with large number of visitors as they help avoid overloading and are a perfect fit for caching content and SSL encryption.

The main difference between a forward proxy and reverse proxy is in their purpose. As they are utilized for different tasks, they cannot be considered as the same proxies.

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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