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

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

In a client server computing architecture, Reverse proxy servers and load balancers act as an intermediary and allow communication between web servers and clients. These servers enable proper functioning and distribution of workload which further helps improve efficiency and performance.

In simple terms, Reverse proxy servers and load balancers are software applications that prevent malicious clients from reaching the original server and forward client requests.

Today, companies are looking forward to growing and expanding their services and web apps. But with growing the business it is a must to have monitoring tools  to manage the business to achieve consistency in functioning and performance.

Nginx Reverse proxy servers and load balancers software aid in distributing workload and ease the process.

Below in this article about Reverse Proxy vs Load Balancer we will discuss their features, pros and cons. Further, we will compare both tools to understand their use cases.

What is Reverse Proxy?

A reverse proxy is a server that stands between web servers and users to intercept requests. It acts as a middleman and works on behalf of the server. The main role of a reverse proxy server is to communicate with the users and receive all their requests.

Further, it offers additional security, protects the web server’s identity and manages requests based on demand and location. On receiving client requests, the reverse proxy server’s job is to instantly forward the request to the webserver.

The reverse proxy also allows easy removal of malware, performs multivariate tests and A/B tests without inserting JavaScript, caches dynamic and static content, adds HTTP access authentication to the server that lacks features and load distribution from incoming requests.

The main purpose of implementing a reverse proxy is to help enhance security, performance and reliability. It operates only when the user connection makes request.

Unlike the forward proxy, it stands in front of web servers rather than the client. It works like a gateway that accepts client requests and forwards them to the webserver. Later, it forwards the received response from the server to the client.

Features of Reverse Proxy

  • Manages incoming and outgoing traffic.
  • Content caching.
  • Scrubs all incoming application traffic before forwarding.
  • IP masking.
  • Load balancing.
  • Safe and Secure server.
  • Supports SSL encryption.
  • DDoS attack protection.
  • Data compression.
  • Used only for one web or application connection.
  • Allows altering backend infrastructure configuration.
  • Protects the server instances from backend.
  • Filters client requests before forwarding them to original server.
  • Caches the static and dynamic content.

Pros of Reverse Proxy

  • Uses content delivery networks (CDNs) to increase availability and reduce latency.
  • Hides all the information about the backend server. No malicious client or other people can see information outside the internal network.
  • Offers enhanced backend security.
  • Global server load balancing (GSLB).
  • Supports caching and compression techniques for faster response time.
  • Protects from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
  • You have access to change the configuration of the backend infrastructure.
  • Reduces response time.
  • Encrypts all the data while transferring between clients and servers.
  • Conceals the web server’s IP address.
  • One can blacklist a few client’s IP addresses.

Cons of Reverse Proxy

  • For operations, the server requires additional network resources and processing power.
  • Difficult to troubleshoot at times due to lack of visibility into client requests.
  • Access to limit load balancing and content delivery options.

What is Load Balancer ?

Load balancing is the technique of uniformly distributing the workload across different systems, servers and compute resources. This technique helps identify which server will meet the client’s requirement best in real time. Further, it helps reduce the overloading of computing resources by routing client requests to idle computer nodes.

Load balancers are software that stands between client devices and backend servers for receiving and routing client requests to different servers. Businesses generally choose the load balancing technique as it ensures the applications are active and running for users.

On average, a business receives hundreds and thousands of client requests every single minute. As a result, servers face a lot of pressure. To reduce this pressure and deliver high quality media, load balancers were introduced. Load Balancers are popular devices that help analyze each incoming request and divert it to the relevant server on the basis of various conditions. This way load balancer helps prevent overloading a single server.

Another feature of a load balancer is one can incorporate it into application delivery controllers (ADCs) for better performance and application security. Also, if due to any reason a load balancer fails, it immediately redirects all the workload to a backup server.

Features of Load Balancer

  • Supports Layer 4 or Layer 7.
  • Quick access to actionable application insights.
  • Reduced troubleshooting.
  • High availability.
  • Scalability.
  • Protects multiple web servers.
  • Offers session persistence.
  • Allows dynamically addition of servers in response to high incoming traffic.
  • Reduced Bandwidth Usage.
  • Allows routing to multiple ports on the same instance.

Pros of Load Balancer 

  • Eliminates a single point of failure.
  • Prevents overload on a single server or high traffic servers.
  • Route client request and maximizes network speed and efficiency.
  • Offers fast response to the clients.
  • Reduces errors responses and enhances user experience.
  • Detects server health.
  • No single point of failure.
  • Offers greater reliability to users.
  • Allows sending requests from a specific client to the same server.
  • Software load balancers are easy to deploy and save time.
  • Scalable, Flexible and Cost effective.

Cons of Load Balancer 

  • There is no intermediary between servers and load balancer.

Reverse Proxy vs Load Balancer - Key Differences

Load Balancer

Both are application delivery networks but have different roles to play for optimization. The main role of load balancers is distributing the overload across multiple servers. There are two ways to implement load balancing – hardware load balancers and software load balancers that play a key role in workload distribution. It also allows using a load balancing algorithm the maximize server capacity and help deliver quick results and better performance.

DNS Round Robin, L3/L4 Load Balancer (ideal for the IP and TCP layers) and L7 Load Balancer are the three types of load balancers.
You can also ease the process of distributing the load across different servers using various algorithms, such as Round Robin, IP Hash, Least Connection and Least Traffic.

It operates on Layer 3 to 7 of the OSI model and can handle multiple web requests.

Reverse Proxy

Reverse Proxy on the other hand acts like a gateway and shields direct user interaction with the original server. Generally, users consider a reverse proxy as the website’s public face. However, its main role is to provide security and act as a between the original server and clients.

Further, it supports various features like SSL encryption, data compression, caching, etc., that aid in reducing response time and accelerating web performance. Also, making changes to the backend architecture is much easier with reverse proxy as clients can only access reverse proxy.

Unlike a load balancer, a reverse proxy is a Level 7 load balancer and can perform additional roles compared to a load balancer, including TLS/SSL offloading, web filtering, etc.

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

Reverse proxy servers and load balancers act as an intermediary between web servers and clients. The two enable proper functioning and distribution of workload that helps improve performance and efficiency.

A reverse proxy hides all information about the backend server with the client and intercepts requests. It operates only when the user connection makes a request and enhances security, performance and reliability. Also, the server handles all incoming and outgoing traffic.

While a load balancer stands between client devices and backend servers to route client requests across multiple servers. They help analyze each incoming request and divert it to the relevant server on the basis of specific conditions..

Another advantage of a load balancer is it does not have a single point of failure, i.e., if a load balancer fails, all the workload is immediately moved to the backup server.

Each has its own advantage and disadvantage that will make it easy for one to choose for their business. If you have a single server, you can stick to reverse proxy and do not require a load balancer for such situations. Both work as an application delivery network but have different roles when it comes to optimization.

Go through the above listed pros and cons of each client server computing architecture and understand their difference.

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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