VPN vs Proxy – What is the difference?

3 min

The comparison between a VPN and a proxy server is a discussion that never gets settled. A lot has been said and debated about their differences. Yet, there are a lot of questions and misconceptions surrounding them and their usage.

As a residential VPN company, it is our responsibility to set the record straight. In this article about VPN vs proxy, we will look at their differences, similarities, and conclude the situations in which they individually excel. There are also our recommendations on selecting the right tool to protect your privacy online.

What is a Proxy in Online Security?

By definition, a proxy is something that acts on behalf of you. Apply this core concept in an online security context and you get the answer.

A proxy server, therefore, is a server that routes your Internet connection before it reaches your destination (i.e., a website). This effectively hides your IP address. Think of it like a thing that acts on your behalf.

For example, assume you are based in Beijing and want to access a video streaming website that is restricted to users in India. To access the site, you would want a system that mimics your location to be that of India. You can use a proxy server based in India to route your traffic through it, thereby accessing the videos on the site.

Using a proxy is extremely common today, with netizens using it for everything from unblocking Netflix to removing content and IP-based filters. The two types of proxy servers available are HTTP and SOCKS.

However, it does come with a few downsides. For starters, a proxy server merely swaps your IP address with another one. There is no extra layer of protection through encryption. Moreover, a proxy connection is often application-based. You usually set up a proxy on a specific application (like a web browser or P2P software). This means that only the application’s traffic is routed through the server; the rest of the traffic from your device is still bare and uses your original IP address. 

When we compare a proxy with a VPN, this is where the main difference lies.

Note: When we talk about ‘proxy’, we are essentially talking about a ‘proxy server’. The terms are used interchangeably and mean the same thing.

What is a VPN or Virtual Private Network?

A virtual private network, just like a proxy, also hides your IP address by routing your Internet traffic via another server. However, there is an additional step of encryption. Between your computer and the VPN server, your traffic undergoes strong encryption through a tunnel, thereby maintaining your privacy. In this case, both your internet connection and traffic are covered.

VPNs can be both application-based and standalone, the latter of which can help safeguard all your Internet-based activities. For example, you may use our VPN extension for Google Chrome to swap your IP address for traffic originating from your browser. On the other hand, the TuxlerVPN application for Windows and macOS will help you protect all traffic from your computer.

As you can see, a VPN provides better security as compared to proxy servers. However, what they provide with security, they compensate with performance and cost. In most cases, a VPN will increase latency and reduce the speed of your Internet connection. (In some cases, it will do the opposite.) Proxies are notorious for that too, but their impact on your connection is nominal.

Comparison: Proxy vs VPN

To make things clearer, here’s a table describing the major differences between a proxy server and a VPN.

Hides IP address and encrypts trafficOnly hides IP address
Can cover entire devicesCovers individual applications
Usually paidUsually free or cheaper
High latencyLow latency
Uses advanced protocolsUses basic HTTP or SOCKS protocol

What to Use: Proxy or VPN?

The answer to the question boils down to what you are planning to do. If you are looking to bypass geographical restrictions to access a website, both a proxy server and a VPN will do the job. This same applies to use cases such as tackling censorship and unblocking streaming websites.

If you are looking to protect your privacy from snoopers such as surveillance agencies, you are better off using a VPN that provides encryption. This is because a proxy server will simply pass on your traffic via itself; a VPN will both encrypt your traffic and swap your IP address.

To put their applications into perspective, know that a VPN can do everything that a proxy server can. But a proxy can only mask your IP address for a single application at a time.

Have more questions now that proxy vs VPN comparison is behind you? Check out the TuxlerVPN blog for more informational content on residential VPNs and other online security tips and best practices.

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