If you have worked in a large company or corporation, you have most likely heard of a proxy server and knew that without it you would not be able to access websites and services outside your company network. Or maybe you have heard that proxies can help you bypass web filters or allow you to browse the Internet anonymously or as if from another country on your personal device.
But what exactly is a proxy server, what do they do, why are they important, what devices support them and how can we set them up?
What is a proxy server and why is it useful?
A proxy server is an intermediary between your device and the Internet, sort of a middleman that your internet traffic goes through. A proxy server makes requests to websites and services for you.
For example, when you visit a website and your device is using a proxy server, your request to visit the website is first sent to the proxy server, which then sends the request to the server where the website is hosted. The website's page is returned to the proxy server which, in turn, returns it to you.
So what benefits do a proxy server enable? Well, a lot of different things. Because all internet requests go through the proxy server, this puts it in a position of control, making possible a host of things possible. Proxy servers can be used to increase security, hide sensitive information or carry out sensitive tasks anonymously, improve network speed and bandwidth control, control internet usage or set access control, provide access to blocked or region-specific internet resources, scan outbound content and much more.
What devices support proxy configuration?
Almost all connected devices support proxy configuration in some capacity, but some offer better native support and options for proxy servers than others.
When choosing a device based on whether it will be capable of handling your proxy server settings, it's important to take 2 things into consideration:
1. Will the device's OS give me the options I need to connect to my proxy server?
There are a wide variety of proxy configurations and it's very much a topic all its own, but when choosing a device you will want to focus on picking one that uses an operating system that gives you sufficient options to set the settings you will need to.
At an OS level Windows, macOS (formerly OS X), Chrome OS and Android devices all give good options for setting both automatic, manual and custom proxy setups. Android TV devices with their custom interfaces and iOS devices both provide options as well, albeit a bit more limited, while Amazon Fire TV devices are a cut below the rest with poor options.
2. Will I need a 3rd party program to run my proxy server?
There are many services and service providers that will require you to install an application or extension in order to get your proxy server up and running or to get additional features enabled. If you are using a service like this, make sure to find out what operating system the service provider supports to help with your decision making. Many will provide apps for multiple platforms, but not always, so it's good to check.
How to configure a proxy server on your device's OS
To find out how to configure a proxy server on your device's OS, check out these great articles from How-To Geek:
- How to Configure a Proxy Server on Windows
- How to Configure a Proxy Server on a Mac
- How to Configure a Proxy Server on Chrome OS
- How to Configure a Proxy Server on Android
- How to Configure a Proxy Server on iOS
PAC files and advanced configurations
Proxy server providers like to use PAC files as they can set a bunch of proxy configuration settings and have you apply it to your device by simply setting your proxy configuration to use the PAC file and its settings. You can easily set your device to use a PAC file to set proxy settings in Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, Android and iOS (see the links above).
Still having problems despite the information above? If your proxy configuration is complex and you are having trouble, you may want to contact your proxy server provider.