two people, each representing a vpn and a proxy looking at an IP changing

Remember when VHS won the videotape format war over Betamax? We learned a valuable lesson that day. Sometimes, the choice is not only about the manufacturer but also one of the similar technologies that fulfill a similar need. The situation about proxy vs. VPN is kind of like that. You’d probably want someone to explain the differences between the two in an easy-to-understand manner. This article will do just that!

Table of contents

    What is a VPN?

    A VPN (Virtual Private Network) works by having an app (usually – it can also be a browser plugin) that encrypts your traffic and routes it to a VPN server. The server decrypts it and sends it to the online destination. This makes it look like you’re connecting from the VPN server’s location and makes the data sent from your device unreadable to prying eyes. 

    What is a proxy server? 

    A proxy server works by routing data through an additional server before sending it to your online destination. This makes it seem like you’re connecting from the proxy server’s location. 

    There are a few different kinds of proxies:

    • HTTP proxy server: a simple proxy server (perhaps the most simple you can find) that’s used to route your web traffic. 
    • SOCKS5 proxy server: a more powerful proxy server variety that works on a deeper layer of the operating system, allowing it to cover more apps and better penetrate the blocks.  
    • Transparent proxy server: a proxy server that allows certain restrictions to be placed on a network, mostly used by employers or schools to limit access to certain websites. 
    • Forward proxy server: a proxy server that’s used to examine any requests over the network before allowing them to go through. It’s mostly used for internal networks. 
    • Anonymous proxy server: a proxy server that focuses on making you anonymous online (as you’d guess from the name). It accesses the internet for the user to hide any personal information. 
    • High-anonymity proxy server: a proxy server that erases any information gathered on the device before connecting to any websites. 
    • Distorting proxy server: a proxy server that hides from the websites it accesses by pretending it has a different IP address. This masks your identity as well as the proxy itself. 
    • Data center proxy server: a proxy server that exists in a data center somewhere. This usually makes the proxy server provide faster results. 
    • Residential proxy server: a proxy server that gives you an IP address tied to a physical device. Any information requested through this proxy is routed via the same physical device. 
    • Public proxy server: a free proxy server that is accessible to anyone. This option provides many users with its IP address at once. However, this also means they are a lot slower than the other options. 
    • Shared proxy server: a proxy server available to several select users at once. This means that all of them are covered under the same IP. It’s usually cheaper than most as the costs are divided between everyone using it. 

    The differences between VPNs and proxies

    In short: the difference is that VPNs do everything that proxies do (and then some) but better. We’ll look at the exact differences in a moment but let’s start with the most important part: Many proxy servers do not offer encryption. Although both a proxy and a VPN will change the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of their users, that simply isn’t enough. ‘Cause cybersecurity comes down to more than just your IP address. With that in mind, let’s compare the two contestants:

    Hides your IP
    Hides your IP
    Encrypts your data
    Doesn’t encrypt your data (unless it’s an HTTPS proxy)
    Protects the entire system
    Protects specific apps
    Prevents ISP tracking
    Doesn’t prevent ISP tracking
    Protects you on public Wi-Fi
    Doesn’t protect you on public Wi-Fi
    Best uses:
    Best uses:
    Bypassing censorship
    Bypassing censorship
    Bypassing network restrictions
    Improving privacy and security
    Hiding your browsing data from spies

    Bonus: VPNs vs. proxies for downloading files

    Both a proxy server and a VPN client can grant you access to sites blocked by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Both of them switch out your IP for the one that the server uses. But this is where the similarities end. 

    The crucial difference between VPNs vs. proxies for downloading files is that the VPN also hides the fact that you’re downloading something from the ISP. This means two things:

    1. The ISP can’t collect data on your downloads.
    2. The ISP can’t engage in bandwidth throttling when you’re downloading something.

    As such, VPNs are much better than proxies. But those aren’t the only reasons why!

    Disclaimer: Surfshark does not encourage using a VPN in any way that would potentially violate the Terms of Service of other service providers.

    A VPN: like a proxy, but better 

    Despite VPNs and proxies working on roughly the same principles, one of the technologies is definitely more sophisticated – and more powerful. So when it comes down to functionality, the proxy vs. VPN fight is easily won by VPNs. Now, how about you try one out?

    Experience the benefits of a VPN

    Get Surfshark


    Is a VPN the same as a proxy server?

    No. Although the two services may work in similar ways, they are still two different products that have different use cases. Long story short, a VPN is a much more sophisticated and powerful service than a proxy. So, while a VPN can replace a proxy, a proxy cannot replace a VPN. 

    What is better: a VPN or a proxy?

    A VPN is better. In general, when it comes to the proxy vs. VPN question, a virtual private network offers more features and higher security levels. 

    Should I use a proxy and a VPN?  

    Not necessarily. If you’re using a VPN, you do not also need to use a proxy. However, if you need to use a proxy (for work or school, for example), then it’s best to also invest in a good VPN provider. 

    Can I use a VPN and a proxy together?

    Yes. It comes with a bit of a downside as using both of them together will reduce your speed, but other than that, you should be able to use both with no problems.