What are HTTP Proxies Used For?

An HTTP proxy follows the same operating principle that guides other types of proxy servers. In that regard, to understand what an HTTP proxy is, we’ll define what a proxy server is.

A proxy/proxy server is an intermediary, through which all web traffic passes. Web traffic refers to the web requests generated by a user’s computer and the content sent from the web server in response to the requests.

Usually, all proxies alter the web requests by hiding the original IP address attached to them and instead assigning a new IP address. Some proxies, e.g., HTTP proxies, modify the content sent by web servers, as we’ll detail below. So, what is an HTTP proxy?

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HTTP proxies

An HTTP proxy is a gateway that results from configuring a computer or browser. The proxy’s IP address is user-defined, and in the event the user does not stipulate, the IP address defaults to a number that the operating system assigns. The HTTP proxy intercepts communication sent through the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and works as follows:

As the user, you will type a website on your browser. Upon hitting ‘Enter,’ your web browser will generate a web request, divided into data packets, sent via the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). The TCP data packets are not sent directly to a web server. Rather, they first reach the HTTP proxy, which hides the real IP address by assigning the data packets its IP address before sending them to the target website. 

Importantly, despite not being based on the HTTPS protocol, HTTP proxies can access HTTPS websites. This is because they use a two-way communication method that enables them to access the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). 

An HTTP proxy creates a tunnel between the client (browser) and a web server. Thereafter, it makes the connection on the client’s behalf in an arrangement that enhances anonymity since direct communication between the browser and web server is cut. In addition to promoting anonymity, HTTP proxies filter content sent through the HTTP or HTTPS protocols.

There are two types of HTTP proxy, i.e., the HTTP-client proxy and the HTTP-server proxy. The former protects your personal computer or home or office network by filtering content; it only allows authorized files to be downloaded. On the other hand, an HTTP-server proxy allows most HTTP connections sent by clients to get through to the server but stops any malicious attempt to upload or delete files to or from the webserver. 

Uses of HTTP proxies

HTTP proxies are used for the following purposes:

  • To anonymize a connection by hiding the real IP address
  • For filtering content sent through HTTP or HTTPS
  • To promote security

1. Anonymize connections

As mentioned earlier, an HTTP proxy hides the real IP address. It works somewhat differently from other proxies, particularly because the user gets to choose the IP address the proxy should use. The anonymity HTTP proxies provide means that a website cannot obtain the client’s real IP address.

2. Filter content

HTTP-client proxies and HTTP-server proxies filter the content reaching them. They do not allow unauthorized files to be stored on the server or user’s computer. Thus, they prevent possible malware, spyware, and ransomware attacks. 

3. Promote security

You can configure your HTTP proxy to examine the HTTP and HTTPS headers to determine the content’s source. This process ensures that websites that are known for being sources of suspicious content are disallowed, thereby protecting your computer. In this regard, HTTP proxies act as a firewall. Notably, a header is a section within a data packet that contains information about the content being sent (its characteristics), the source website, and the length of the file. 

Moreover, HTTP proxies promote security by analyzing the protocol for any anomalies. It relies on a set of rules, i.e., requests for comments (RFC) specifications, that dictate what normal is. For instance, a web server is supposed to accept requests and not send them. As such, when it starts initiating communication sessions with a host, that constitutes an anomaly. Similarly, an extra-long header is an anomaly, meaning an HTTP proxy would block any request or content with an extremely long header.

HTTP proxies are used for various purposes, including enhancing security, filtering files and content, and anonymizing a connection. You can configure your browser or computer to become an HTTP proxy by following a few instructions.

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