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Proxy vs VPN: What are the main differences?

VPNs and proxy servers both protect user identities and are great tools for accessing content securely. Since both of these services can get the job done, people tend to speak of them interchangeably. However, one protects your privacy, and the other one does not. Proxy vs VPN — how are they different?

Proxy vs VPN: What are the main differences?

Proxy and VPN defined

A VPN and a proxy are online services that hide your IP address by rerouting your internet traffic through a remote server. But a proxy works only with a single app or service, while a VPN secures all your internet traffic and encrypts it for extra security and privacy.

Like a proxy, a VPN will hide your IP address when you first connect to the server and replace it with the VPN provider’s IP address. However, only a VPN will redirect your internet data through an encrypted tunnel, keeping your online activity private.

A proxy is suitable for internet browsing, but it won’t give you the level of security and the advanced features a VPN offers.

VPN vs Proxy process comparison

What is a proxy server and how does it work?

Proxy servers act as relays between the website you’re visiting and your device. Your traffic goes through a middle-man, a remote machine used to connect you to the host server. The web proxy server hides your original IP address so that the website sees the IP of the proxy (in some cases, the computers of other proxy users are used for this). However, proxies only work on the application level, meaning it only reroutes the traffic coming from a single app you set your proxy up with. They also don’t encrypt your traffic.

There are three main types of proxy servers:

  • HTTP Proxies. These only cater to web pages. If you set up your browser with an HTTP proxy server, all your browser traffic will be rerouted through it.
  • SOCKS Proxies. These proxies are not limited to web traffic but still only work on the application level. Although they can handle all kinds of traffic, they are usually slower than HTTP proxies because they are more popular and often have a higher load.
  • Transparent proxies. These are a different kind of proxy because their users are usually unaware of their existence. These proxies can be set up by employers or parents who want to monitor users’ online activity and block access to specific websites. Hotels and cafes use them to authenticate users on public Wi-Fi and companies or home users might also set them up to save bandwidth.

Some services also offer private proxies, but these aren’t private the way a VPN is. Instead, they offer the user a single IP address that only they can use. In this sense, it ensures that the user remains easily traceable, but having a separate dedicated IP address can have its specific benefits.

What is a Virtual Private Network and how does it work?

Like a proxy, a VPN also reroutes your internet traffic through a remote server and hides your IP address so websites can’t see your original IP or location (you can also check out our article on how to change your IP location for more details). However, it works on the operating system level, meaning that it redirects all your traffic, whether it’s coming from your browser or a background app.

A VPN client also encrypts your traffic between the internet and your device. That means the Internet Service Provider (ISP) monitoring your internet activity and collecting data about you can no longer see what you’re doing online – just that you’re connected to a VPN server. The encryption also protects you from government surveillance, website tracking, and any snoopers or hackers who might try to intercept your device. A VPN provides you increased online privacy and security.

Not all VPN and proxy service providers are equally good, so do your research before choosing one. Instead of providing you with enhanced security and privacy, shady providers can log users’ sensitive data, including IP addresses, DNS requests, and other details. You should avoid such providers because they can give this information to advertisers or hackers if their servers get breached.

Premium VPN service providers like NordVPN work hard to protect your private data and enhance your online security. NordVPN has 6400 servers in 111 countries, providing users with the best speeds and modern features. If you want to keep your internet traffic secure and protect yourself from bad actors, it’s definitely worth trying the app.

Protect yourself online with NordVPN. Try it now with a risk-free 30 days money-back guarantee!

The main differences between VPN and proxy services

VPN vs Proxy

Here is a quick comparison between the two:

  • VPNs encrypt your traffic while proxy servers don’t. A VPN service protects you from ISP tracking, government surveillance, and hackers. Proxies don’t, so they should never be used to handle sensitive information.
  • VPNs reroute all your traffic through a VPN server because they work on the operating system level, while most proxies only reroute the traffic of a specific app or browser because they work on the application level.
  • VPNs can be slower than proxies as they need to encrypt your sensitive data; however, there are ways you can improve your internet connection and browsing speeds.
  • VPNs are usually paid (you shouldn’t trust free VPN services as they have limitations and tend to mine your data) while many proxy servers are free.
  • A VPN connection is more reliable while proxy server connections drop more frequently.

Check out our brief video on proxy vs. VPN below.

Is VPN better than a proxy?

Yes, a VPN is better as it provides privacy and security by routing your traffic through a secure VPN server and encrypting your traffic. A proxy simply passes your traffic through a mediating server but doesn’t necessarily offer any extra protection. Moreover, unlike proxies, VPNs work on the operating system level to secure all your traffic. In the proxy vs VPN debate, the latter is a definite winner.

Do you need a proxy if you have a VPN?

No. Premium VPN services do the same things as proxies and much more. You could use a proxy extension for a quick IP change, but keep in mind that not all proxies are safe, and some of them may collect your data.

Can I use VPN and proxy together?

VPNs and proxies can be used together but this can take some work to configure. We also advise against it as the proxy server would simply add another middle-man that slows down your internet connection without significant benefits. It’s better to switch to one or the other when using them.

Should I use a free proxy or a free VPN?

Free proxy and VPN services might come at a cost of your security and privacy. Since developers have to make money somehow, they can snoop on your data in the background, bomb you with adware, or limit the amount of data you can use.

Premium VPNs invest heavily in their infrastructure and provide you with top-notch encryption. They offer you a rich server base, the fastest VPN protocols, 24/7 customer support, and continuous improvement of their services. We recommend avoiding free proxies and free VPNs, as a couple of saved bucks might cost you much more in the long run.


A VPN and a proxy are similar because they both reroute your traffic through a remote server and hide your IP address. However, a VPN is superior to a proxy server in many respects. If you care about your privacy and security, you should, without a doubt, choose a VPN.

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