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A proxy server is a server which serves client requests by forwarding them to other servers, and then forwarding the responses back to the client. Because the proxy server handles all the communication between the client and the other servers, the proxy server may modify the requests or responses. Web browsers can be set up to use proxy servers, or there are public proxies available via websites. Proxy servers can be used for many different purposes.
- Organisations such as businesses, libraries or universities might choose to implement a proxy server to block offensive web content. Public proxy servers available via websites allow users to bypass these restrictions and access blocked content.
- Proxy servers can be used to modify content for browsing on mobile phones or PDAs, or to enlarge text sizes etc. for the benefit of disabled users.
- On websites which automatically detect the location of a user and modify their content accordingly, a proxy server can be used to access other location-specific sites. For example, the Gmail account registration page detects if a user is in the UK or Germany, and automatically assigns those residents an address ending in @googlemail.com rather than @gmail.com. This can be avoided by visiting the site via a US proxy server.
- Proxies can be used to maintain anonymity on the web, as they usually hide the user's IP address. Web users who are concerned about IP address logging, or suspect that their data is being tracked or recorded, might choose to use a proxy.
- Occasionally users of particular internet service providers (ISPs) might have difficulties accessing certain high-traffic websites such as search engines or email accounts. In this case, proxy servers can be useful ways to get around the problem.
- Malicious proxies can be used to intercept and record data passing between clients and servers.
By Iain Ford