Before we understand reverse proxy, let’s have our basics clear.
Here is a simple question – do you know what is meant by a proxy server?
What is a Forward Proxy or Proxy Server?
A proxy server or forward proxy is a server that acts as an intermediary gateway between your device and the destination server and sits in front of your machine.
How does this work? When your device makes requests to access websites and services on the internet, these requests are made to pass through a proxy server. Thus, the destination server thinks that the request is made by the proxy server, utterly unaware of the fact that the request initially originated from your computer.
If this doesn’t fuel you with enough knowledge about proxies, check out Oxylabs blog, where they explain them very in-depth.
What is a Reverse Proxy?
Now that you know how a forward proxy works, you are in a better position to understand the varied nuances related to reverse proxy.
Technically speaking, a reverse proxy is the opposite of a forward proxy. Instead of sitting in front of the client’s device, the reverse proxy sits in front of the web servers. Thus, the information provided by the web servers first passes through reverse proxies before reaching the devices.
Reverse proxies are widely used as they help in boosting security, load balancing, performance, and reliability of the web servers.
Benefits of a Reverse Proxy
There are various benefits of reverse proxies, some of them being:
- Load balancing
In the case of a high-traffic website that attracts millions of readers every day, downtime of even a single minute can be crucial. To avoid this from happening, instead of handling the incoming site traffic with a single origin server, the traffic is equally distributed internally among a pool of different servers.
All these servers handle the requests at the same time. A reverse proxy ensures that everything runs smoothly by providing a load balancing solution. It distributes the incoming traffic evenly among all the internal servers and ensures that none of the servers get overloaded.
Similar to a forward proxy that hides the IP address of your device, a reverse proxy works by masking the IP address of the web servers. This makes it difficult for hackers and attackers to launch targeted attacks like DDoS attack on the website. Even if they try, they would only be able to attack the reverse proxy server which is already equipped with tighter security to deter any cyber-attacks.
A reverse proxy also works by improving the performance and speed of your website. It achieves this with the help of caching. For instance, a user based in Qatar wants to communicate with a reverse-proxied website with its web servers located in Paris. In such a case, the user might first connect to a reverse proxy server based in Qatar, which would then communicate with the original servers in Paris. The proxy server would then cache the response data.
When subsequent users from Qatar try to access the same website, the reverse proxy server based in Qatar would not have to communicate every time with the Paris-based servers. Instead, they would make use of the cached data, thus making the entire process way faster.
Drawbacks of Reverse Proxies
Although reverse proxies have several advantages to offer, they have their fair share of drawbacks as well:
- As is evident, a reverse proxy makes your servers secure by keeping their IP address hidden. However, in the event when the reverse proxy is compromised, it would also compromise your servers and the internal architecture. This might provide easy access to your website to the attackers.
- Since a lot of communication takes place between the firewall and the reverse proxy, this might slow down the server a bit, and processing might take longer than usual.
The Wrap Up
Reverse proxies undoubtedly play a vital role in securing your backend servers and protecting them from any targeted attacks. What’s more, they also enhance the speed and performance of your website. However, care must be taken that your chosen proxy is secure and equipped with tight security measures to avoid any unforeseen events.