What is a reverse proxy and how does it work?

Xiaobai Software  2022-09-09 11: 58  read 37 views

Website traffic is not constant.For example, content streaming services like Netflix experience a spike in traffic when new episodes of popular series are released.

This surge in demand puts a lot of pressure on the servers responsible for delivering content to customers.As such, content streaming services face several problems in releasing expected programming.

So, how do they scale on the fly when the traffic they receive multiplies?Well, they use reverse proxies to balance traffic to websites - but what is a reverse proxy and how does a reverse proxy work?

 

How is your computer connected to the website?

Before discussing reverse proxies, it is important to understand how your computer connects to websites on the Internet.

Simply put, the Internet is nothing more than a set of computers communicating with each other.Even the website you connect to is a computer with website data stored on its hard drive.This computer is called a server because it gives other computers what they want on the internet.

So when you open a website on your computer, all you do is communicate with another computer that is connected to the internet.

That said, to connect to a website, your device needs to know where the server is.This information is provided to your device by the server's IP address.To obtain this information, a website's URL is converted to its IP address using DNS resolution, effectively replacing the letters in the URL with the website's specific IP address.Note that this is an extremely simplified version of how DNS works.

 

Once your browser has an IP address, it sends the request using Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), and the server sends the data to your system.

Another thing to know before getting into proxies is that websites use several servers spread all over the world to publish their content.Also, instead of using a single computing system to run all website functions, companies use a microservices architecture, where different computing units perform different tasks.For this reason, a website cannot be viewed as a single computer; instead, it is a group of computers working together to deliver content to customers in the fastest possible way.

What is a proxy?

A proxy is a computing device that sits between a server and a requesting computer (client).Simply put, a proxy is nothing more than a middleman between you and a website.But why is this middleman needed?

Well, you see, when you visit a website, the computer you connect to receives all the details about your system.This data includes your IP address, cookie data, and hardware/software details of your system.

 

The server requests the above data to understand how the website needs to be displayed on your computer.

While this information is critical to the proper functioning of the website, it enables companies to track you online, wiping out your privacy.To solve this problem, a forward proxy needs to be used.

As the name suggests, a forward proxy is a computing device that collects requests from clients and sends them to a server.Because of this architecture, the server thinks these requests are made by a proxy, keeping your privacy intact.

That said, there is another type of proxy that works closely with the server, also known as a reverse proxy.

What is a reverse proxy and how does it work?

Just like forward proxies, reverse proxies solve a problem.However, this issue is server related.In short, reverse proxies work in the exact opposite way compared to forward proxies.

Basically, a reverse proxy collects all requests made to the server.Once intercepted, the reverse proxy will send the request to the server with the data you are looking for.For this reason, reverse proxies can manage the traffic that lands on a website.

 

This design architecture solves a big problem when distributing content.You see, if a server gets too many requests in a short period of time, it can't handle those requests and customers can't get to the website they're looking for.

A reverse proxy solves this problem by monitoring the number of requests made to the server and trying to balance it among the different servers.

Advantages of reverse proxy

In addition to managing requests from different clients, reverse proxies offer several advantages.

Cache

In addition to managing traffic received from clients, reverse proxies can also be used to store frequently requested data.Due to this, the proxy does not need to request the server to get the data.Instead, it can serve data from its local cache.This method is used when serving static web pages such as this one.

Whenever a user wants to visit a web page, the client makes a request to the reverse proxy.In this reverse proxy sits the content management system, which is responsible for finding content on the server and sending it to the user.In the traditional approach, the content management system would have to connect to the MySQL database that holds the data, increasing the visit time of the web page.

To solve this problem, reverse proxies store popular web pages locally.For this reason, the proxy can send data directly to the user without connecting to the server, improving website performance.

Is it secured?

When a reverse proxy is in place, it is the face of your website.Therefore, the attacker cannot directly access the internal server of the website.Additionally, reverse proxies can be used to defend against DDoS attacks.To do this, a reverse proxy can look at the IP address of a client attempting a DDoS attack and block its access to the server.

Faster data decryption

Most websites on the Internet use HTTPS to transmit data securely.For this reason, all data arriving at the server is encrypted.Therefore, the server must decrypt the received traffic and provide the data to the client.To solve this problem, a reverse proxy can be used to decrypt the data and reduce the load on the server.

Global server load balancing

Popular sites like Netflix, Google, and Amazon have servers all over the world.So when a user makes a request to these sites, it can be routed to any of their servers.If the request is sent to the server far away from the client, the visit time of the website will increase.To solve this problem, reverse proxies route client requests to the closest server to improve the performance of the website.

Reverse proxies make your internet faster

A reverse proxy sits between the client and server and helps manage traffic efficiently.Not only that, but a reverse proxy also improves the security and reliability provided by the server.

That said, a reverse proxy requires additional processing power and network resources, and in addition, a reverse proxy may create a single point of failure for a website.

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