What Is a Reverse Proxy and How Does It Work?

Website traffic is not constant. For instance, the traffic on content streaming services like Netflix goes through the roof when new episodes of popular series are released.

This spike in demand puts a lot of pressure on the servers responsible for supplying content to the customer. Due to this, content streaming services face several problems when anticipated shows are released.

So how do websites scale instantaneously when the traffic they receive increases exponentially? Well, they use reverse proxies to balance the traffic on their website—but what is a reverse proxy, and how do reverse proxies work?

How Does Your Computer Connect to a Website?

Before getting into reverse proxies, it’s important to understand how your computer connects to a website on the internet.

Simply put, the internet is nothing but a set of computers communicating with one another. Even the website you connect to is a computer with the website data stored on its hard drive. This computer is known as a server as it provides other computers with the content they want on the internet.

Therefore when you open a website on your computer, all you are doing is communicating with another computer connected to the internet.

That said, to connect to a website, your device needs to know the server’s location. This information is provided to your device by the IP address of the server. To get this information, the URL of a website is converted to its IP address using DNS resolution, effectively swapping out the letters in the URL for the specific IP address of the website. That’s an extremely simplified version of how DNS works, mind.

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

Another thing to understand about servers before getting into proxies is that websites use several servers across the globe to distribute their content. In addition, rather than using a single computing system to run all website functions, companies use a microservice architecture where different computational units perform different tasks. Due to this, a website cannot be viewed as a single computer; instead, it is a set of computers working together to provide content to a customer in the fastest possible manner.

What Is a Proxy?

A proxy is a computing device that sits between the server and the computer which makes the request (the client). Simply put, the proxy is nothing but a middleman between you and the 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 your system’s hardware/software details.

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

Although this information is essential for websites to work properly, it enables companies to track you online, removing your privacy. To solve this problem, forward proxies are used.

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

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

What Is a Reverse Proxy, and How Does It Work?

Just like forward proxies, reverse proxies also solve a problem. However, this problem relates to servers. In short, reverse proxies work in the exact opposite manner when compared to a forward proxy.

Essentially, a reverse proxy collects all the requests made to the server. Once intercepted, the reverse proxy sends the requests to the server with the data you are looking for. Due to this, the reverse proxy can manage the traffic landing on a website.

This design architecture solves a big problem when it comes to distributing content. You see, if a server receives an overwhelming number of requests in a short duration, it can’t process them, and clients cannot access the website they are looking for.

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

Advantages of Reverse Proxies

In addition to managing requests from different clients, a reverse proxy offers several advantages.


In addition to managing the traffic received from the clients, the reverse proxy can be used to store frequently requested data. Due to this, the proxy does not have to request the server to get the data. Instead, it can serve data from its local cache. This approach is used while serving static web pages like this article.

Every time a user wants to access a webpage, a request by the client is made to the reverse proxy. In this reverse proxy sits the Content Management System, responsible for finding the content on the server and sending it to the user. In a traditional approach, the CMS would have to connect to the MySQL database, which holds the data, increasing the access time of the webpage.

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


When a reverse proxy is in place, it is the face of your website. As a result, an attacker cannot access the website’s internal servers directly. In addition, reverse proxies can be used to fend off DDoS attacks. To do this, the reverse proxy can look at the IP address of the client trying to perform a DDoS attack and block its access to the server.

Faster Data Decryption

Most websites on the internet use HTTPS to transfer data securely. Due to this, all the data reaching the server is encrypted. Therefore a server has to decrypt the received traffic and serve the data to the client. To solve this problem, reverse proxies can be used to decrypt data, reducing the server load.

Global Server Load Balancing

Popular websites like Netflix, Google, and Amazon have servers all across the globe. Therefore, when a user makes a request to these websites, it can be routed to any of its servers. If the request is sent to a server far away from the client, the access time of the website increases. To solve this problem, reverse proxies route client requests to the nearest servers to improve the website’s performance.

Reverse Proxies Make Your Internet Faster

A reverse proxy sits between the client and the server, helping manage traffic efficiently. Not only this, reverse proxies improve the security and reliability offered by a server.

That said, reverse proxies require additional processing power and network resources, plus reverse proxies can create a single point of failure for a website.

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