Explicit vs. Transparent Proxy

A proxy server is a server (a computer system or an application) that acts as an intermediary for requests from clients seeking resources from other servers. A client connects to the proxy server, requesting some service, such as a file, connection, web page, or other resource available from a different server and the proxy server evaluates the request as a way to simplify and control its complexity. Proxies were invented to add structure and encapsulation to distributed systems. Today, most proxies are web proxies, facilitating access to content on the World Wide Web and providing anonymity.1

In an explicit proxy configuration, the client (e.g. browser, desktop application etc.) is explicitly configured to use a proxy server, meaning the client knows that all requests will go through a proxy. The client is given the hostname/IP address and port number of the proxy service. When a user makes a request, the client connects to the proxy service and sends the request. The disadvantage to explicit proxy is that each client must be properly configured to use the proxy.

In a transparent proxy configuration, the proxy is typically deployed at the Internet gateway and the proxy service is configured to intercept traffic for a specified port. The client (e.g. browser, desktop application etc.) is unaware that traffic is being processed by a proxy. For example, a transparent HTTP proxy is configured to intercept all traffic on port 80/443. The typical benefits of a transparent proxy include a standard enterprise configuration where all clients routed to the internet will always be filtered and protected no matter what the end users do, or change, on their machines and the added benefit of reduction in typical user’s client-proxy configuration troubleshooting.