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Reverse Proxy

What Is a Reverse Proxy?

What is reverse proxy? A reverse proxy refers to a server positioned in front of web servers. It forwards requests sent by a user’s browser to the web servers the proxy is in front of. A reverse proxy is placed at the edge of an organization’s network, and in this position, it is able to intercept user’s requests and then forward them to the intended origin server.

When the origin server sends a reply, the reverse proxy takes that reply and sends it on to the user. In this way, a reverse proxy serves as a “middleman” between users and the sites they are visiting.

An organization can use a reverse proxy to enact load balancing, as well as shield users from undesirable content and outcomes. Therefore, a reverse proxy can be an integral part of a company’s security posture and make the organization’s network more stable and reliable.

What is a Reverse Proxy Server?

A reverse proxy server is a server positioned before web servers and has the task of forwarding requests that come from the client, or web browser, to the web servers it is positioned in front of. This is typically done to enhance the performance, security, and reliability of the network.

Reverse Proxy vs. Forward Proxy?

While a reverse proxy sits in front of web servers, a forward proxy sits in front of clients. A client typically refers to an application, and in the context of proxy servers, the application is a web browser. With a forward proxy, the proxy is positioned in front of the client, protecting it and its user. With a reverse proxy, the proxy sits in front of the origin server. This may seem like the same thing because both proxies are in between the client and the origin server. However, there are some important differences.

With a forward proxy, the proxy server makes sure that no origin servers ever have the ability to directly communicate with the client. That means that, regardless of the website, it can never send any data directly to the client.

On the other hand, with a reverse proxy, the proxy, positioned in front of the origin server, makes sure that no client, regardless of where it is or who owns it, has the ability to communicate with the origin server.

It is similar to having a bodyguard that also passes messages to the person they are working for. A forward proxy is like a bodyguard that passes messages to the client, while a reverse proxy is like one that passes messages to the origin server. A forward proxy is solely focused on vetting messages for the client. A reverse proxy is solely focused on vetting messages for the origin server. Even though they are both positioned between the client and the origin server, they perform very different jobs.

Benefits of Using a Reverse Proxy

A reverse proxy can be used to accomplish several objectives, each pertaining to the safety of a network or the way in which it functions.

Load Balancing

Reverse proxies can decide where and how they route Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) sessions. In this way, the reverse proxy can be used to distribute the load in a manner that maximizes the experience of the end user. Load balancing also produces a more efficient, useful network. It can prevent servers from getting overworked, thereby limiting the number of bottlenecks a site experiences and ensuring smoother operation. 

This may be particularly helpful during busier times of the year when a large amount of HTTP sessions attempt to interact with your origin server all at the same time. As the reverse proxy balances the load of the work that has to be performed, it eases the burden on your network.

Protection From Attacks

With a reverse proxy, you can hide your origin server’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. If a hacker knows the IP address of your origin server, they can check one very big item off their attack checklist. Having a reverse proxy prevents malicious actors from directly targeting your origin server using its IP address because they do not know what it is. Also, because a reverse proxy is positioned in front of your origin server, any communication coming from the outside has to go through the reverse proxy first. 

Therefore, threats like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are harder to execute because the reverse proxy can be set up to detect these kinds of attacks. A reverse proxy can also be used to detect malware attacks. It can identify malicious content within the request coming from the client. Once harmful content has been spotted, the reverse proxy can drop the server’s request. Consequently, the dangerous data does not even reach your origin server.

Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB)

Global server load balancing (GSLB) is load balancing that is distributed around the world by way of a reverse proxy. With GSLB, the requests going to a website can be distributed using the geographic locations of the clients trying to access it. As a result, requests do not have to travel as far. For the end user, this means the content they have requested is able to load faster.

Caching

Without a reverse proxy, caching may have to be handled solely by backend servers. However, with a reverse proxy, the caching responsibilities can be assumed by the reverse proxy itself. Because the cache will be immediately available to the end user, their content can load significantly faster than if the request had to go all the way to the origin server and back.

SSL Encryption

Secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption can be a costly endeavor, particularly because there are so many communications that need to be encrypted and decrypted as they stream in from various clients. However, with a reverse proxy, all SSL encryption can happen on the reverse proxy itself.  

Live Activity Monitoring and Logging

A reverse proxy can monitor all the requests that get passed through it. This means that, regardless of where the request comes from, it can be checked and logged. This enables an IT team to carefully analyze where requests are coming from and how their origin server is responding to them. With this information, you can see how your site addresses different requests. You can then use that insight to make any adjustments to optimize your site’s performance. 

For example, suppose you have an ecommerce site, and it gets a lot of hits during a certain holiday. You are concerned that it may not be able to manage all the requests efficiently enough, thereby negatively affecting the end user’s purchasing or shopping experience. With a reverse proxy, you can deduce performance statistics according to date and time, and see whether your site’s infrastructure is up to the task.

How To Implement a Reverse Proxy

Implementing a reverse proxy begins with figuring out what you want it to do. You will want to write down your hopes for the reverse proxy before contacting a service provider. Then, you will want to make sure your site and the reverse proxy are both hosted by a single provider. The next step is to reach out to your provider and present what you want the reverse proxy to do. 

Because an HTTP reverse proxy can be used for several different things, you will want to be specific regarding your goals. Your provider will then take the objectives you presented and use them to configure your reverse proxy. This is accomplished through the design and implementation of rules. Each rule tells the reverse proxy what to do, when, and in the context of specific situations.

How Fortinet Can Help

A Fortinet reverse proxy enables you to enact load balancing, security, and scalability. Each of these features can make your site perform better and safer. The way a Fortinet reverse proxy works is you place a FortiGate unit in front of your origin server. You then configure FortiGate to run in reverse proxy mode. The FortiGate solution can analyze each and every Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) packet that passes through it. Then it can:

  1. Route the request using preprogrammed rules, such as those that enable load balancing.
  2. Check each packet of information for threats. If a threat is detected, your FortiGate reverse proxy can discard the data packet, protecting your origin server from a potentially costly attack.
  3. Respond to requests using cached data. Instead of your origin server being inundated with requests, the FortiGate reverse proxy can use cached information to handle requests. This makes the experience of the end user more seamless.
  4. 4Manage requests for dynamic and static content from your origin server.
  5. Perform SSL encryption and decryption.

FAQs

What is the difference between a proxy and reverse proxy?

While a reverse proxy sits in front of web servers, a forward proxy sits in front of clients. A client typically refers to an application, and in the context of proxy servers, the application is a web browser. With a forward proxy, the proxy is positioned in front of the client, protecting it and its user. With a reverse proxy, the proxy sits in front of the origin server.

With a forward proxy, the proxy server makes sure that no origin servers ever have the ability to directly communicate with the client. That means that, regardless of the website, it can never send any data directly to the client. On the other hand, with a reverse proxy, the proxy, positioned in front of the origin server, makes sure that no client, regardless of where it is or who owns it, has the ability to communicate with the origin server.

What is a reverse proxy used for?

A reverse proxy is used for load balancing, protection from attacks, global server load balancing (GSLB), caching, secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption, and live activity monitoring and logging.

What are the benefits of reverse proxy?

The benefits of a reverse proxy include concurrency, resiliency, scalability, Layer 7 routing, and caching.

Is a load balancer a reverse proxy?

No, a load balancer is not a reverse proxy. A load balancer is most necessary when you have multiple servers supporting your site. It can then apportion the workload among those servers to produce a better experience for the end user. A reverse proxy can do this as well, but it also has security functions and provides for enhanced flexibility and scalability in ways that a load balancer cannot. Therefore, a reverse proxy is useful even if you have just one server supporting your site.