That is an excellent question, I will be happy to explain what a proxy server is.
I am sure this has happened to you at some point you can’t connect to the Internet and you get an error about a proxy server setting or connection. So what is a proxy server and why are you connecting to one?
Most likely you are not connecting to one. Computers are not sentient as much as we would like to believe that they are. They have a list of possible resolutions whenever it cannot connect and they pick the most likely answer and display it for you. That does not mean that is actually what is happening.
So what is a proxy server? Well in simple terms a proxy server sits between the user’s device and the resources it is trying to connect to. Think of a proxy server as a doorman at a club. It stops you from entering and checks your credentials to make sure you are allowed in. Your name is on the list and it’s party time, but if it’s missing they send you packing.
Proxy servers have become much more prevalent in recent years. You probably connect to a few every day and don’t even realize it. The first thing to go over is what is a server in general. A server is simply a piece of computing software that stores resources that you want to access. The traditional use of a server is in a business setting you would connect to a server for your E-mail or to access the internal knowledge database.
A proxy server usually acts as an authorization server. So if you were at home and needed to access the resources at your office you may have to connect to a special site that would verify your authorization before allowing you access to the business databases. This is a traditional proxy server.
When would you see a proxy server in the real world? We see them now in big stores that allow you access to their wifi. When you connect to Target’s wifi and you get that page with the terms and conditions before allowing you access to the network, that is you connecting to their proxy server. You get their splash page and when you click agree it passes you onto their wifi service to get out onto the Internet.
Another place you would see a proxy server is if you tried to access a restricted website at work and you get that security error page saying that site is denied. That is also a proxy server. Basically the server has a list of domains that are restricted and checks that list against the sites your computer is trying to contact. If the site matches a site listed as restricted a rule is set up to block the connection and give you a warning instead.
As a normal home user there is not much to troubleshoot with proxy servers. For your home you should not be connecting to a proxy server (unless you are a computer nerd and set one up for some reason). So if you cannot get onto the Internet and get that error that means you are not connected to an active network. If the wifi goes down or your wired connection is not working for some reason you will get a error telling you to check if you are connected to a proxy server. That just means the computer tried to connect to the Internet and was blocked. A proxy server is one reason that would happen but an unlikely one. Any time you would have a serious proxy server issue would be at work and that is left to the IT department to resolve – let the nerds run around and fix it.
If you have a technology question you would like answered, please E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to look into it for you.