A proxy server is a kind of server/software that sits between a network and another client machine and handles communication between the two. That one function is the primary use of a free proxy server – to act as a proxy for a client machine.
Proxy servers can also be configured to store (cache) webpages which the client machines frequently request. So when a client requests a webpage for the first time, the proxy downloads and caches the webpage and when a second request comes for the same page,the proxy serves it up from its cache instead of downloading it from the Internet, thus saving the user a hefty download bill and the agonizing wait. Such servers are called caching proxies.
Proxy servers also serve another very important purpose – they act as the first line of defense between the bad guys on the other side and the client machines.
The threat becomes even greater when you replace the network on the other side with the Internet and the client machines with a couple of non-technical home users. Broadband connections and multiple computers accessing the Internet in every home have only increased the threat. Setting up a secure caching proxy server for free is an easy way to mitigate the threat and also save some money in the process.
I’ll be using a popular windows based software, Win Proxy, to tell you how you can setup your very own free caching proxy server.
Download Win Proxy to the computer that you want to act as a proxy and run the setup executable. The only question that you have to answer during the setup is to select the way you want to install Win Proxy as (as a normal application or as a service). Unless you’re using Windows NT, you should choose the option titled common application.
The setup program for Win Proxy is one of the simplest that I’ve seen and I’m sure you won’t have a problem getting Win Proxy installed on your computer. When the setup completes, run Win Proxy from the Programs menu and your server is all set.
Congratulations. You’ve just setup your first free proxy server.
Win Proxy comes, by default, all set up to start acting as a proxy for your network. To take advantage of its caching capabilities though, you’ll have to instruct your browser to use it as a proxy.
If you use Firefox, go to the Tools menu and click on the Options link. Now, Under the Advanced options, select the Network tab and click on Settings.
Enter the IP address or hostname of the machine where you installed Win Proxy in the HTTP Proxy text field and set the port to 3128. That’s all. Firefox is now set up to access the Internet through Win Proxy.
The default set of options that Win Proxy installs with are good enough for most users but if you want to tweak it for even more performance, launch your browser from any computer on the network and point it to http://PROXY_MACHINE:3129, where PROXY_MACHINE is the IP address of the machine running the proxy server. This will bring up the web based configuration panel for Win Proxy. Most users will never need to use it, but it’s there if you want to.
As you can see, Win Proxy has a number of advanced features built in that you can configure through the admin panel. For example, if you connect to the Internet using a dial-up account, you can configure Win Proxy to dial up your ISP automatically every time it receives a request from a client for a webpage which is not present in its cache.
You can also configure Win Proxy to give access to only a few websites and/or restrict access to a couple of individuals by creating accounts for each user.
The Home Networking manual also talks about Internet connection sharing which is the name given to the simple proxy functionality built in to Windows.