PROXY vs NAT – Understand the Difference

Rashmi Bhardwaj | Blog,Security
proxy vs nat

What is a Proxy?

A proxy server functions as a bridge between you and the online world. It serves as an intermediary that separates users from the websites they visit. Depending on your specific requirements, use case, or organizational guidelines, proxy servers offer different levels of functionality, security, and privacy. There are different types of proxy servers like: datacenter proxy, residential proxy (rotating residential proxy or static residential proxy), Anonymous Proxy, Private Proxy, Dedicated Proxy, Shared Proxy, Public Proxy, SSL/HTTP Proxy etc.

What is NAT?

Network Address Translation (NAT) allows a single, distinctive IP address to represent an entire collection of computers. Within the realm of network address translation, a private network computer or computers are assigned a public address by a network device, typically a router or NAT firewall.

Network address translation enables a single device to function as a mediator or intermediary between the local, private network and the internet, serving as a bridge between the two networks. there are different types of NAT like: Dynamic NAT, Static NAT, NAT Overload.


Proxy vs NAT

Proxy and NAT are 2 commonly used terms when planning for protecting a secured LAN environment in IT setups of organizations.

  • While NAT alters the Local IP of end systems to Public IPs for communication over the Internet, Proxy provides application-level security to end systems and mitigates vulnerabilities which may directly affect the end systems.
  • Proxy functions up to layer 7 of the OSI model whereas NAT functionality is limited to Layer 3 and 4.
  • Proxy is meant to work at application levels like HTTP and FTP while NAT is inclined towards hiding the private address in LAN and minimizing the usage of Public IP addresses (Public IPs incur the cost and are limited in number).

Related – What is Reverse Proxy

Comparison Table: Proxy vs NAT

Below table provides a detailed view of the difference between Proxy and NAT:

Proxy is terms used for device which sits between an end system and remote server and acts as a mediator. The client requesting the resource connects to the proxy server and once validated proxy connects to remote server and provides the requested content to the client.
NAT alters IP address in a header of an IP packet and allows using Public IP for communication to outside world and private IP for communication to inside LAN.
Key functions
Provides secured Internet based application access to end hosts.
Conversion of private IP to Public IP
Layer of function
Layer 7
Layer 3/4
Protocol Specific
More Protocol Specific like HTTP,FTP etc.
More inclined towards IP addresses and less protocol specific.
End host Configuration
May require end host to be configured in case of explicit proxy. Transparent proxy may not require configuration at end host system.
No Configuration required at end host system.
NAT/Proxy device visibility
Proxies act as middlemen between 2 parties in which both end points know they are communicating with the proxy
The 2 communicating parties don’t know there is a NAT device in the middle.
Application requirement
Does not need any special application software to operate
Applications behind a proxy server must support proxy services and should be configured to use the proxy server.
Target Solution
Recommended for corporates where the user count is high and used in conjunction with NAT.
Recommended for corporates where the user count is low and light traffic flow
Costly since a dedicated proxy device is required to perform the functionality.
Cheap and no dedicated NAT device is required. NAT can be performed on any layer 3 or above device like Router, Firewall, L3 Switch etc.
Placement in network
Generally placed in DMZ Zone in a corporate network
Generally NAT is performed by Perimeter device like Internet Router or Internet Firewall.
Traffic Flow
Typical scenario –
The Source system sends to traffic towards proxy with source IP as its own and destination IP that of Proxy. The proxy initiates a new session with its own IP as Source and destination IP that of remote Server.
Typical scenario –
The Source system (using private IP) sends to traffic towards destination remote Server. The NAT device converts the source/destination private IP into Public IP and sends towards remote Server.
Data Caching
Not Supported
Information and Traffic Control
High level of Control since works upto Layer 7
Limited level of traffic control
High associated overhead since in proxy each packet is analyzed and then action performed.
Much simpler and very less associated overhead
Key Benefits
Improved security and control over end System access to outside world
NAT is hiding a number of private IPs behind a smaller number of public IPs to alleviate the shortage of IP addresses
Related terms
Explicit proxy, transparent proxy, caching, URL and content filtering
NAT overload, PAT , Static NAT etc.

Download the comparison table: Proxy vs NAT

Related –

What is Forward Proxy

VPN vs Proxy


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