What is a residential proxy? Here’s everything you need to know

A padlock against a black computer screen.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

What is a residential proxy?

A residential proxy is a type of proxy server. Proxy servers act as an intermediary for all the traffic between your devices and the websites you connect to. Using a proxy server means all your internet traffic looks like it’s coming from the proxy server’s location, improving online anonymity, and allowing access to geo-blocked content such as YouTube videos not available in your country.

Normally, proxy server providers route your traffic through a data center. Residential proxies instead route your traffic through computers or phones connected to typical home ISPs. This makes residential proxies even more anonymous, better hiding the fact you’re using a proxy and minimizing the chance your connection will be blocked.

Reader Offer: Smartproxy: Exclusive  50% discountTECHRADAR

Reader Offer: Smartproxy: Exclusive  50% discount
Get an exclusive 50% discount for all Smartproxy subscriptions with code TECHRADAR and start using proxies from only $6/month.

Preferred partner (What does this mean?) 

What does a residential proxy do?

  • Funnels your data through one of many intermediary devices.
  • Proxies your connection via a real device connected to a residential internet service provider (ISP).
  • Hides your real internet protocol (IP) address from the resources you connect to.
  • Makes your requests look like other typical connections.
  • Greatly lowers the chance your proxy connection will be recognized and blocked.

Features and benefits of a residential proxy

Residential proxies conceal your identity
By connecting through a residential proxy, the websites you visit will never be able to see your real IP address, masking your internet browsing activity.

Residential proxies supercharge web scraping
Pulling publicly available data from websites can be a goldmine of useful information, but if you do it from a single IP address, you may be quickly blocked by web-scraping detection software. 

By connecting through a residential proxy, your IP address changes each time, making your web scraping virtually impossible to block.

Residential proxies are far less likely to be blocked
Traditional data center proxies use a small number of IP addresses, making it relatively simple for websites to block if they wish. Residential proxy services often have tens of thousands of IP addresses in hundreds of locations worldwide, which makes blocking them more challenging.

You can have multiple IP addresses at the same time
Good residential proxy services enable you to connect through an unlimited number of IP addresses at the same time. You can automate hundreds of connections from one location. This is great for managing several social media accounts at the same time without being flagged by the provider as suspicious, for instance.

Residential proxies are fast
Compared to virtual private networks (VPNs) and shared proxies, residential proxies typically offer faster speeds as there’s less overhead, and fewer people use the same servers concurrently.

How much does a residential proxy cost?

Residential proxies cost significantly more than data center proxies on a per-month, per-GB basis, but typically offer better results because the proxy connection is better masked.

As an example, the Wise datacenter proxy plan from Smartproxy costs $200/month for 400GB. In comparison, the Starter residential proxy plan, also $200/month, only includes 20GB. 

You can choose the more economical Micro residential proxy plan, which is $75/month for 5GB of data. For many business applications, this amount of monthly data will be more than enough.

Residential proxy FAQ

What are residential proxies used for?

Residential proxies can be used by individuals and businesses for any application where they want traffic to appear as if it’s coming from another location. Residential proxies are used heavily in digital advertising, affiliate testing, market price monitoring, web scraping, and social media automation.

The use of residential proxies is entirely legal. Of course, you shouldn’t use a residential proxy to perform any illegal activity. 

For example, residential proxies are often used to make web scraping harder for websites to block. It’s legal to use a residential proxy to scrape websites that are publicly available, but illegal to scrape content from private websites.

What’s the difference between residential proxy and VPN?

A proxy will route all your internet traffic through an intermediary device. A VPN service performs a similar role but also encrypts all the data being transferred. This is more secure but has more overhead.

Residential proxies are the best choice for those looking to perform hundreds or thousands of requests, as they’re typically cheaper and faster than VPNs at scale. VPNs are a better choice for personal use, protecting yourself from hackers, and preventing ISP tracking.

You can read more about the differences in our guide on proxies vs VPNs.

What is a rotating residential proxy?

A rotating residential proxy gives you a new IP address from a pool each time you make a new connection. If you run a script to scrape content from a thousand pages of web content, for example, those connections will be sent from up to a thousand different connections. This type of proxy is difficult to track and block.

How long do residential proxies last?

With a good residential proxy service, you can set how long your IP address will remain constant before being assigned a new one. Typically, there’s a maximum of around 30 minutes. Rotating residential proxies change the IP address for every request you make.

Main takeaways

  • Proxy services route all your web traffic through intermediary devices connected to the internet.
  • In the case of residential proxies, these devices are physical, not virtual, and they’re connected to the internet through traditional ISPs.
  • Using a residential proxy offers excellent anonymity.
  • Services you connect to via a residential proxy are unlikely to be able to tell you’re using a proxy.
  • Residential proxies have several functions in business, from ad verification and web scraping to market price monitoring and internet marketing.

Further reading

So you can better understand the roles of virtual private networks and proxies, we’ve put together a guide on the difference between a VPN and a proxy. You can read about how VPNs keep your data safe through the use of encrypted tunnels, and our pick of the best free and paid proxies available today.

Richard Sutherland

Richard brings over 20 years of website development, SEO, and marketing to the table. A graduate in Computer Science, Richard has lectured in Java programming and has built software for companies including Samsung and ASDA. Now, he writes for TechRadar, Tom's Guide, PC Gamer, and Creative Bloq.