Using URLConnection with a Proxy Server by Daniel Horn

By: Daniel Horn

Abstract: Using the Java URLConnection and HttpURLConnection classes with a proxy server is easy but poorly documented until now.

Using URLConnection with a Proxy Server

By Daniel Horn

Abstract: Using the Java URLConnection and HttpURLConnection classes with a proxy server is easy but poorly documented until now.


A simple way to get started writing network client applications is to use Javas URLConnection class. Given a URL, such as, a developer can create an instance of a URLConnection to retrieve information from an HTTP server.

In practice, a developer will often need to indicate a proxy server when making a network connection.While easy to do, telling a URLConnection to use a proxy server has been poorly documented -- possibly undocumented  until now.

Typically, corporate sites do not give individuals direct access to the Internet, but rather access is shared via a proxy server.  Basically, when a network client application makes an HTTP request, it instead will actually make the request to the proxy server; the proxy then makes the actual request to the Internet and passes the results back to the original client.

A program will sometimes use a system property to retrieve the JVMs proxy setting, perhaps set via a command line by something like:

java -Dhttp.proxyHost=myproxyhost MyClass

However, this is not good enough in many situations. The command line settings of Java and the program may be obscure enough that the user should not be adding to them. Or, perhaps, the program may be started by a script that the user cannot edit. Or, simply, the proxy settings needed in the program may have to be different from those used by default by Java.

As an example of this last case, consider that some proxy servers also provide caching functionality.  An application might need to preload a large Web objects (such as a large image file) onto a specific proxy-cache (or a list of proxy-caches).  One way of accomplishing this would be to make the URL request via the proxy (or make the request multiple times, assigning a different proxy address from the list each time).

(Note that this solution is far from optimal as the bytes needed to preload the proxy/cache still have to travel all the way back to the client).

In the example code we provide (, you will see how to specify the proxy server at run time.

How its done:

We use the Java URL and URLConnection classes to connect to a proxy.

Ordinarily, one might make a Web request using code that looks something like:

URL url = new URL(;
URLConnection c = url.openConnection();

To connect via a proxy, we use a different constructor for URL:

public URL(String protocol, String host, int port, String file);

In use, this might look like:

URL url = new URL(http,         // protocol,
        ,  // host name or IP of proxy server to use
                  -1,             // proxy port or 1 to indicate the default port for the protocol
        ;  // the original URL, specified in the file parameter

Thats pretty much all there is to it.

The example program,, demonstrates this usage in the doURLRequest(String strURL, String strProxy, int iProxyPort) method. The strURL argument is a string representing the URL to request. The strProxy should be the host name or IP address of the proxy to use, or null if the request is not to be made through a proxy. The iProxyPort is integer that is the port of the proxy server or 1 if the default port should be used (or if no proxy is to be used).

You must change the line

ProxyDemo.doURLRequest("", "", -1); // **** Change this line to use a valid proxy

to use a valid proxy. If you don't change the proxy setting to something valid, then you will get the following error message:

**** Connection failure: Cannot assign requested address: connect

How did I figure this out?

Basically I made a good guess, and fortunately, it worked.

When you make an HTTP GET request as indicated by some URL, say, you are really making a TCP request to the host indicated by and sending it an argument string that looks something like

    "GET /foo.html"

to indicate a path or file. (This is a gross simplification as I am omitting text that indicates the protocol, request headers, etc.). When you make the same request through a proxy, the proxy becomes the host for the request and the argument string becomes the original URL; e.g.,


In the JDK documentation for the URL class, I didnt find anything saying that I could or could not put a string such as as the file parameter to the URL constructor, so I just gave it a try and it worked.

Whats next?

There are several ways that the sample program could be expanded upon.

The sample program merely reads the response headers; this was done for the sake of simplicity (and for the sake of having it do something at all). The sample does not actually download, though with simple modifications, it could.

In practice, one would usually put the call to make the connection in a different thread than the applications main thread.

One might also consider making the class into a JavaBean component.

Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to the author at ; use the title of the article or the words BDN Article in the email subject.

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