Blocked websites are an unfortunate reality of the online world — so much so that almost everyone runs into a block at one point or another. Thankfully, there are tons of handy tools and methods for bypassing blocks and accessing restricted content.
If you can’t access your favorite website, you’re not alone. Over 76% of Internet users live in countries with at least some form of online censorship. Plus, even if you don’t live somewhere with censorship, you’ve probably encountered blocks from work, school, and other places.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the many tools and methods available for unblocking websites from any device. Before we can do that, however, we’ll first have to find out why (and how) your favorite websites get blocked. Read on to learn more and start unblocking.
Why Am I Getting Blocked From a Website?
While blocks can happen for any number of reasons, it’s usually because someone is trying to prevent you from accessing a certain website or app.
Most blocks fall into one of three major categories: Being blocked by the network you’re using (such as the WiFi at your work or school) or being blocked by the website itself. Finally, your internet service provider (ISP) or government may even block you.
No matter the block, there’s usually a workaround. However, the workaround you use depends on the type of block and what you’re trying to access. Read on to learn more about the different types of blocks and what tools you can use to bypass them.
It’s Blocked by Your Work or School
Almost everyone has had content blocked by their work or school. But why are these blocks in place, and how do they work?
The reasoning is pretty easy to guess: Schools and workplaces have a vested interest in keeping students and employees productive. As a result, they place heavy blocks on certain kinds of websites, such as social networks and online games.
Usually, your school or work network blocks websites by URL. That means whenever you enter an address into your browser — the network compares this address to its blocklist. If the address is on the blocklist, it restricts access and blocks you.
A common way around these blocks is to reroute your browsing through a third party, such as a proxy or virtual private network (VPN).
It’s Blocked by the Government
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, most of the world’s population faces a block imposed by governments. But why?
The exact answer may vary, but it all boils down to a common trend: Governments have a vested interest in preserving their reputation among their citizens. As a result, many governments restrict access to websites that share embarrassing or incriminating information about past events.
One of the most famous examples of a government block is the “Great Firewall” of China, which was quickly implemented after the Internet first arrived in the country in the early 1990s. The intention of the firewall is to block foreign websites and cross-border traffic that go against China’s constitution and censorship objectives.
Because of the Great Firewall, China’s population of nearly 1.5 billion people can’t access popular websites such as Google and Facebook. However, this hasn’t stopped them: 29% of Internet users in China bypass blocks with a VPN.
Of course, China is far from the only country that restricts its citizens’ Internet access. No matter the country, however, the blocks are usually the same, with government networks filtering web traffic based on URLs and host IP addresses.
VPNs are usually the best way to bypass government blocks. However, some users can get by using proxies and other methods.
It’s Blocked by Your ISP
While not nearly as common as the other types of blocks we’ve discussed so far, many users face blocks from their Internet service provider (ISP).
While the reasons for ISP blocks can vary, they’re usually meant to prevent web traffic that could violate local laws or the provider’s terms of service. In contrast to government-level “hard blocks,” ISP “soft blocks” are typically easier to bypass with VPNs, proxies, and other methods. Simply switching DNS servers can even bypass some ISP blocks.
Many Internet users aren’t even aware that they’re being blocked by their ISP. One common reason is that these blocks can be a valuable add-on service meant to safeguard your browsing experience. However, some ISPs may also restrict access to safeguard their own interests.
But how do you know if your ISP is behind a block? While it isn’t always easy to tell, you can usually conclude that a block is from an ISP if you can’t access a website on an otherwise unrestricted network. For example, if you live in a country without censorship and aren’t using a work or school network, then any blocks you experience are likely coming from your ISP.
Many websites block traffic from entire countries or regions. Also known as ”geo-restriction,” this type of block is common on streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, and more.
Why bother blocking foreign traffic? Streaming services, in particular, must also follow distribution laws that dictate which countries and regions can access certain content. These laws are why your Netflix experience often changes when you enter a new country — even on the same account.
As you may have guessed, bypassing geo-restrictions requires accessing the website from an “approved” country. While that may seem impossible without travel, VPNs and proxies offer this capability by rerouting your traffic through remote foreign servers.
Another reason for other sites is that too much foreign traffic can overwhelm server resources.
Sometimes blocks come from a website itself. Many popular websites such as Omegle and Twitter can ban users for violating their terms of service or promoting illegal activity.
In this case, it’s pretty easy to tell if you’re banned. But how can you get around it?
The answer varies depending on the website and the method of the ban. Account-based services such as Twitter will simply ban the account itself, meaning that you won’t be able to bypass it by simply using a VPN. Instead, you’ll have to create a new account altogether.
However, many bans are based on the user’s IP address. Instead of banning an account, a website may instead ban all traffic from the user’s IP address. VPNs and proxies are great ways to bypass these bans since they can effectively change your IP address by rerouting your traffic.
Can You Unblock a Website?
Yes, but it depends on the block. VPNs and proxies can usually bypass most restrictions, but it’s not always guaranteed.
As we’ll see in the next section, unblocking capability can vary widely between different providers and software packages. To make things even more difficult, many popular web services are constantly on the lookout for VPN and proxy server IPs, resulting in a never-ending struggle to maintain a vast pool of functional addresses.
Thankfully, even if a VPN or proxy doesn’t work for a certain service, there are still plenty of ways to bypass blocks. Read on to learn more about VPNs, proxies, and some effective alternatives to unblocking your favorite websites.
Top 4 Ways To Unblock Websites
VPNs and proxies are the most popular and effective tools for unblocking websites. However, many users also achieve great results from anonymous browsers such as DuckDuckGo. While there are many other methods for unblocking websites, these four are the most widely used.
1. Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs are by far the most popular tool for unblocking websites. However, bypassing blocks is just a byproduct of their functionality.
True to its name, a virtual private network reroutes your traffic through its own set of secure servers, effectively extending the private network of your home, school, or work onto a virtual public network. In other words, where your traffic would normally be sent directly to a website, a VPN steps in as a “middleman” that takes your data and resends it.
Unlike a proxy, a VPN also encrypts your outgoing traffic. As a result, both your traffic and your identity stay private and secure. As we’ll see later, this is part of the key to accessing blocked websites.
The process may sound a bit complicated, but it’s actually fairly straightforward:
- You open the VPN client on your desktop or web browser.
- The VPN client encrypts your outbound traffic. Depending on the provider, you may also be able to specify which apps will use the VPN (this option is known as “split tunneling”).
- Your encrypted traffic gets sent to the VPN’s network of secure servers. Like with any connection, your traffic is divided into “packets,” each of which includes source and destination IP addresses. Here, the source IP address is that of your private home, work, or school network.
- The VPN server removes your source IP address from each packet and replaces it with its own. In doing so, the receiving end will think that your traffic came from the VPN server, not your computer.
- Your traffic is decrypted and received by the recipient, who won’t be aware of its true source.
Okay, so maybe not entirely straightforward. However, you likely won’t need to worry about the details of the process. Once it’s up and running, you’ll be able to browse normally while the VPN encrypts and reroutes your traffic behind the scenes.
That’s all well and good, but how does that process unblock websites?
The answer is in your IP. As many blocks and bans are IP-based (websites use it to deduce your location), replacing your IP address during rerouting is usually enough to slip through restrictions. However, as most major websites are constantly trying to block access from known VPN servers, providers need to maintain large networks of distributed servers in order to secure access.
Server numbers and capabilities vary widely between different VPN providers, however. Even a quick search for a VPN will yield hundreds of different options, with each provider having a different number and variety of servers.
As you might imagine, price also varies with performance, with top providers charging $10 or more per month to use networks with thousands of secure VPN servers. While there are some free VPNs, they often aren’t robust — and many people turn to proxies for free unblocking.
Like a VPN, a proxy also reroutes traffic through its own servers — but with a few key differences.
The biggest difference is that proxies don’t encrypt data as VPNs do. As a result, your traffic is fully visible to third parties, which can pose additional security risks if you’re using a less-than-reputable provider. Users should be careful when typing passwords or sending other secure information while using a proxy.
Most proxies also offer far fewer servers than the average VPN provider. While you may still be able to unblock websites, they probably won’t be as reliable as using a VPN.
However, these drawbacks don’t mean that proxies don’t have their place. Since they’re free and widely available, proxies offer a quick way to unblock websites and preserve anonymity. Just be careful when sending secure data and be prepared to try many different servers before you’re able to access restricted content.
3. VPN/Proxy Browser Extension
Many VPNs and proxies can also come as browser extensions (rather than full-fledged software tools).
These are a great option for unblocking websites. Conventional VPNs will reroute your entire connection rather than traffic sent from individual apps. While some providers do allow users to pick and choose which apps use the VPN network, you may have to pay extra for the privilege.
Another benefit of browser extensions is that they won’t slow down your connection speed for other apps. Since VPNs add an extra step between source and destination, a slightly slower connection is always expected. However, if only the web browser is using the VPN, you’ll maintain a high connection speed for other apps while you unblock websites from the browser.
The difference isn’t quite as significant for proxies, however. Since most proxies are usually free and often overused, there’s little difference in connection speed unless the browser extension provides access to premium proxy servers.
Short for “The Onion Router,” Tor is a free, open-source network dedicated to preserving online anonymity. While its primary purpose is hiding your identity, it also has the benefit of unblocking websites by rerouting your traffic through its vast network of relays.
While that may sound a lot like a VPN or proxy, it’s not quite the same. Where VPNs and proxies use dedicated servers, the Tor network relies on a large overlay network run entirely by volunteers.
Using the Tor network is free and easy. You can access the network by downloading the Tor browser and simply selecting a connection. While some countries block Tor itself, you can bypass these blocks by configuring Tor to use its own network during the download. After installation, you’re good to go.
Tor does have some drawbacks, however. In order to keep your identity private, the Tor browser will often block media plugins (such as Flash) that could be manipulated into revealing identifying information. Similarly, it also automatically disables scripts, resulting in a slightly less feature-rich browsing experience.
Other Ways to Unblock Websites
While using VPNs, proxies, and the Tor network are all great ways to unblock websites, they’re not the only option — and they may even be unnecessary in certain situations.
Before shelling out for a premium VPN or replacing your favorite web browser with Tor, consider some of these simpler alternatives.
Switch from HTTP to HTTPS
One of the easiest ways to unblock certain websites is to simply switch to its HTTPS version. To do this, simply replace the “http://” in the URL with “https://”.
These days, it’s not a surefire solution as HTTPS has become the standard for most websites. But it can be an effective way to bypass blocks on work or school networks.
In these cases, administrators usually specify a complete URL (e.g., http://www.blocked-website.com/) when adding a site to their network’s blocklist. Administrators may forget to include the HTTPS variation, offering you a convenient workaround.
Use the Website’s IP Address
Similar to switching to HTTPS, you can also try using the website’s IP address instead of its URL.
To find a website’s URL, use any of the methods outlined here. Simply enter the IP address into your browser, and you should be able to access the website unless your network administrator has done the due diligence to also block the IP.
For example, one of several IP addresses for the Google homepage is 184.108.40.206. Try entering this address in your browser instead of google.com — you’ll wind up at the same place.
URL shorteners like TinyURL provide another way to bypass certain blocks.
These services take an existing URL and return a shortened version that automatically redirects you to the original website. In doing so, you’re only connecting to the shortened URL and not the original, which may be blocked by your administrator. As a result, URL shorteners can sometimes do the trick for URL-based blocks and blocklists, depending on how they’re enforced.
Change Your DNS Server
Switching to a different Domain Name System (DNS) server is an effective way to unblock websites if you’ve been IP banned.
Without getting too technical, your DNS server is responsible for linking URLs to their IP address(es) (e.g., google.com to 220.127.116.11). Since private networks and ISPs manage blocks from their DNS servers, switching to a public one is usually a good workaround.
You can switch to a different DNS server by entering its IP address in your computer’s network settings. One of the most popular (and easy to remember) choices is Google’s public DNS server, which has an IP of 18.104.22.168.
Submitting a URL to online translators such as Google Translate provides an alternative link that can evade many blocking filters. Simply enter the URL into the translation field, select your language, and let the translator work its magic.
Caches and Website Archives
Google Cache and archive.org’s Wayback Machine store copies of every website they crawl, which are available to the public. Since you don’t need the original URL to access a cached website, it’s an effective method for viewing blocked websites — albeit older versions.
The Opera browser includes a free built-in VPN, making it a quick and easy way to unblock websites without purchasing an expensive subscription. However, be careful: According to some reviews, it’s not the best option for securing your privacy or accessing streaming services such as Netflix.
Though there are many ways to unblock websites, VPNs remain the most popular and effective solution. With top providers offering thousands of servers spread across global networks, a VPN is a great way to access restricted content and even secure your privacy.
However, proxies, Tor, and the other tools and methods we’ve covered can also do a great job in many situations. No matter what you use, remember that the key to unblocking websites is either changing your IP address or trying an alternative URL.