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How does ngrok work?


ngrok operates a global network of servers called the ngrok edge where it accepts traffic to your upstream services from clients on the internet. The URLs that it receives traffic on are your endpoints. You configure modules that ngrok will use to authenticate, transform and accelerate that traffic as it is sent to your upstream service.

Unlike traditional reverse proxies, ngrok does not transmit traffic to your upstream services by forwarding to IP addresses. Instead, you run a small piece of software alongside your service that we call an agent which connects to ngrok's global service via secure, outbound persistent TLS connections. When traffic is received on your endpoints at the ngrok edge, it is transmitted to the agent via those TLS connections and finally from the agent to your upstream service.

You can choose how to run the agent software in different form factors. It's lightweight and easy to install.

  1. As a service: Run a small side process called the ngrok agent as a background OS service.
  2. As an interactive CLI: Run the ngrok agent interactively from the command line while developing and testing.
  3. As an SDK embedded in your app: Include a small Agent SDK library directly into your application software that returns a socket-like object.
  4. As a Kubernetes Controller: Run our Ingress Controller in a Kubernetes environment.

ngrok vs. Traditional reverse proxies

ngrok doesn't forward to IP addresses like traditional reverse proxies and instead sends connections to your upstream service via a lightweight piece of agent software running alongside or in your application.

This unique architecture confers several important benefits over the traditional model.

First, it means you can run your services anywhere—any cloud such as AWS or Azure, any application platform like Heroku, an on-prem data center, a Raspberry Pi in your home, or even on your laptop.

Second, it allows ngrok to provide ingress with zero networking configuration. You don't need to work with arcane networking primitives like DNS, IPs, Certificates or Ports. That configuration is pushed to ngrok's edge and it is all handled automatically for you.

Third, ngrok can protect you from attacks and enforce authentication without the concern that someone could 'go around' ngrok by discovering your upstream IP addresses.