What is a SOCKS Proxy and How Does it Work?

Keelan Balderson
Keelan Balderson

Updated · Aug 08, 2022

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Want to browse the internet with more privacy and freedom? Well, today, we’ll dig into what a SOCKS connection is and how it works. We’ll also cover its different types, benefits, providers, and more.

Let’s get started!

What Is a SOCKS Proxy?

A SOCKS (Socket Secure) proxy is an internet protocol that exchanges network packets between the client and server via a proxy. It’s a way of masking the origin of internet traffic. 

For example, a SOCKS proxy located in a country whose content is blocked in your own will let you bypass the block and view the content. I.e., accessing the US version of Netflix from Europe. It can be part of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) but also performs similar functions independent of one.

For everyday users, the SOCKS proxy protocol can be used by browsers and torrent clients, though it doesn‘t encrypt data.

It does, however, use three authentication methods with varying degrees of security.

  • Null – no user authentication is necessary to connect to the server.
  • GSS-API –  the client and server use operating system-level authentication.
  • Username and Password – you need to provide login credentials.

How a SOCKS Proxy Works?

SOCKS proxies typically work by installing them on a browser or P2P file sharing client like BitTorrent. A SOCKS connection first makes a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) connection with the proxy server. Then the user’s computer can communicate with the proxy, which passes the data onto its intended destination.

SOCKS is known as a layer 5 protocol, meaning it ignores anything lower in the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. This excludes tunneling protocols below level 5, pinging, and address resolution. 

However, it can process :

  • HTTP
  • HTTPS 
  • POP3
  • SMTP 
  • And FTP 

This makes it perfect for browsing the web, accessing web hosting and other servers via FTP clients, and P2P file sharing. 

Versions of SOCKS Proxy

So, what is a SOCKS proxy when it comes to different versions? Simply put, there are two that function slightly differently and offer varying degrees of authentication. 

SOCKS4

SOCKS4 is less common and more limited. It doesn’t support authentication (is Null) or UDP proxies. User Datagram Protocol (UDP) is a fast, low-latency protocol commonly used in streaming, gaming, and file sharing.

SOCKS5

Conversely, the SOCKS protocol’s most recent version is called SOCKS5. By enabling SOCKS proxy UDP and TCP and providing more authentication options than SOCKS4, it outperforms SOCKS4 in every way.

It’s essentially a VPN alternative. It employs a proxy server to redirect packets between a server and a client. This indicates that your true IP address is concealed and that you access the internet using the IP address the proxy service has given you.

SOCKS5 offers improved security and authenticates using either Username and Password or the GSS-API method.

How to Setup SOCKS5?

If you’re interested in giving it a go, setting up a SOCKS5 proxy isn’t too challenging.

First, you require a server that will function as your proxy. You may either create one yourself or utilize a free proxy. Below we look at both premium and free SOCKS5 services.

After you’ve configured the server, load a webpage to try it out. If your proxy server won’t connect, try another one or double-check your proxy settings. 

Here’s how to use SOCKS5 for different applications and OSes:

Browser

Nowadays, most browsers enable you to provide a proxy server’s information in its settings. Using a free Chrome SOCKS proxy extension is a great way to start. You can also get similar add-ons for Firefox.

Windows

Additionally, OSes like Windows 10 natively support proxy addresses. 

For Windows SOCKS Proxy setup, do the following:

  1. Select Internet Options under Control Panel.
  2. Click the Connections tab.
  3. Navigate to LAN settings.
  4. Check Enable proxy server.
  5. Check Use a proxy server for your LAN.
  6. Click Advanced settings.
  7. Uncheck Use the same proxy server for all protocols.
  8. Delete all proxy addresses except for SOCKS.
  9. Type in your SOCKS address and port.
  10. Click OK.

MacOS

Setting up SOCKS proxy on Mac requires the following steps:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Choose Advanced from the Network’s menu.
  3. Select the Proxies tab.
  4. Put a check next to SOCKS Proxy and enter your SOCKS proxy info.
  5. Don’t forget to click Apply.

VPN SOCKS Proxy

In addition, if you subscribe to a VPN provider that offers the service, you may also create a SOCKS proxy through a VPN app.

Why Adopt SOCKS5?

Apart from being a reliable security measure, SOCKS5 also has the following benefits:

Bypass Internet Blocks

A SOCKS proxy server can easily get you around internet bans since it functions as a relay between your device and the internet.

For instance, you might route your traffic through a SOCKS5 server to bypass a ban if a certain website has blacklisted your real IP address.

Access Firewalled Backend Services

A cluster is often housed in the cloud behind a firewall to reduce potential security flaws. Any backend services that are active inside a cluster can be accessed in one of two ways, each with specific restrictions:

  • Exposing backend services to the public (while accepting the security risk involved); or:
  • Allowing traffic to backend services and whitelisting the IP address of the client or user (not the best course of action when a user’s IP changes).

You can replace these two unfavorable alternatives with a SOCKS5 that uses SSH (Secure Shell) for dynamic port forwarding. It works without exposing backend ports or whitelisting particular IPs. An administrator or developer can access any backend services inside the cluster for debugging, monitoring, and administration from a public network.

Easy Setup and no VPN Required

Admins and developers can use an SSH tunnel without needing any VPNs, easily accessing firewalled backend resources. This doesn’t require any specialized setup, so long as you already have access to a cluster’s Edge node or gateway. The SOCKS proxy port is usually 1080.

Great Performance

SOCKS5 is faster and more efficient than other types of proxy as it doesn’t rewrite data packets. This also results in fewer errors. For P2P users, it also means faster download speeds.

Less Third-Party Involvement

SOCKS5 handles TCP, UDP, and types of proxy routes directly via SSH tunneling. So, you don’t need to use additional application layer 7 or third-party proxies to deploy traffic.

SOCKS vs. HTTP Proxy

The main argument for SOCKS5 proxies is that they can handle any traffic, contrasting with HTTP proxies, which can only decipher and process HTTP and HTTPS URLs.

High-level proxies like HTTP are often created for a particular protocol. They’re less adaptable and secure than SOCKS proxies, despite the fact that you get faster connection speeds. Low-level SOCKS proxies are able to handle any software, protocol, and traffic volume without issues.

Performance

If speed is your top priority, private and premium proxies are the best option.

HTTP proxies can speed up and improve performance in two ways. They can filter data or cache web pages. As a result, they enable you to handle more requests per second.

However, for general downloading, transferring, and uploading content online, SOCKS proxies are a better option since they’re simpler to use and faster out of the gate.

Security

The entire point of using a proxy is to protect internet privacy and security. HTTP and SOCKS5 proxies both operate as an intermediary between clients and servers to secure online actions and make them difficult to track.

Due to their capacity to comprehend and filter data packets, HTTP proxies are frequently used for email protection and cybersecurity initiatives. Additionally, this might be helpful for data mining and web scraping tasks.

Function

Even though HTTP proxies can only handle HTTP(S) traffic, there are many other ways to configure them. HTTP proxies can also detect repeated requests and cache responses. That’s possible because they can actually decipher network data between a client and a web server.

When it comes to SOCKS proxies, they’re less dependent on certain network protocols and may be used more freely. They’re ideal for accessing connections behind firewalls since they don’t interpret network traffic at all.

Should You Use SOCKS5 with a VPN?

You may fake your geolocation by using the SOCKS5 proxy offered by your VPN to access geo-blocked websites and get a new IP address. Just keep in mind that a SOCKS5 doesn’t protect you when an ISP or government eavesdrop on your activities, so it may not be ideal for use by itself.

Together (with a VPN), you get extra protection and benefits like:

  • Strengthening the killswitch
  • Making VPN usage more difficult to detect
  • Decreasing the number of CAPTCHAs you’ll face while browsing.

Best SOCKS5 Providers

Premium proxy services cost money but have more functionality and better performance. Moreover, you can typically select from a variety of locales and IP addresses for online anonymity

Here are some of our top choices:

IPRoyal

IPRoyal offers SOCKS proxy, HTTPS protocols, and 4G mobile proxies. Additionally, a P2P network with a pool of over two million IPs ensures high performance. IPRoyal also has caching tools to boost internet speeds and conserve bandwidth.

Oxylabs

Oxylabs targets web scraping users. It offers readily available scrapers for search engines or e-commerce websites. Moreover, you can pick between datacenter and residential IPs. 

Hide.me

For a free service, Hide.me is up there with the premium providers. Its SOCKS5 support is tailored for BitTorrent and streaming, and you get a dedicated IP, WebRTC, and auto-connect. Its speeds are surprisingly fast, and you get unlimited browsing, all free.

Wrap Up

Now you know what a SOCKS proxy is – a straightforward, all-purpose proxy solution that uses a tunneling technique. It’s easily set up across applications and can handle a variety of traffic produced by different protocols. It also boosts performance, privacy, and security and can be a great alternative to VPN services.

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Keelan Balderson

Keelan Balderson

A qualified journalist and longtime web content writer, Keelan has a passion for exploring information and learning new things. If he's not writing or pushing his own brands, you'll find him watching pro wrestling or trying not to rant about politics online.

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