The SOCKS5 proxy often pops up when discussing Internet circumvention tools. It’s right up there with VPN services. In this article, we’re closely examining the two to find out what they bring to the table and which is better for browsing the Internet, accessing streaming services, and downloading or uploading torrents.
Making a choice between a SOCKS5 proxy and a VPN service depends on what you want to do with it. The main difference between the two is that SOCKS5 offers enhanced Internet speed while VPN provides you with better security. But we’re taking them apart in this article to find out the pros and cons of each method.
Here’s a glimpse of what you get (click to jump to topic):
- Combining SOCKS5 with VPNs
- SOCKS5 vs VPN: Who is the winner
SOCKS5 is an Internet protocol like HTTP, SSL or FTP, which was approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1996. It’s a proxy implementation that supersedes SOCKS and SOCKS4. Because it adds authentication, only users who pass the authorization stage gain access to the proxy server.
Connecting to the online environment through a SOCKS5 proxy is useful for getting passed firewalls and masking your IP address. In a previous article, we argued against using free proxies. But SOCKS5 is at the top of the chain of free proxies, thanks to supported authentication.
Although it’s safer to use than others, SOCKS5 cannot encrypt the network traffic as VPNs. Your IP address will be hidden, but all other information such as location will still be exposed. Additionally, the protocol doesn’t run through every application, so you have to be careful with the Internet-enabled tools that aren’t connected via SOCKS5 since they will keep distributing your real IP address.
How it works
Acting on behalf of the client, a SOCKS server sets up a general-purpose connection to another server via TCP. Then it directs all traffic exchanged between the client and server. It’s compatible with any network protocol and port, including TCP, UDP, IPv6, FTP, HTTP, SMTP, Telnet, SSH, DNS, POP3, and IMAP. What Version 5 does is integrate security features and UDP support. Thanks to this, SOCKS5 is thought out to be the most versatile server protocol.
The proxy forms a tunnel between the client and SOCKS5 server for carrying network traffic. Subsequently, SOCKS5 conceals your IP address and ensures that it cannot be associated with your browsing activities. Further, it doesn’t attempt to analyze and filter the traffic, making it ideal for clients who cannot pass through firewalls to reach TCP servers under normal circumstances. It works with any website.
SOCKS5 vs HTTP: What’s the difference?
An HTTP proxy works similarly to SOCKS5 when it comes to creating outbound TCP connections and gaining access to servers beyond the firewall. However, the most significant difference is that the HTTP proxy carefully inspects and filters the network traffic to only process requests made by the HTTP protocol.
The SOCKS5 proxy is better for acquiring raw, unfiltered data that you wish to process manually. Meanwhile, the HTTP protocol is a faster solution for leaving out any irrelevant data outside of HTTP, great for users who want to save a lot of time. It can identify duplicate requests to reply from the cache, thus boosting performance by eliminating unnecessary resource-consuming operations. HTTP is more intelligent but less secure than SOCKS5.
SOCKS5: More speed but less security
Thanks to the fact that it doesn’t encrypt network traffic, SOCKS5 is ideal for events that need you to swiftly change your IP address, like downloading a file that was otherwise blocked due to geographical reasons, firewall restrictions, or too many requests originating from your IP. It’s also an excellent solution for downloading or uploading torrents, as long as they have nothing to do with copyrighted material.
Unfortunately, SOCKS5 loses points when it comes to security since it doesn’t interpret the network traffic flowing between the server and client. It’s normal. Otherwise, users wouldn’t get to take advantage of its speed. But caution is advised for torrenting risky content that might draw the attention of your ISP. Otherwise, you might end up receiving warning letters. Third parties like your ISP can still monitor your browsing activity.
Advantages of using SOCKS5
- Hides your IP address and doesn’t hamper your connection speed because it doesn’t encrypt the network traffic.
- Unlocks websites which are otherwise unavailable to you due to geographical restrictions or censorship.
- Excellent for establishing TCP connections outside the firewall.
- Excellent speed for downloading or uploading torrents.
- Excellent solution when more bandwidth is required (if you are using a limited data plan, for example).
- Some torrent trackers halt operations if SOCKS5 is not enabled.
- More secure than other proxy servers.
- Works with both TCP and UDP connections.
- There are tons of websites offering free SOCK5 proxy lists, like Socks-Proxy, Proxy-List, SocksList and ProxyRack.
- Easy to configure and doesn’t need you to install additional applications. You can manually set up SOCKS5 within your web browser, add a free proxy browser extension, or quickly install apply a proxy configuration to your torrent client.
Disadvantages of using SOCKS5
- Cannot encrypt your network traffic.
- Cannot protect you from hackers when connecting to public hotspots. They might sniff your network to find login data and credit card info.
- Cannot hide your browsing activity from your ISP or prevent bandwidth throttling.
- Cannot preserve your anonymity when downloading or uploading torrents with copyright material.
- Not efficient for unlocking streaming content on sites such as Netflix, which quickly identifies and blocks proxy servers.
- Some torrent trackers block SOCKS5 proxies.
A virtual private network application can achieve the same purpose of SOCKS5: hiding your IP address. But it also throws encryption into the mix. A VPN encapsulates data packets in protected layers before sending a message across the web. To complete the task, it also decodes the encrypted layers to extract the data packets after the message is received. In this way, the VPN creates a secure tunnel and obfuscates traffic.
Downloading or uploading torrents with questionable content won’t be a problem anymore. You will be able to access The Pirate Bay, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and anything else blocked in your country. Plus, streaming services like Netflix or BBC iPlayer have a more difficult time detecting and blocking VPN servers since a team of professionals continuously maintains them.
Advantages of using VPN
- Can hide your IP address and encrypt your network traffic, too.
- Prevents your ISP from snooping around to see what websites you’re visiting.
- Protects you from hackers when traveling and connecting to public Wi-Fi, like airports, hotels, coffee shops, and rest areas.
- Keeps you safe from government surveillance, particularly if you’re living in a 5, 9, 14 Eyes country.
- Helps you get around Netflix blocks to unlock movies and TV shows that are not available to your country.
- Offers servers from many countries to connect.
Disadvantages of using VPN
- Slower Internet connections, especially when using a faulty configuration.
- Excellent service is not cheap. You would have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to benefit from round-the-clock VPN features.
- Free VPNs can cause disastrous effects on uninformed users since these services might collect and sell your data to marketing companies, or turn you into an endpoint to improve the bandwidth of premium users.
If you need help choosing the best VPN application, make sure to check out our top-ranked recommendations: ExpressVPN, NordVPN, CyberGhost VPN, Mullvad VPN and Surfshark. Click the names to read their reviews, including ratings, speed and leak tests.
Combining SOCKS5 with VPNs
Many VPN apps have built-in support for SOCKS5 proxies and may offer predefined proxy lists or let you add custom configurations. Fair warning, though: many of these VPN providers claim to bring you “lightning-fast speed and maximum privacy” when using VPN with SOCKS5. But it’s impossible.
Using a SOCKS5 to speed up data transfers is redundant if the VPN is allowed to encrypt the data before transferring it. Encryption takes time and cannot be alleviated with SOCKS5. Besides, if the VPN service comes with SOCKS5 support, you would benefit from free public proxy lists, at most, since maintaining premium SOCKS5 proxies is costly for a VPN provider.
Backup measure in case of VPN connection drops
A VPN does the same job as SOCKS5 (and more). Even so, there are a couple of benefits to using VPNs together with SOCKS5 proxies. The first case is when a torrent tracker specifically requires SOCKS5.
The second case is to create an extra layer of security when the VPN connection drops unexpectedly: instead of immediately exposing your real IP address, it switches to the SOCKS5 proxy. It’s not a foolproof method because it cannot hide anything else other than your IP address (like real location), but it’s still better than nothing.
SOCKS5 vs VPN: Who is the winner
Although VPN is the clear winner since it can do everything that SOCKS5 can and more, the proxy shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s ideal for minimal risk scenarios, like downloading a file that was made unavailable due to too many requests, or joining a poll and adding more votes. You can even try accessing the Netflix library from another country (like the USA) since it’s not illegal and doesn’t damage streaming speed as VPNs.
But when it boils down to serious online business that might put you on the radar of your ISP, government or a law firm seeking compensation because you illegally downloaded a movie, there’s no question about it: VPN is the way to go.
Overall, SOCKS5 is no match to VPN’s capabilities. Customized with the right protocol and encryption mode, a VPN service can deliver Internet speed close to SOCKS5 but with emphasis on protecting your privacy and security.
What’s your take on this? Leave us a comment below.