Communication between devices is vital in today’s digital world. For this, we rely on communication protocols like SOCKS5 and others. These protocols provide the framework, guidelines, or code snippets that allow us to link and send information to and from various devices.
Simple communication protocols include the bare essentials. That usually means just facilitating data transmission. Others are more complex and may include encryption, authentication, and other security features.
SOCKS5 is more interesting since it’s capable of both. But is this protocol one that we can use to replace high-security services like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)? Let’s find out.
What Is SOCKS5?
SOCKS5 is a communication protocol used to transfer data through a proxy server. Aside from the basic feature of communication, SOCKS5 can also protect your privacy while using the Internet. The precise capabilities depend on how we configure SOCKS5.
Since its introduction, SOCKS5 has received various updates, including support for IPv6, HTTP authentication, and UDP. Today, we commonly see SOCKS5 when connecting to a proxy server, hence the term “SOCKS5 Proxy Server“.
How Does A SOCKS5 Proxy Server Work?
The SOCKS5 protocol works within a Client-Server model. The SOCKS5 proxy server is a gateway that facilitates connections between the server and the outside world. These connections happen on request by a Client device that connects to the SOCKS5 proxy server.
Because of this unique relationship, SOCKS5 proxy servers can somewhat increase the anonymity and security of the Client device. As an illustration, let’s take your device using a SOCKS5 proxy server.
In the process, this is what happens:
- Your device (the Client) connects to the SOCKS5 proxy server.
- Your device sends a request for a web page to the SOCKS5 proxy server.
- The SOCKS5 proxy server creates the connection to the web page and relays the information to your device.
Because the web page sees the connection from the proxy server, that server acts as a “shield,” preventing the web page from identifying your device.
Pros And Cons Of SOCKS5 Proxy Servers
While the SOCKS5 proxy server may sound great, it isn’t as fantastic as it may seem. After all, everything has pros and cons.
- ✓ Can bypass some censorship
- ✓ Offers good speeds
- ✓ Increases connection reliability
- ✓ Reduce data errors
- • Potentially risky
- • Easily blocked
Despite the risks, there are some use cases where SOCKS5 can play a role:
- File sharing/P2P/Torrenting
- Online gaming
It’s notable, however, that the best VPN services can provide these features and more at reasonable prices. You should consider reading our VPN beginner’s guide if you aren’t yet aware of VPN capabilities.
Should I Use A SOCKS5 Proxy Or A VPN?
The main similarity offered by a SOCKS5 proxy server and a VPN is anonymity. However, SOCKS5 proxy servers are far less secure and do not include data encryption. That means you run a risk that data stolen from your connection can be misused.
There is an even more significant difference when comparing reputable VPN services like ExpressVPN or NordVPN to a free SOCKS5 proxy server.
It’s not cheap to provide any kind of server. Hardware, software, and other costs quickly pile up. Operators of free SOCKS5 proxy servers need to recover their costs. The result is that many ultimately contain ad trackers, malware, or data loggers that steal data.
Whilst a good VPN will typically cost you an annual or monthly fee, these offer far superior protection than SOCKS5 proxies, and there are plenty of excellent cheap VPNs that can squeeze into most budgets.
For more in depth comparison between a Proxy and VPN – check out this article!
SOCKS5 VS HTTP Proxy: What’s The Difference?
Agility is the main difference between a SOCKS5 proxy server and an HTTP proxy. SOCKS5 proxies can handle all kinds of web traffic. HTTP proxy servers can only handle web pages (HTTP and HTTPS).
Because of their singular purpose, it’s notable that HTTP proxies are also generally faster than SOCKS5 proxy servers. On a side note, today’s fastest VPN services can easily match and surpass any of these options thanks to the Wireguard protocol.
We’ve covered more about these protocols in our guide “What are the best protocols for VPN?”
||No tunnel encryption
||Security layer can be added
||Agile enough to be general-purpose
||Only for HTTP and HTTPS traffic
How To Set Up And Use SOCKS5 Proxy
Most platforms today have a built-in option to use a proxy server. The setup process for it depends on what platform you’re using. Before using this setup process, you need to get your access credentials for a proxy server.
What you’ll need:
- IP address of the SOCKS5 proxy server
- Port number to use on the proxy server
- Username and password for authentication
1. Setting up a SOCKS 5 Proxy connection on Windows
Windows natively supports using proxy server accounts.
- Open your Windows Settings
- Select “Network & Internet -> Proxy“
- Click “Set up” on the “Use a proxy server” option
- Fill in the proxy server’s IP address and connection port number
- Click “Save“
2. Setting up a SOCKS 5 Proxy connection on macOS
The proxy setup process might differ slightly between major macOS versions.
- Open “Network Preferences -> Advanced -> Proxies“
- Click the “SOCKS Proxy” option
- Enter the server IP address and port number
- Click “Proxy server requires password” and enter your authentication details
- Click “OK“
SOCKS5 Has Uses But A VPN Offers More Security
There is often some confusion about SOCKS5 proxies and VPNs due to the availability of both free and commercial versions. The simple truth is that free services generally increase the risk of malware, data theft, and other potentially negative effects.
Regardless of that fact, many reputable VPN service providers today offer subscriptions at meager prices. The value of these VPNs service far surpasses what you can expect with any commercial proxy server.