Proxy servers, which are intermediaries that route Internet traffic through themselves and in some cases hide IP addresses associated with outgoing requests, perform numerous functions that benefit entire industries.
For example, by masking the IP addresses and assigning new ones, proxies effectively anonymize Internet browsing, making them ideal for web scraping or bypassing geo-restrictions. Of course, there are different types of proxies, which function differently from each other. This article takes a closer look at the specifics of one of these types – SOCKS proxies – in addition to discussing the differences between SOCKS and HTTP proxies.
What is a SOCKS proxy?
A SOCKS proxy is a server that, using the socket-secure protocol, routes traffic through itself for the primary purpose of bypassing firewalls. The proxy establishes a tripartite communication between itself, the web client and a server. The SOCKS proxy accomplishes this by establishing a Transmission Control Protocol connection, which acts as a path through which data packets are sent.
How SOCKS Proxies Work
While it helps to bypass firewalls, the SOCKS proxy, also known as a SOCKS4 proxy, has some limitations. For instance, it doesn’t support authentication, which means it falls behind in terms of security. Second, it does not support User Datagram Protocol (UDP), a layer four protocol that, like TCP, helps manage Internet traffic and communications between a web server and a client. This second limitation means that SOCKS4 proxies cannot easily distinguish the requests routed through themselves. The solution: the SOCKS5 proxy.
The SOCKS5 proxy supports authentication and UDP. The latter improves efficiency because UDP sends datagrams (messages), which are better methods of communication than the individual data packets sent by TCP. And while the UDP doesn’t guarantee that the data will be delivered, it can perform verification to ensure that the data arrived intact. Second, UDP assigns port numbers that help distinguish different user requests. SOCKS5 proxies initiate the connection over TCP and then send messages over UDP.
Features of SOCKS proxies
SOCKS proxies have the following characteristics/characteristics:
- SOCKS and SOCKS5 proxies support different types of requests and protocols, including HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, POP3, and SMTP
- They are flexible because they do not depend on just one protocol
- They can handle higher volumes of internet traffic (because they can handle multiple types of requests and protocols)
- SOCKS5 proxies support authentication
- SOCKS proxies send data via Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), while SOCKS5 proxies send data via TCP and User Datagram Protocol (UDP)
- SOCKS proxies are extremely fast, especially when not handling multiple protocols/requests
- They do not provide native encryption except when using the HTTPS protocol
- SOCKS5 proxies are included headlinesincluding the user’s personal information
- They pass web requests just as they receive them (SOCKS proxies do not interpret web traffic)
Use of SOCKS proxies
SOCKS proxies are used for the following:
- They allow access to data that is behind a firewall
- SOCKS proxies are used to stream web content (video, music, and data).
- Share files via peer-to-peer methods thanks to the File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
- E-mail with support for SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3)
- General web browsing as they support HTTP and HTTPS
- Restrict access to servers to customers only: This use case is based on the fact that SOCKS proxies support authentication. As such, commercial service providers can use the various authentication methods supported by these proxies to ensure that only their subscribers or customers can access their servers
In this context, SOCKS proxies are used by companies operating in the file sharing, emailing and streaming (music and video) industries.
SOCKS vs. HTTP Proxy
It is noteworthy that there is another type of proxy that, like SOCKS proxies, is known for using a protocol. The HTTP proxy is an intermediary intended to process HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) requests. (However, unlike the SOCKS proxies that can handle multiple types of requests – HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, POP3, and FTP – HTTP proxies can only handle HTTP requests.
The HTTP proxy can be configured to forward HTTP requests just like client-side proxies. Alternatively, it can be set up to receive HTTP requests, as is the case with server-side proxies. Collectively, both client-side and server-side HTTP proxies are known as content filtration tools. This is because they can interpret the data in the HTTP requests or responses.
Compared to SOCKS proxies, HTTP proxies are slower. In addition, the latter type also handles less traffic volume than the former, because HTTP proxies only handle HTTP requests, while SOCKS proxies can handle HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, POP3, and FTP proxies. At the same time, SOCKS proxies use the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), while HTTP proxies ignore it.
SOCKS proxies are flexible. As such, companies operating in a variety of industries including streaming, emailing, and file sharing can use them. This flexibility comes from the fact that SOCKS proxies can deliver data using a number of protocols, including HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, POP3, and SMTP. In addition, SOCKS proxies can be used to bypass firewalls. Check out this blog post for a deeper dive into the difference between SOCKS and HTTP proxies.