Proxy servers, which are intermediaries that route internet traffic through themselves and, in some cases, hide IP addresses associated with outgoing requests, serve numerous functions that benefit whole industries.
For instance, by masking the IP addresses and assigning new ones, proxies effectively anonymize internet browsing, in what makes them ideal for web scraping or bypassing geo-restrictions. Of course, there are different types of proxies, which function distinctly from one another. This article drills down into the specifics of one of these types – SOCKS proxies – in addition to discussing the SOCKS vs. HTTP proxy differences.
What is a SOCKS Proxy?
A SOCKS proxy is a server that, using the socket secure protocol, routes traffic through itself with the main aim of bypassing firewalls. The proxy establishes a tripartite communication between itself, the web client, and a server. The SOCKS proxy achieves this by creating a Transmission Control Protocol connection, which acts as a path along which data packets are sent.
How SOCKS Proxies Work
While it helps bypass firewalls, the SOCKS proxy, which is also known as a SOCKS4 proxy, has a few limitations. For instance, it does not support authentication, meaning it lags in terms of security. Secondly, it does not support the User Datagram Protocol (UDP), a layer four protocol that, like the TCP, helps manage internet traffic and communication between a web server and a client. This second limitation means that SOCKS4 proxies could not easily distinguish the requests routed through themselves. The solution: the SOCKS5 proxy.
The SOCKS5 proxy supports authentication and UDP. The latter promotes efficiency because UDP sends datagrams (messages), which are better modes of communication than the individual data packets sent by TCP. And while the UDP does not guarantee that the data is delivered, it can perform verification to ensure the data arrived intact. Secondly, UDP assigns port numbers that help differentiate various user requests. SOCKS5 proxies initiate the connection via TCP and subsequently send messages via UDP.
Features of SOCKS Proxies
SOCKS proxies have the following features/characteristics:
- SOCKS and SOCKS5 proxies support different types of requests and protocols, including HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, POP3, and SMTP
- They are flexible as they do not rely on just one protocol
- They are capable of handling higher volumes of internet traffic (because they can handle multiple types of requests and protocols)
- SOCKS5 proxies support authentication
- SOCKS proxies send data via the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), while SOCKS5 proxies send data via the TCP and User Datagram Protocol (UDP)
- SOCKS proxies are extremely fast, particularly when they are not handling multiple protocols/requests
- They do not natively provide encryption except when they are using the HTTPS protocol
- SOCKS5 proxies include headers, which include the user’s personal information
- They pass web requests just as they receive them (SOCKS proxies do not interpret web traffic)
Uses of SOCKS Proxies
SOCKS proxies are used for the following:
- They provide access to data that is behind a firewall
- SOCKS proxies are used to stream web content (video, music, and data)
- File sharing using peer-to-peer methods because of the File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
- Emailing thanks to the support for SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3)
- General web browsing because they support HTTP and HTTPS
- Limiting access to servers to customers only: this use case relies 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 regard, 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 proxy type that, like SOCKS proxies, is known for its use of a protocol. The HTTP proxy is an intermediary that is intended to handle Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) requests. (But unlike the SOCKS proxies that can handle multiple kinds 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, as with client-side proxies. Alternatively, it can be set up to receive HTTP requests, as is the case with server-side proxies. Collectively, both the client-side and server-side HTTP proxies are known as content filtration tools. This is because they can interpret the data contained in the HTTP requests or responses.
Compared to SOCKS proxies, HTTP proxies are slower. Moreover, the latter type also handles less volume of traffic than the former because HTTP proxies only handle HTTP requests, whereas 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 different industries, including streaming, emailing, and file sharing, can use them. This flexibility stems from the fact that SOCKS proxies can deliver data using a number of protocols, including HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, POP3, and SMTP. Additionally, 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.