SOCKS5 vs HTTP Proxies

Analyzing the difference between SOCKS5 and HTTP proxies and basic functions of both protocols: Learn what methods each protocol supports, their advantages and differences.

SOCKS5 vs HTTP Proxies
Article content
  1. What is a SOCKS5 proxy?
  2. What is an HTTP proxy?
  3. What do you know about ports?
  4. SOCKS5 proxy servers benefits
  5. HTTP proxy servers benefits
  6. SOCKS5 vs HTTP proxy
  7. How to set up proxy manually
  8. Frequently Asked Questions

What is a SOCKS proxy? How does it stack up against its counterpart, the HTTP proxy? The differences between the two proxy types and their basic functionality is important to get right if you want to set up an efficient data collection pipeline – and you need a good understanding of how SOCKS proxy works for that.

In this article, we’re exploring the technologies behind SOCKS and HTTP, their differences, reasons to use each type of proxy, how to set them up, how to use a SOCKS proxy, and more.

What is a SOCKS5 proxy?

Let’s start with a more general question: What is a SOCKS protocol? SOCKS (short for Socket Secure) is a network protocol for transferring data to the server. It acts on behalf of its user when it sends packets through a firewall via routing traffic of the user to the destination server. To do this, SOCKS uses the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). It establishes a TCP connection to the destination server and starts the exchange of data packets between the user and the server.

A major advantage of the SOCKS protocol is its versatility: It can route all types of web traffic created by all types of software or protocols. This makes SOCKS proxies the go-to solution for heavy-duty processes like streaming and peer-to-peer sharing. An added benefit is better anonymity: proxies change the user’s IP address, which can be used to circumvent geolocation-based restrictions.

What differentiates SOCKS5 from SOCKS?

This protocol features two versions: SOCKS4 and SOCKS5 – this is where the SOCKS5 meaning comes from. Their main points of differences are:

  1. Authentication: SOCKS5 can use several authentication methods, while SOCKS4 doesn’t support authentication at all;
  2. UDP proxies: SOCKS5  supports them, SOCKS4 doesn’t.
  3. Security: SOCKS5 offers better security thanks to routing traffic via a more complete TCP connection and SSH tunneling methodology.

In practice, the terms “SOCKS” and “SOCKS5” are used interchangeably: The protocol’s 5th version is more popular and feature-complete, so it’s common to drop the “5” altogether when talking about SOCKS.

What is an HTTP proxy?

Just like SOCKS, the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is another protocol for transferring data across the web. The end result of using this proxy type is the same: you get a new IP address – but the technology behind the HTTP proxy is different.

HTTP proxies are engineered for a higher abstraction level compared to their SOCKS counterparts: The latter have more low-level access to network components, making them more secure; the former can analyze web traffic, which makes HTTP proxies better suited for data collection. Using a HTTP-based proxy, web scraping software can differentiate between relevant and irrelevant data.

HTTPS proxy

HTTPS is a variation of HTTP, with S for “Secure”. As the name suggests, the HTTPs protocol provides a more secure network environment via end-to-end encryption. This makes HTTPS proxies the optimal tool for sending sensitive data – a good example is connecting to your bank’s website or using an intranet.

What do you know about ports?

Proxies feature several identifiers that make it possible to use them without mixing things up: the address (which is basically an IP address like 192.158. 1.38), the username/password combo for authentication, and the port. The last component is important because some proxy types can only operate at a specific port.

SOCKS connection can be established with practically any port number (1080, 37192, etc.) Therefore, this option might be easier when there are network restrictions to consider – for instance, when some ports are blocked by the network administrator.

HTTP and HTTPS connections typically require a specific port to work properly:

  • Port number 443 for HTTPS; and
  • Port number 80 for HTTP.

SOCKS5 proxy servers benefits

In some scenarios, using a SOCKS proxy is the optimal choice thanks to its structure-specific features and benefits. Let’s take a closer look at what it can offer:

1. Gets you around internet blocks

Acting as a middleman between you and the destination server, SOCKS improves your anonymity, making it impossible for third parties to see your real IP address. If a streaming service, for instance, is cordoned-off from users with European IP addresses, you can circumvent this restriction.

2. Faster and more reliable connection

We mentioned that SOCKS uses TCP for data transfer – but it also supports User Datagram Protocol (UDP) as an alternative. TCP is rather rigid when it comes to sending data, designed to follow a strict order of packets and merge them into a stream. UDP, on the other hand, is more flexible and offers a faster and more reliable internet connection – and this advantage is extended to SOCKS servers as a whole.

3. Fewer errors and improved overall performance

Unlike other proxy types, SOCKS proxies don’t modify the headers of data packets. This is beneficial for performance as the proxy has less heavy-lifting to do and doesn’t risk misrouting traffic. Still, there is a downside to unedited headers: They contain the user’s personal information – if intercepted, they may make it easier to determine where these data packets came from.

4. Better performance on P2P platforms

SOCKS is optimized for sending smaller data packets, which makes it the optimal choice for saving data from the web. Offering fast download speeds, it’s well-suited for low-latency tasks and peer-to-peer sharing websites and apps, with torrent software as a typical example.

HTTP proxy servers benefits

HTTP proxies are versatile and powerful, offering a set of great features of their own. These include:

1. Improved security

This proxy type is able to analyze incoming data packets, differentiating between regular and suspicious ones, denying the latter – this protects you against malware, spyware, and other forms of malicious content. The HTTPS variant provides an additional layer of security, which protects the data you’re sending with end-to-end encryption.

2. Cleaner data

HTTP proxies have basic data analysis capabilities: In the area of web traffic transfer, they can be used for error-checking, content filtering, and caching. Equipped with an HTTP proxy, your web scraper can parse the website’s target data without crawling irrelevant content.

3. Easier data collection

HTTP proxies can also modify HTTP request headers, which is crucial for maintaining high request success rate during data collection. Custom request headers enable your web scraper to circumvent websites’ restrictions – and be a less likely target for IP blocking overall.

SOCKS5 vs HTTP proxy

Each of this proxy type was engineered for specific use cases, with one reigning supreme in security and the other dominating in performance. In a “HTTP vs SOCKS proxy” debate, no proxy type is “better” – we just need to understand the scenarios where they excel.

Security

All proxy-based technologies offer enhanced privacy and security. HTTP proxies may provide more security features thanks to their packet analysis, which can stop different types of malware penetration; the HTTPS subtype also offers data encryption.

Functionality

Proxies rely on different protocols (e.g. TCP, UDP) to enable data transfer. Generally, HTTP and HTTPS proxies are limited to their respective protocols; a SOCKS proxy server is more flexible thanks to their support of different network protocols.

Performance

SOCKS proxies are designed for smaller data packets, which are typically found in P2P file sharing or uploading files to websites. HTTP(S) proxies can be configured to cache content, improving load speeds or providing additional support during web scraping.

  SOCKS proxies HTTP(S) proxies
Security Lack of data encryption mechanisms Web traffic analysis to protect against malware; end-to-end data encryption with HTTPs-based proxies
Functionality Support for a wide range of network protocols Support for HTTP/HTTPS protocols
Performance High download/upload speed Optimized performance via content caching

How to set up proxy manually

Adding a proxy configuration on the desktop is easy: You can install a proxy certificate, use a proxy management tool (e.g. FoxyProxy), or open your operating system’s settings menu – let’s take a closer look at the last option.

When setting up proxies manually, you’ll be asked to input the address and port. A proxy address is simply an IP address (e.g. 192.158. 1.38), while a proxy port number typically has four or five digits (e.g. 1080, 37192.)

Add a SOCKS5 proxy on Windows 10

  1. Open Windows Settings, select Network & Internet, and choose Proxy from the list on the left.
  2. Turn the “Manual proxy setup” option on.
  3. Input your proxy configuration into these fields: Address, Port.
  4. Click Save.

Add a SOCKS5 proxy on macOS

  1. Click the Apple logo to open System Preferences, select Network, choose Advanced Proxies.
  2. From the list on the left, select SOCKS proxy.
  3. Add your proxy configuration (address, port) to the Web Proxy Server field.
  4. Click OK.

Add an HTTP/HTTPS proxy on Windows 10

  1. Open Windows Settings, select Network & Internet, and choose Proxy from the list on the left.
  2. Turn the Manual proxy setup option on.
  3. Input your proxy configuration into these fields: Address, Port.
  4. Click Save.

Add an HTTP/HTTPS proxy on macOS

  1. Click the Apple logo to open System Preferences, select Network, choose Advanced → Proxies.
  2. From the list on the left, select Web Proxy (HTTP) or Secure Web Proxy (HTTPS).
  3. Add your proxy configuration (address, port) to the Web Proxy Server field.
  4. Click OK.

Conclusion

Despite their differences, both proxy types are great for enhancing the user’s privacy, anonymity, and security: Even a small factor like hiding your IP address may prove beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes: SOCKS is simply a proxy type, just like HTTP proxies, reverse proxies, residential proxies, etc. Its name is shorthand for Socket Secure, which highlights SOCKS proxies’ important advantage: security.
Proxies and VPNs serve different purposes, so a head-to-head VPN vs. SOCKS comparison might be incorrect. VPNs are typically more user-friendly, while proxies are more customizable. More importantly, SOCKS proxies can fulfill the VPN’s role when a user needs a simple tool for bypassing web restrictions.
This is a proxy that uses the HyperText Transfer Protocol for sending and receiving data. HTTP proxies are optimized for data collection and malware protection, with optional data encryption with the HTTPS protocol.
This is a proxy that uses the Socket Secure protocol for sending and receiving data. SOCKS proxies are optimized for working with web data in smaller chunks, offering low latency and flexibility.
SOCKS4 and SOCKS5 are different versions of the SOCKS protocol. Their differences lie in several factors: authentication support (which only SOCKS5 can offer), UDP proxies support (ditto), and security (where SOCKS5 is dominant.) Due to SOCKS5’s popularity, people use the general term “SOCKS” for simplicity’s sake.
Yes, but it’d require some heavy lifting on the other party’s end. One method, for example, involves comparing time zones: The browser may report time zone A, while the proxy reports time zone B due to its geolocation features – this discrepancy is an obvious giveaway.
Sure: In this case, your web traffic will have two layers of routing to go through. This may lead to a rather average internet speed, but you may get better privacy when using both the VPN and SOCKS tunnels to route your traffic.
Proxy providers typically offer access to all kinds of proxies, SOCKS5 included. The catch, however, is finding an ethical provider, which uses white-listed IP addresses – this ensures that your requests don’t get blocked. We’re proud to say that Infatica is an ethical provider – and we’d be glad to have you as our client.
Yes. One method involves using a web browser with SOCKS proxy configuration options (e.g. Firefox) and adding proxy credentials via the settings menu. Alternatively, you can use ProxyDroid, a proxy management app. Keep in mind that the latter option requires root access.
Free proxies in general impose heavy restrictions on their users to remain operational: this may include limiting the proxies’ use time or available requests per minute. For an average internet user, free SOCKS proxies are enough of a band-aid solution; for a serious activity (e.g. data collection), they aren’t a good fit.

Olga Myhajlovska

Olga Myhajlovska

Olga Myhajlovska is a freelance writer who likes to focus on the practical side of different technologies: Her stories answer both the "How does it work?" and "Why is it important for me?" questions.

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