A proxy server is a device or application that acts as an intermediate for transmitting data online. In a broader sense, any device between you and the server of the site you are visiting acts as a kind of proxy, but we tend to apply the term proxy to devices, programs and servers that make specific decisions on how to route data.
Types of proxies
A VPN server is also a kind of proxy, as is the VPN software installed on your computer. Most proxies are built only for web traffic, e.g., over the HTTP protocol, but VPN software is designed to reroute all data sent out by your machine. VPN connections are generally encrypted, but exactly how can differ from provider to provider, and many providers will offer multiple protocols.
There are different protocols for HTTP proxies, too. Most commonly web proxies are used to forward simple HTTP requests. For those running their own server, apache or nginx are popular web proxies used to serve content to site visitors. A content delivery network is an example of such a web proxy, too. The ExpressVPN onion site is also a web proxy between the darknet and our normal clearnet site.
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What is SOCKS?
SOCKS (Socket Secure) is a highly popular proxy protocol used to route packets. As an application, it can run on your local machine or remotely on a server. While it can be used to route any data, an HTTP connection has to be first established between you and the SOCKS server.
Unlike a VPN, your applications such as your browser or Bitcoin wallet need to support the SOCKS protocol to be able to use it. While it would be possible to install a tool that captures all your network traffic and sends it to a SOCKS proxy, such tools are not commonly used.
SOCKS was launched in 1992. It didn’t take long for new versions to appear, and its fourth iteration, called SOCKS4 is still in use today. The latest version, SOCKS5, was released in 1996, and has been running on countless machines since.
SOCKS5: A reliable standard
The most likely place you are to encounter SOCKS5 configuration settings are network applications installed on your computer, such as file-sharing tools like Dropbox, voice over IP applications, chat applications, and Bitcoin wallets. The most common SOCKS5 application you might have installed is Tor, on port 9050 by default.
Once Tor is running on your machine, you can configure these SOCKS5-compatible applications to route all traffic through the Tor network by entering the details of your Tor SOCKS5 proxy (IP and port: 127.0.0.1:9050). As Tor is running on your local machine you likely won’t configure it with authentication, but for a SOCKS5 server running on a remote server, this is an important feature.
SOCKS5 vs. VPN
ExpressVPN does not offer a SOCKS5 proxy on its servers or applications; in fact, it does not make a lot of sense to do so. While both SOCKS5 and a VPN can give you a different IP address to conceal your location and hide your identity, only a VPN offers online security by protecting your data. Your ExpressVPN app routes all traffic from your device through its secure, encrypted tunnel to the VPN server, from where it reaches its final destination.
FAQ: About SOCKS5 proxies
Can I get SOCKS5 for free?
Yes, you can get SOCKS5 for free. However, it’s advised that you avoid free SOCKS5 proxies. This is because free proxies don’t have the same privacy standards as paid alternatives. This puts your personal data at risk. Many free SOCKS5 proxies will also monitor your traffic and sell it to third parties.
Additionally, you’re unlikely to get the same performance levels from free SOCKS5 proxies as you are from paid ones. Free proxies can’t invest in high-speed infrastructure because they don’t have a source of income from their users. Also, if proxy providers offer a choice of free and paid options, they might reduce speeds or restrict features on the free version so that you’ll become a paying customer.
How do I get SOCKS5?
A SOCKS5 proxy is an effective way to bypass internet blocks—similar to a VPN. Some VPN providers offer SOCKS5 proxy along with their services. You can also get SOCKS5 proxies from a number of premium vendors, such as ProxyEmpire and BeeProxy. As mentioned above, you’ll want to avoid free SOCKS5 proxy providers.
Which VPN has SOCKS5 proxies?
ExpressVPN does not offer a SOCKS5 proxy on its servers or applications. There are other VPNs that offer SOCKS5 proxies, however, there’s little reason to use both SOCKS5 and a VPN. While a SOCKS5 proxy spoofs your location by giving you a different IP address just like a VPN does, it doesn’t offer the same privacy benefits. A VPN gives you online security that protects your data, whereas a SOCKS5 proxy does not.
Can SOCKS5 be detected?
Yes, similar to other proxy servers, a SOCKS5 can be detected.. While SOCKS5 proxy providers change their IP addresses to avoid being detected, the possibility of them being picked up is always there.
Can you get SOCKS5 on iPhone?
Yes, SOCKS5 works on iPhone and other iOS devices. To configure a SOCKS5 proxy on iOS:
1) Go to Settings > Wi-Fi
2) Tap the blue info icon on the right side of the Wi-Fi network you’re connected to
3) Scroll down to HTTP Proxy
4) Configure Proxy > Manual
5) Enter your proxy settings