Communication via the internet sometimes requires anonymity. This is especially true during applications such as what is a proxy web scraping, bypassing geo-restrictions, ad verification, and more. Also known as proxy servers, proxies are designed to provide this anonymity. So,? And how do proxies provide online anonymity?

What is a Proxy?

A proxy is a computer that intercepts requests originating from a browser or web-based application. It subsequently routes this outgoing traffic through itself in a process that assigns a new IP address to these requests. The new online identifier masks the computer’s real identity, thus providing anonymity.

There are different types of proxies that each provide an extra level of anonymity due to the kind of IP address they assign the outgoing requests. The type of IP address also impacts other factors such as reliability or uptime, speed, and cost. For this reason, different types of proxies are suited for different purposes.

Types of Proxies

There are different types of proxies, including:

  • Residential proxies: assign IP addresses that belong to internet service providers
  • Datacenter proxies: they assign IP addresses generated by data center computers
  • Rotating proxies: these proxies periodically change the IP address
  • Static proxies: they maintain the same IP address throughout
  • HTTP proxies
  • Transparent proxies
  • Anonymous proxies
  • High anonymity proxies
  • Forward proxies
  • Reverse proxies
  • SOCKS proxies

This article mainly focuses on SOCKS proxies.

What is SOCKS Proxy?

SOCKS, which is short for SOCKet Secure, is an internet protocol that facilitates data exchange between a browser (web client) and server via a proxy server. In this regard, a SOCKS proxy is any server that uses the SOCKS protocol to route traffic through itself.

The SOCKS proxy is mainly used in situations where a firewall restricts access to a network or a web server. This is because it can seamlessly route traffic through a proxy, facilitating communication through a firewall. In doing so, the SOCKS proxy assigns the traffic a new IP address, as is the case with other types of proxies.

Uses of SOCKS Proxies

  1. They enable users to bypass firewalls
  2. SOCKS proxies allow users to connect to websites that practice geo-blocking.
  3. This type of proxy is ideal for applications that generate a lot of traffic, including P2P sharing or content streaming.

History of SOCKS

First developed in the early 1990s, the protocol has received various improvements that have augmented its capabilities. For this reason, there are different versions of SOCKS, including versions 5 (SOCKS5), 4a (SOCKS4a), and 4 (SOCKS4).

In SOCKS4, the client indicates the target site’s domain name instead of the IP address, as is the case with SOCKS4. On the other hand, SOCKS5 offers more security than the previous version as it supports authentication and utilizes the Secure Shell (SSH) encrypted tunneling approach to routing traffic. It is also easy to set up, offers better performance, and routes different types of traffic sent via disparate protocols.

Supported Protocols

Buoyed by the capabilities of the latest version, SOCKS5, SOCKS is versatile in that it can be used to route traffic generated by any application or protocol. It is, therefore, compatible with multiple protocols, including Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), HTTP, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), POP3, and more.

How does SOCKS Protocol Work?

The SOCKS protocol falls in the seventh layer of the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) model – the application/end-user layer. As such, it facilitates communication generated by end-user applications and processes. It does this by defining the data syntax as well as providing security (authentication) and privacy.

The application layer also contains other protocols such as HTTP, SSH, and FTP. However, only one of the protocols found in the 7th layer can be used to create a proxy. That is the HTTP. So, how does the SOCKS proxy differ from the HTTP proxy?

SOCKS Proxy vs. HTTP Proxy

What is an HTTP proxy? An HTTP proxy is a proxy that intercepts requests and files sent via the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It is created by configuring a web browser or web server and is mainly used to filter the files and requests sent via HTTP.

Besides being based on the HTTP protocol, an HTTP proxy differs from a SOCKS proxy because the former interprets the network traffic while the latter does not. An HTTP proxy is mainly concerned with cleaning the data sent or received by a server or browser, while a SOCKS proxy only aims to offer a secure tunnel to bypass firewalls and geo-restrictions.

Conclusion

SOCKS proxies are based on the Socket Secure internet protocol. They are mainly used to facilitate communication between a server and a web client by routing traffic via a secure channel. This enables them to bypass firewalls as well as access geo-blocked content. The latter capability is made possible by the fact that SOCKS proxies also assign a new IP address to the outgoing traffic.