What is a SOCKS proxy, and how does it work?

Written by: Lisa Whelan

A SOCKS proxy is a server that uses the SOCKS (Socket Secure) protocol to route your data. The SOCKS protocol is a set of instructions that dictate how a client (for example, your web browser) can route traffic through a proxy server, while keeping your browsing data private and secure. SOCKS5 is the latest, best-performing, and most feature-rich version of this protocol.

What is a SOCKS proxy?

A SOCKS proxy is a kind of forward proxy, because it works as a middleman for your internet connection. It sits between your device (or the application you are using - such as your web browser) and the websites you want to visit, so that requests you make to the internet go through the SOCKS proxy first. The SOCKS proxy forwards your requests to the web server of the resource you are trying to visit, so the receiving server only sees the IP address of the proxy server, rather than your real IP address. By hiding your real IP address, SOCKS proxies give you a layer of anonymity and privacy.image showing a SOCKS5 proxy between a laptop and the internet, the SOCKS5 proxy is handling requests from the client and responses from the internet

SOCKS proxies are a versatile type of proxy that can handle various types of traffic beyond just HTTP and HTTPS. SOCKS5 proxies support TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol) traffic, which makes them suitable for online activities like gaming, torrenting, and other non-web-based protocols. (SOCKS4 supports TCP traffic, but does not extend support to other transport protocols like UDP.)

What is the SOCKS protocol?

SOCKS is a networking protocol that facilitates communication between clients and servers through a proxy server. 

SOCKS is an abbreviation for Socket Secure, which refers to the secure handling of network sockets (the endpoints between which data is sent and received in a network – e.g. your computer and a website server). The term “secure” in SOCKS emphasizes the protocol’s role in managing and securing these network connections.

How does a SOCKS proxy work?

A SOCKS proxy works by acting as an intermediary between a client (your device) and a destination server (a website or other online service). The SOCKS proxy server communicates with the destination on your behalf.

  1. Establishing a connection: When you want to access a resource on the internet, you use your device (the client) to send a request. When you are connected to a SOCKS proxy, the client sends the request to the SOCKS proxy server instead of directly contacting the destination server.
  2. Proxy authentication: If the administrator of the SOCKS proxy server has set up authentication requirements, you may need to use credentials (e.g. a username and password) to establish a connection. If the authentication is successful (i.e. you entered correct credentials), you will be authorized to use the proxy services.
  3. Forwarding traffic: When the SOCKS proxy server receives a request from the client, it establishes a connection with the destination server on your behalf, and relays data between the client and the destination server, acting as an intermediary for all communications.
  4. IP masking: As the proxy server forwards traffic to the destination server, it replaces your IP address with its own IP address. This process hides your real IP address from the destination server.
  5. Protocol handling: SOCKS proxies support various protocols beyond HTTP and HTTPS. SOCKS5 in particular can handle TCP and UDP, while SOCKS4 can only handle TCP. They can handle different types of traffic, making them suitable for online gaming, torrenting, and other non-web-based protocols.
  6. Transparent relay: SOCKS proxies provide a transparent relay of network traffic without inspecting or modifying the data.

How is a SOCKS proxy different from other kinds of proxy?

SOCKS proxies differ from other kinds of proxies, such as HTTP or HTTPS proxies in several ways:

  • Associate UDP support: SOCKS proxies can handle UDP traffic, which is useful for applications or services that rely on UDP
  • Binary protocol: SOCKS is a binary protocol, which is more efficient than a text protocol like HTTP. Using a binary protocol like SOCKS can be more efficient, especially when using many concurrent connections that involve frequent exchanges of small portions of data.
  • Advanced authentication: SOCKS proxies generally offer more support for various authentication methods (compared to HTTP proxies). This means SOCKS proxies can handle a more authentication requirements for networking setups or security configurations.
  • Protocols: SOCKS supports a wider range of protocols including TCP and UDP

Protocol support

SOCKS5 proxies support a range of protocols beyond just HTTP and HTTPS. The specific protocols that SOCKS5 proxies support are Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP).

SOCKS proxies are protocol-agnostic and can theoretically support any network protocol that operates over TCP or UDP.


SOCKS proxies can support non-web protocols, such as those used for:

  • Online gaming
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing (such as torrenting)
  • Voice over IP (VoIP)
  • Instant messaging

For example, many people use SOCKS proxies in online gaming to route gaming traffic (which often uses UDP) through a proxy server to bypass network restrictions or improve latency. In contrast, HTTP and HTTPS proxies are more suited to web-related applications like browsing websites or downloading files via HTTP.

SOCKS5 uses and benefits

Due to their versatility, you can use SOCKS5 proxies for a wide range of purposes across different applications and industries. They can give you enhanced privacy, the ability to bypass content restrictions, and facilitate secure remote access – to name just a few.

Increased anonymity and privacy

SOCKS5 proxies can hide your real IP address when browsing the internet or accessing other online services. This increases your privacy by masking where your requests originate from.

Bypassing geo-restrictions

You can use SOCKS5 proxies to bypass geographic restrictions that some websites (or other online services) impose on their users. By using a proxy to route your traffic through proxy servers in different regions, you can access content that is blocked in your real location.

Torrenting and P2P file sharing

You can use SOCKS5 proxies when torrenting to improve your download speeds, protect your privacy, and bypass throttling imposed by your internet service provider (ISP). 

When you share files on a P2P network without routing your traffic through a proxy server, every other peer on the network can view your real IP address. Using a SOCKS proxy means other peers on the network will see the IP address of the proxy server instead of your real one.

Online gaming

You can use SOCKS5 proxies to reduce latency (ping) and bypass network restrictions while playing online games. SOCKS5 proxies can route your gaming traffic through optimized servers, which will improve your gaming experience.

Circumventing network firewalls and filters

In restrictive network environments (such as your workplace or school), SOCKS5 proxies can help bypass firewall restrictions and content filters. This allows you to access blocked websites and services by routing your traffic through external proxy servers.

Secure remote access

SOCKS5 proxies can facilitate secure remote access to internet network resources by tunneling traffic through encrypted connections. This is useful if you work remotely or if you need to access private networks from an external location.

DNS resolutions privacy

SOCKS5 proxies can handle DNS (Domain Name System) resolution requests, giving you an additional layer of privacy by preventing DNS leaks that could expose your browsing history.

Bot management and automation

You can use SOCKS5 proxies in bot management and automation tasks. SOCKS5 proxies can distribute traffic across multiple IP addresses to simulate distributed user behavior, making it appear (to the online resources you access) that your traffic comes from real humans instead of bots.

Web scraping

SOCKS5 proxies are suitable for scraping dynamic and non-web-based content (e.g. APIs and JavaScript-rendered pages) that traditional HTTP proxies may struggle to access.

How to use SOCKS proxies

To use a SOCKS proxy, you will need to find a proxy provider and configure your network settings (or other applications, if you are using a proxy for specific software or tools beyond your web browser).

1. Choose a SOCKS proxy provider

First, you’ll need access to a SOCKS proxy server. You can do this by subscribing to a SOCKS proxy service from a third-party provider, such as SOAX.

2. Get your proxy server details

Once you have access to a proxy server, you need to get:

  • The proxy server IP address
  • The proxy server port number
  • Your username and password (if authentication is required)

3. Configure your proxy settings

You will need to configure your proxy settings following the rules for your operating system or application. SOAX’s help center has step-by-step guides to help you configure your proxy settings for your needs. 

Some of the most common setup scenarios are:

4. Verify your proxy connection

Once you have configured your proxy settings, you can verify you are properly connected to the proxy server by visiting a website or using an application that requires internet access. You can also test your proxy connection by using an online IP checker tool to ensure that your traffic is being routed through the SOCKS proxy server.

Frequently asked questions

What does SOCKS stand for?

SOCKS is not an acronym or initialization - it is an abbreviation of Socket Secure. The name can also be used metaphorically to describe how the SOCKS protocol covers your network communications, similar to how socks cover and protect your feet.

What is the difference between SOCKS and SOCKS5?

SOCKS5 is a newer and more feature-rich version of the SOCKS protocol, compared to SOCKS4. It offers support for more protocols, advanced authentication options, flexible connection negotiation, and better error handling.

What is the OSI model?

The OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model is a conceptual framework that standardizes the functions of networking protocols and systems. The model consists of seven layers, each representing a specific stage of data communication between devices over a network. The OSI model serves as a foundation for network design and troubleshooting.

Lisa Whelan

Lisa is a content professional, specializing in tech and cybersecurity. She's here to share valuable insights and break down complex technical concepts for the SOAX audience.

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