There are several internet protocols, but SOCKS is the most popular choice for routing network traffic through intermediaries. Like every other internet protocol, SOCKS comes in more than one version. There is the SOCKS4 and SOCKS5. These two SOCKS (Socket Secure) protocol variants have their peculiarities, which this article will explore. Furthermore, we will examine how SOCKS protocols relate to proxies and some specific use cases unique to the two types.
The SOCKS protocol is an interface allowing client-server applications to cut through network obstacles like firewalls. As an interface, SOCKS facilitates communication between the client browser and destination servers. This communication facilitation is achieved by transferring network packets between the client and the server.
Now, the SOCKS protocols function at the transport layer of the internet, consequently providing platform-independent, secure, and flexible methods for proxying network connections.
Proxies and SOCKS protocol work in the same field, interfacing between client browsers and destination servers. However, there are some tiny differences to note. Proxies work primarily to intercept network requests from a client browser, replace the IP address, forward the request to a server, and then get responses back to the client.
Due to their unique way of working, proxies are widely used for improving browsing performance, anonymity, and enhanced security.
SOCKS protocol, on the other hand, is just one of the several internet protocols used by proxies in performing their gateway functions. So, proxies can use varying protocols, and the SOCKS protocol is just one of them. But SOCKS protocols are commonly used because they have unique functionalities. Still, since there are two versions of the protocol, there are inherent uniquenesses, which we’ll explore in the next section.
There are two major types of SOCKS protocol: the SOCKS 4 and SOCKS5 protocols. Each of these versions comes with unique functionalities and abilities. Let’s take a look at how these protocols differ from each other through the following lenses:
SOCKS4: As the name implies, this is the older SOCKS protocol version. Fortunately, it’s still functional and has different devices and applications supporting it. So, you’d have no problem using it with most device OS and network configurations.
SOCKS5: SOCKS5 is the updated SOCKS protocol version, which mitigates the limitations of its predecessor. Though backward compatibility is a thing with SOCKS, there’s no guarantee that all SOCKS4 applications fare well on SOCKS5.
SOCKS4: Authentication is a significant part of today’s internet, but SOCKS4 doesn’t support it. With the SOCKS4 protocol, client browsers are assumed to be trustworthy, eliminating the need for verification. But in the present age of the internet, there’s no doubt this lack of authorization and authentication is a security concern.
SOCKS5: Authentication is key with SOCKS5 protocols, where devices are taken through several authentication levels. Examples of the authentications done on the SOCKS5 protocol are; username/password, Generic Security Services Application Programming Interface (GSSAPI), and SSL certificates. Owing to this, SOCKS5 protocols only grant access to verified devices.
SOCKS4: There’s no in-built support for UDP (User Datagram Protocol) with the SOCKS4 protocol because it’s been designed primarily for the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). Owing to this, SOCKS4 works for applications like VoIP, streaming, and online gaming.
SOCKS5: For SOCKS5, being an improved version, works with both TCP and UDP. So, it’s more widely used for any application that leverages UDP.
SOCKS4: Cascading proxies or proxy chaining isn’t natively supported on SOCKS4.
SOCKS5: Unlike SOCKS4, SOCKS5 has support for proxy chaining. With this feature, anonymity is enhanced and plays a major role when users need to skirt censorship on the internet.
SOCKS4: IPv6 means Internet Protocol version 6, the newer version used on the internet. However, since SOCKS4 was only designed to be compatible with IPv4, it comes up short when connections are based on IPv6.
SOCKS5: With SOCKS5, there is native support for IPv6, which makes for excellent support with applications based on IPv6 networks. So, with SOCKS5, you can be sure of future-proofing and boundless compatibility.
SOCKS4: Due to the simplicity of SOCKS4, some critical features are missing. This makes it incapable of firewall and NAT traversal. So, in situations where you’d need to traverse some network configuration.
SOCKS5: As an update, SOCKS5 seamlessly solves the issues with SOCKS4, making it easier when users traverse NAT (Network Address Translation) and firewalls. Ultimately, SOCKS5 proves better when looking to go through network obstacles.
SOCKS4: A major advantage of SOCKS4 is its simplicity, which makes it better at processing and responding to requests. Hence, when users are more concerned about speed and performance, SOCKS4 is better.
SOCKS5: Adding more functionalities and features to the SOCKS5 makes it slower than its predecessor. But what SOCKS5 lacks in performance, it makes up for it in security and versatility.
SOCKS5 has more benefits than SOCKS4, offering more flexibility and versatility. But SOCKS4 provides more performance. Hence, ultimately, users’ choice is about what needs to be met.