What Is a SOCKS5 Proxy?

JP Jones - CTO @ Top10VPN

JP Jones is our CTO. He has over 25 years of software engineering and networking experience, and oversees all technical aspects of our VPN testing process.

Our Verdict

A SOCKS5 proxy routes the data from a pre-configured application through a remote server, assigning it a new IP address. SOCKS5 supports encryption and several authentication methods, which offers an additional layer of security compared to traditional proxies. Some VPNs allow users to choose between a VPN server or a SOCKS5 proxy server.

SOCKS5 header image

SOCKS5 proxies are sometimes used as an alternative to mainstream VPN services.

Similar to a VPN, SOCKS5 redirects traffic from certain applications through a remote server, assigning it a new IP address in the process. However, it does not always encrypt it. This means your true IP address will be hidden, but your browsing activity may not be as secure.

Because they mask your true IP address, SOCKS5 proxies are popular with torrenters. The reduced encryption overhead means they are also often faster than full VPN connections. However, they do present some safety risks if not configured correctly.

Some VPN services offer access to a SOCKS5 proxy as a part of their main interface, while others offer a SOCKS5 proxy as a separate service altogether.

Not all VPNs offer this feature though – and they’re not always effective. So which VPN offers the best SOCKS5 proxy?

SUMMARY: The Three Best VPNs With SOCKS5 Proxies

  1. NordVPN: The Best SOCKS5 VPN Overall
  2. TorGuard: Secure Alternative With 32 SOCKS5 IP addresses
  3. Private Internet Access: Best SOCKS5 VPN for Torrenting

In this guide, we explain what a SOCKS5 proxy actually is and in which circumstances you should use one. You’ll find out how to set up a SOCKS5 VPN and which VPN offers the best SOCKS5 proxy based on our latest test results.

EXPERT TIP: Based on our testing, the best VPN for SOCKS5 is NordVPN, which costs just $3.29 per month. It offers five city-level SOCKS5 server locations, including three in the US. These servers work well for torrenting and are secured by personalized authentication and regular technical audits.

What Is a SOCKS5 Proxy?

A SOCKS5 proxy allows you to reroute the traffic from a specific client through a remote server before it reaches its destination. This spoofs your physical location and masks your true IP address from other websites and services you connect to on the internet.

SOCKS5 (Socket Secure 5) is the most recent version of SOCKS. Unlike its predecessors, it supports some forms of encryption and also offers authentication methods which ensure that only authorized users can access a given server.

SOCKS proxies can route data from a multitude of different sources including HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, and FTP – which makes them far more flexible than traditional HTTP or HTTPS proxies.

A small number of VPNs now provide SOCKS5 proxy servers as part of their service. This allows you to choose between a VPN server or a SOCKS5 proxy server.

While both SOCKS5 proxies and VPN services improve your online privacy, only a VPN will encrypt your traffic by default.

SOCKS5 proxies are often used for:

  • Torrenting. Like VPNs, SOCKS5 proxies can mask your IP address. This is necessary for safe torrenting, as it helps protect you from copyright trolls and malicious third parties.

    SOCKS5 proxies don’t always encrypt your traffic, which means they can download torrents much faster than VPN services. They are also less likely to conflict with peer-to-peer connections and seeding.

    For this reason, many top torrenting VPNs offer access to SOCKS5 proxy servers.
  • Bypassing censorship. SOCKS5 proxies use a TCP connection, which is less easily identifiable than most VPN protocols. Much like VPN obfuscation, this improves your chances of bypassing local censorship without being blocked by your ISP.

    In fact, VPNs that work in China and other highly-censored countries often use a protocol called ShadowSOCKS, which mimics the kind of TCP connection used by SOCKS5 proxies.
  • Remote network connection. If configured correctly, SOCKS5 proxies can permit remote access to a local network. They can make your device appear to be within that network in order to bypass the router’s firewall.

    You can use this feature to access your home network remotely, or use it to access a company or university intranet. It’s more common to use a VPN for remote access, though, as it’s considered more secure.

How Does SOCKS5 Work?

SOCKS5 is an internet protocol that routes internet traffic via a remote server using a TCP connection. Before your traffic reaches its location, the server generates an arbitrary IP address to mask your actual IP address.

TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol. Alongside UDP (User Datagram Protocol) it is one of the two main protocols that allows computers to exchange information over a network. It is designed to ensure data integrity and prevent information loss.

In basic terms, SOCKS5 uses TCP to package your internet traffic and send it via a remote server before allowing it to reach the wider internet. The connection is typically unencrypted, though this depends on how the proxy is set up.

Image demonstrating how web proxies work, showing how they fail to encrypt web traffic.

How a typical proxy server works to reroute your web traffic.

SOCKS5 operates on layer 5 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, above TCP and UDP. This means it can route anything operating on a lower level, which includes the vast majority of web applications including email, web browsing and P2P file-sharing.

Other proxies, like HTTP or HTTPS proxies, operate on a lower OSI layer. This means they can only route one kind of traffic, which is usually web browsing.

SOCKS5 differs from other SOCKS protocols by adding the option for authentication. There are three kinds of authentication available:

  • Null authentication. This means there is no authentication, and anyone with the server IP address and port number can connect.
  • Username/password. This requires users to input a correct password and username before connecting.
  • GSS-API. The user and server both utilize authentication methods to verify each other before allowing a connection.

Is SOCKS5 Safe to Use?

SOCKS5 is a trusted and well-tested proxy protocol. It’s open-source, which means anyone can test it for insecurities, backdoors, or malicious alterations.

While SOCKS5 proxies are considered safe to use, they do present two key security weaknesses:

  • The server provider could intercept your traffic
  • SOCKS5 does not encrypt your traffic by default

Like a VPN, SOCKS5 proxies route your traffic through a third-party server. It’s important that you trust this third party, because they technically have the ability to monitor or manipulate your browsing data.

Unlike VPN services, though, SOCKS5 proxies do not encrypt your traffic. This means that while it may help you circumvent a firewall or other content blocks on your local network, your browsing activity may still be visible to your ISP, employer, or network administrator.

If you are using a SOCKS5 proxy to circumvent censorship, it could also allow your government to see what you are accessing.

If you’re using your proxy with a web browser, both of these issues are mitigated by HTTPS, which encrypts the data that’s sent between your browser and any HTTPS websites you visit.

This makes Man-in-the-Middle attacks harder, and means your ISP or network administrator will only be able to see the domains you visit, not the individual pages.

On balance, SOCKS5 proxies are safe to use, provided you use a trustworthy provider. In general, they do not offer the same level of security as a VPN, though. We recommend that you always use authentication, to minimize risk.

Is SOCKS5 the Same As a VPN?

Both SOCKS5 proxies and VPN services redirect your internet traffic to a third party server. The main difference between SOCKS5 proxies and VPNs is that a VPN connection is encrypted.

Generally, a VPN will redirect all your traffic and a SOCKS5 proxy will only redirect traffic from one application or browser. However, with a more advanced setup it is possible to use both either way.

We normally recommend using a VPN, but there are pros and cons to both VPNs and SOCKS5 proxies.

Here’s a table comparing the key features of VPN and SOCKS5 proxies:

Attribute
VPN
SOCKS5 Proxy
Hides Your IP Address
Yes
Yes
Spoofs Geo-Location
Yes
Yes
Encryption
Yes
No
Easy Setup
Yes
No
P2P
Some Conflict
No Conflict
Kill Switch
Yes
No
Speed
Slower
Faster

Both Technologies Will Hide Your IP Address

VPN services and SOCKS5 proxies are both effective tools for masking your true IP address. This makes it appear as if you’re connecting to the internet from a different location or country, helping to unblock geo-restricted websites and protecting your identity while torrenting.

SOCKS5 proxies use TCP, one of the most popular protocols for internet traffic. This means they are less likely to be spotted and blocked than VPN connections, which are easy to identify. For this reason, SOCKS5 proxies tend to be more effective at bypassing censorship than VPNs.

SOCKS5 Will Not Encrypt Your Browsing Data

SOCKS5 is often faster than a VPN on average, which is particularly useful when transferring large amounts of data. It’s less likely to come into conflict with P2P connections too, which makes it very popular with torrenters.

The drawback is that SOCKS5 proxies are not encrypted, which means your ISP or government will still be able to see which websites you have visited. If your connection is not secured by HTTPS, they will be able to access all the data you have sent.

To test this, we ran a packet-inspection program whilst simultaneously torrenting a file via NordVPN’s SOCKS5 Proxy.

As you can see from the results below, our traffic was unencrypted the entire time, confirming that SOCKS5 proxies don’t encrypt your traffic like a VPN does.

NordVPN SOCKS5 proxy packet inspection screenshot

In our tests, NordVPN’s SOCKS5 proxy did not encrypt our torrenting traffic.

A high-quality torrenting VPN will work well with P2P connections while also encrypting your data, which offers you a greater degree of security.

VPN Services Are Typically Easier to Configure

You can use a SOCKS5 proxy without downloading anything, but it’s not always easy to configure. While it might be more flexible and secure than other types of proxy server, it does take a lot more effort to set up.

Unless you’re a hardcore torrent user, you might find the time and hassle required to set up and use SOCKS is excessive compared to the simplicity of a VPN.

Most VPN services come with easy-to-use applications that update automatically and barely require any manual configuration. To hide your IP address and encrypt your data, you simply download the VPN client and connect to your chosen server.

The best VPNs also come with a must-have kill switch, which prevents data leaks if you disconnect from the server unexpectedly.

If you’re interested in using SOCKS5, we recommend using a VPN service that also offers access to a SOCKS5 proxy. This way, you can choose between trustworthy VPN servers and SOCKS5 proxy servers all with just one subscription.

The Best VPNs with SOCKS5 Proxies In 2022

Of the 56 VPN services we have reviewed, only six included a SOCKS5 proxy in their basic subscription package. We’ve tested these six services and found the best three SOCKS5 VPNS.

The most important things we look for when reviewing a SOCKS5 proxy service are:

  • Nearby server locations
  • Multiple available IP addresses in each location
  • Secure authentication options
  • A trustworthy operating history

Here’s a table comparing the best SOCKS5 VPNs based on the above criteria:

1. NordVPN: The Best VPN for SOCKS5

The largest SOCKS5 network, with servers in North America and Europe.

NordVPN has the largest SOCKS5 network of any VPN provider we’ve reviewed. Its service is secure, trustworthy, and efficient.

Nearby servers are necessary for fast connection speeds. NordVPN offers five city-level SOCKS5 server locations, more than any other SOCKS5 VPN service.

These servers are located in:

  • Amsterdam
  • Atlanta
  • Dallas
  • Los Angeles
  • Stockholm

This means there are multiple server options for North American and European users, but unfortunately nothing available for users in South America, Africa or Asia. Each of these locations contains multiple IPs, although NordVPN has not disclosed how many.

NordVPN's SOCKS5 authentication interface screenshot

NordVPN’s SOCKS5 authentication interface.

NordVPN is one of the most trusted VPNs available, and its SOCKS5 proxy includes personalized authentication to protect you from malicious third parties. The service carries out regular technical audits to ensure it remains secure.

Overall, NordVPN has the best SOCKS5 offering out of every VPN we’ve reviewed. It’s a good service for any user based in Europe or North America.

Vist NordVPN or read our full review of NordVPN.

How to Set Up SOCKS5 With NordVPN

NordVPN subscribers can follow these instructions to access its SOCKS5 proxy:

  1. Open the application you want to route through the proxy server and open its proxy settings.
  2. Select SOCKS5.
  3. NordVPN maintains the following addresses for SOCKS5 proxies:
    • amsterdam.nl.socks.nordhold.net
    • atlanta.us.socks.nordhold.net
    • dallas.us.socks.nordhold.net
    • los-angeles.us.socks.nordhold.net
    • stockholm.se.socks.nordhold.net
    • nl.socks.nordhold.net
    • se.socks.nordhold.net
    • us.socks.nordhold.net
  4. Copy the address for your nearest server, or its IP address, into the application you want to route through the proxy.
  5. For port number, enter “1080”.
  6. Tick the following boxes in your application:
    • Authentication
    • Use proxy for hostname lookups
    • Use proxy for peer-to-peer connections
    • Disable all local DNS lookups
    • Disable features that leak identifying information
    • Disable connections unsupported by the proxy
  7. In a web browser, visit the NordVPN client area.
  8. Navigate to Services > NordVPN > Advanced Configuration.
  9. Copy the service credential into the authentication username and password fields.
  10. Press “OK”.

2. TorGuard: Secure Alternative With 32 SOCKS5 IP addresses

A trustworthy alternative with SOCKS5 servers and secure authentication.

TorGuard offers a good SOCKS5 service for users in North America, especially Canada. It is secure and trustworthy, but users in other regions will want to use an alternate service like NordVPN.

TorGuard has two city-level SOCKS5 server locations available, both of which are in Canada: Montreal and Toronto. These server locations are very close to each other, especially considering they are the only options available.

There are 32 SOCKS5 IP addresses on offer between these two locations, which is more than most VPN services offer. These will be useful to users on the East Coast of the United States and Canada, but users outside of this region are likely to have very slow connections using the service.

TorGuard VPN's SOCKS5 server list screenshot

TorGuard VPN’s SOCKS5 server list.

The authentication offered by TorGuard is good: the service requires a username and password, both of which are generated in the client area of the TorGuard website. Generally, TorGuard is a trustworthy provider with a good historical record.

It doesn’t carry out regular technical audits though, which is expected from the highest-caliber VPN services. The service does maintain a minimal logging policy, although this has also not been confirmed through an independent audit.

How to Set Up SOCKS5 With TorGuard VPN

Follow these instructions to set up a SOCKS5 proxy with TorGuard:

  1. Open the application you want to route through SOCKS5 and navigate to its proxy settings. Make sure SOCKS5 is selected.
  2. Find a nearby IP address from TorGuard’s list of SOCKS5 servers.
  3. Enter the IP address into your application, and use port “1080”.
  4. Access your SOCKS5 username and password in the TorGuard client area.
  5. Tick the following boxes in your application:
    • Authentication
    • Use proxy for hostname lookups
    • Use proxy for peer-to-peer connections
    • Disable all local DNS lookups
    • Disable features that leak identifying information
    • Disable connections unsupported by the proxy
  6. Copy your username and password into the application and press “OK”.

3. Private Internet Access: Best SOCKS5 VPN for Torrenting

An excellent torrenting VPN with one SOCKS5 server location in Amsterdam.

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a very good torrenting VPN that also offers a SOCKS5 proxy as part of its service. The proxy service is more limited than its VPN offering, though.

PIA includes just one SOCKS5 server location in Amsterdam. However, there are 30 IP addresses available in this location. This is great for users connecting from Western or Central Europe, but not very good for users anywhere else in the world.

For PIA to improve it’s rating as a SOCKS5 VPN, it urgently needs to expand this network.

PIA's SOCKS5 Client Control Panel screenshot

PIA’s SOCKS5 password generation in the Client Control Panel.

PIA uses strong authentication for its SOCKS5 proxy, generated from within the client area. You can re-generate new authentication information whenever you want. It is an extremely trustworthy service, with a no-logs policy that has been verified multiple times.

Private Internet Access’ VPN application also includes a multi-hop feature which allows you to combine its VPN service with its SOCKS5 proxy (or any other SOCKS5 proxy).

How to Set Up SOCKS5 With Private Internet Access

PIA subscribers can access the SOCKS5 proxy by following these instructions:

  1. Open the application you want to route though the SOCKS5 proxy and find its proxy settings. Ensure SOCKS5 is selected.
  2. Copy proxy-nl.privateinternetaccess.com, or the equivalent IP address, into your application.
  3. Enter port number “1080”.
  4. In a web browser, navigate to the PIA client control panel.
  5. Navigate to Downloads > VPN Settings > SOCKS and click “Generate Password”.
  6. Tick the following boxes in your application:
    • Authentication
    • Use proxy for hostname lookups
    • Use proxy for peer-to-peer connections
    • Disable all local DNS lookups
    • Disable features that leak identifying information
    • Disable connections unsupported by the proxy
  7. Copy the username and password from the PIA client control panel and Press “OK”.

How to Set Up and Use a SOCKS5 Proxy on Different Devices

Unlike VPNs, which come with an app, SOCKS5 proxies need to be set up manually. This can seem daunting, but is fairly straightforward.

SOCKS 5 proxies can be installed either at the operating system (OS) or application level. If you choose to set up the proxy at OS level, it will re-route all your internet traffic. At the application level it will only affect traffic from that application.

For instructions setting up a proxy at OS level, see our instructions for Windows 10 or MacOS. For the application level, see our torrenting setup instructions or firefox setup instructions.

On Windows 10 & 11

Follow these steps to manually set up your SOCKS5 proxy on Windows 10 or 11:

NOTE: These instructions will route all internet traffic through the proxy. If you only want to route traffic on a specific application, see instructions for torrenting clients below.

  1. Navigate to Settings > Network & Internet > Proxy
  2. Under “Manual proxy setup” click “Setup”
  3. Enter your Proxy IP address and port number
  4. Toggle “On”
  5. Click “Save”

Once these steps are complete, you can toggle the proxy on or off from the proxy settings menu under ‘Settings’ > ‘Network & Internet’ > ‘Proxy’.

On MacOS

These instructions allow you to set up a SOCKS5 proxy on MacOS devices:

NOTE: These instructions will route all internet traffic through the proxy. If you only want to route traffic on a specific application, see instructions for torrenting clients below.

  1. Navigate to System Preferences > Network > Advanced > Proxies
  2. In the protocol menu, select “SOCKS proxy”
  3. Enter your proxy server address
  4. Click “OK”

How to Set Up a SOCKS5 Proxy With Your Torrenting Client

A SOCKS5 proxy can be set up directly with any application, including your torrenting client.

These step-by-step instructions are written for qBittorent, the safest torrent client in our testing. However, the process is very similar in uTorrent, Vuze, Deluge and other popular clients.

NOTE: These instructions will only route your torrenting traffic through the proxy connection. No other internet traffic will be rerouted.

  1. Open qBittorrent
  2. Navigate to Options > Network
  3. Under “Type”, Select “SOCKS5”
  4. Enter your proxy IP address and port number
  5. Tick “Use proxy for peer connections”
  6. Press “OK”

In the Mozilla Firefox Browser

You can also configure a proxy for your web browser. These instructions are for Mozilla Firefox version 103 and newer, but they may also work with older versions.

NOTE: These instructions will only route your Firefox browser traffic through the proxy connection. No other internet traffic will be routed.

  1. Navigate to Menu (top left of the browser window) > Settings
  2. Type “Network” into the search box, and then click on “Settings”
  3. Select “Manual proxy configuration”
  4. In the SOCKS Host field, enter your proxy IP address and port number
  5. Make sure the HTTP and HTTPS proxy fields are empty
  6. Click “OK”

FAQs

Which VPNs Include a SOCKS5 Proxy?

Some VPNs include access to a SOCKS5 proxy as part of their core subscription service. Of the 56 VPNs we’ve tested, we’ve found seven that include access to a SOCKS5 proxy by default. These include NordVPN, Hide.me, IPVanish, PIA, TorGuard, and Mullvad. These are all trustworthy services, but the top-rated SOCKS5 VPN is NordVPN.

How Do You Download a SOCKS5 Proxy?

Unlike a VPN, you don’t need to download a client to use a SOCKS5 proxy. You can run it directly from Windows or macOS, as well as from your torrenting client and other applications.

To run a SOCKS5 proxy, you simply need a computer running on Windows, macOS or Linux and the IP address and port number for a SOCKS5 server.

You can either set up your own SOCKS5 server or pay a subscription for access to one.

Can You Use SOCKS5 at the Same Time as a VPN?

In most cases, it’s not possible to run a SOCKS5 proxy and a VPN at the same time. In any case, we don’t recommend doing so.

Together, a VPN and SOCKS5 would work in series: first your traffic is routed to the VPN server, and then to the proxy server. A VPN on top of a SOCKS5 proxy would encrypt traffic in your local network, but it wouldn’t be able to encrypt the traffic after it has left the VPN server.

In most cases, the only difference between running a VPN with SOCKS5 is that it will be slower than a VPN connection on its own.

Can I Use a SOCKS5 Proxy for Free?

You can find free SOCKS5 proxies online, but we don’t recommend it.They are typically less safe and secure, and they often throttle your internet speeds.

There are several dedicated SOCKS5 proxy services you can pay for access to, although these have become less common in recent years.

Generally, the best way to get access to a SOCKS5 proxy is to subscribe to a trustworthy VPN service that also offers access to a SOCKS5 proxy as part of the subscription.

How Do I Find My SOCKS5 Proxy IP Address From a URL?

SOCKS5 providers often give you a URL, but torrenting clients and web browsers will often ask for an IP address. Luckily, it’s fairly simple to find an IP address from the URL you have been given.

Here are the instructions for finding a SOCKS5 IP address from a URL on Windows 10 & 11:

  1. In the search bar, type “run” and press enter
  2. In Run, type “cmd” and click “OK”
  3. In the command console, type “ping [server url]” or “nslookup [server url]” for a full list of ip addresses
  4. Press Enter
  5. The IP listed is the SOCKS5 server IP, and you can use it in your client