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With the ever-evolving nature of internet-dependent ecosystems, cybersecurity and online anonymity are becoming must-haves. Against this background, some technologies are growing in popularity thanks to the fact that they serve these two important functions. One of these technologies is the proxy or proxy server.

What is a Proxy?

A proxy is an intermediary – a computer found between a web browser (or generally a user’s computer) and a web server. Under this arrangement, all requests originating from the browser first pass through the intermediary before being routed to the server. Similarly, all responses from the web server first go through the proxy before being channeled to the web browser.

In addition to routing traffic through itself, a proxy anonymizes the outgoing requests by hiding their real IP address. Next, the proxy server assigns them a new IP address.

Importantly, there are different types of proxies, each with distinct characteristics and purposes. The main forms of proxies include:

  • Residential proxies
  • Datacenter proxies
  • Reverse proxies
  • Forward proxies
  • Transparent proxies
  • Shared proxies
  • Dedicated proxies
  • Static proxies
  • Rotating proxies
  • HTTP(s) proxies
  • SOCKS proxies
  • Anonymous proxies

These different types of proxies offer numerous benefits, including the ability to access geo-restricted content, blocking access to some websites, as well as facilitating web scraping and ad verification. More importantly, some proxies improve the security of a network by filtering content; HTTP proxies and SOCKS proxies fall into this category. And they form the basis of discussion for this article.

HTTP(s) and SOCKS Proxies

HTTP and SOCKS proxies are somewhat similar in the sense that they are both based on internet protocols. The former is based on the hypertext transfer protocol, while the latter is based on the secure socketprotocol. However, the differences between these two protocols underline the distinctness of these two types of proxies. So, what is an HTTP(s) proxy, and what is a SOCKS proxy?

What is an HTTP(s) Proxy?

An HTTP proxy or HTTPS proxy is an intermediary between an HTTP/HTTPS client and an HTTP/HTTPS server, routing HTTP/HTTPS requests from the browser. This type of proxy is easy to set up as it is mainly created by configuring a web browser or computer. As such, users do not need to procure the proxy from service providers. Part of the configuration process entails defining the new IP address that the proxy should assume. And once the proxy is set up, all the outgoing requests are given this new IP address, effectively hiding the old identifier.

The HTTP/HTTPS proxy sends data via the Hypertext transfer protocol or hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTP/HTTPS) protocol. This application-level protocol fetches HTML documents from a web server. Unfortunately, HTTP is not a secure channel of communication as it does not offer encryption. Despite this setback, HTTP is still supported by HTTPS proxies.

The HTTPS protocol, which undergirds the workings of the HTTPS proxy, encrypts data, creating a secure channel between a browser and a server. As such, an HTTPS proxy is more secure than an HTTP proxy. However, while the encryption aspect improves security, HTTPS proxies are unreliable to some extent as they only support the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

What is a SOCKS Proxy?

A SOCKS or SOCKet Secure proxy uses the socket secure protocol to convey traffic between a web client and a web server through an external intermediary. In this regard, a SOCKS proxy is the intermediary through which the data packets are routed. This arrangement makes this proxy type ideal for bypassing firewalls.

Unlike the HTTP/HTTPS proxies, which only support communication via either the HTTP or HTTPS protocols, SOCKS proxies are versatile. Thanks to updates that have led to versions such as SOCKS version 4, 4a, and 5, this proxy can handle communication sent through multiple protocols. These include HTTP, HTTPS, file transfer protocol (FTP), simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP), and Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3). For this reason, the proxy can be used for emailing, web browsing, and peer-2-peer (P2P) connection.

Furthermore, SOCKS proxies are reliable and fast compared with HTTP/HTTPS proxies. This is because they support both the TCP and User Datagram Protocol (UDP).

Differences between HTTP(s) and SOCKS Proxies

HTTP(s) Proxy SOCKS Proxy
●      It has limited scope as it only handles data sent through the HTTP and HTTPS protocols ●      Supports requests sent through HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMTP, POP3
●      Ideal for web browsing ●      Suited for web browsing, P2P file sharing, and emailing
●      It is less reliable and slow as it mainly uses the TCP connection-oriented protocol ●      It is fast and reliable because it uses both the TCP and UDP (a connectionless protocol)
●      HTTP proxies are less secure as they do not encrypt data ●      SOCKS proxies are secure
●      It cannot bypass firewalls ●      It can bypass firewalls

Conclusion

HTTP/HTTPS and SOCKS proxies are defined by the internet protocol that underpins their usage. While the HTTP/HTTPS proxies use the hypertext transfer protocol or hypertext transfer protocol secure, SOCKS proxies utilize socket secure.

If you’d like to dig deeper into what is a proxy in general, check out this article, where different proxy types are explained in depth.

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