VPN vs. SOCKS5: how to choose the right tool for you?

The Virtual Private Network (VPN) isn’t a strictly defined technology. It is a set of theoretical principles that a certain network architecture ought to follow before it can be called a VPN. SOCKS5, on the other hand, is a precisely defined protocol. What’s the connection between them, and is either decisively better? Read on!

VPN and its inner workings

To use VPN in practice, theory must be applied to construct a VPN system. There are a number of popular VPN implementations, each with their own pros and cons. The crucial technical differences lie in the tunneling protocol(s) used. Popular ones include L2TP/IPsec, IKEv2/IPsec, SSTP, WireGuard, and OpenVPN (the last one is a whole VPN system with a custom protocol). Several of them are actually combinations of various techniques and protocols. They were merged together to meet the requirements of a VPN system.

Historically, VPNs weren’t required to include any security features. That obvious flaw rendered some VPNs obsolete, but others were upgraded, e.g., SSTP, L2TP/IPsec, and IKEv2/IPsec. They all use both tunneling (to maintain a specific kind of connection) and security (for encryption and authentication). Nowadays, a system must necessarily include safety features to be called a VPN. Unencrypted tunneling is simply a different technique.

What is SOCKS5 about?

The current fifth version of SOCKS is a very popular proxy protocol still in wide use despite standardization back in 1996. Most operating systems support it natively. With a little configuration, you can use SOCKS5 to direct your online traffic to a known remote proxy server. It operates at the session layer (layer 5 of the OSI protocol stack), which makes it a versatile solution. It can serve any protocol from the layers 6 and 7, as opposed to the more prevalent HTTPS proxies. Since version 5, it is compatible with both TCP and UDP packets.

Proxies have some similarities to VPNs. They both work with a server, which is the client’s gateway to a given network. The latter may be a closed corporate intranet or the whole Internet. Also, both proxies and VPNs alter the end user’s IP address as a side effect of using an intermediate server. Actually, any VPN is technically a kind of proxy, though for clarity, these terms shouldn’t be mixed.

VPN vs. SOCKS5: Can they be combined?

The debate about what’s better: – proxy vs. the VPN – is insolvable. It all depends on what the requirements are because both have advantages over the other. Most importantly, VPNs offer full encryption, that’s why they’re called ‘private’ networks. The traffic all the way from the user to the server is entirely protected from prying eyes. But the lack of ciphering is exactly what makes proxies faster. SOCKS5 also has a performance boost thanks to using UDP. So what’s the best of both worlds?

A combination, of course. Like with other compound techniques mentioned above, there are ways to merge SOCKS5 with robust security features. The resulting system, if implemented correctly, is in reality a VPN. For example, this is exactly how TuxlerVPN is constructed.

An example of a SOCKS5 VPN

Using SOCKS5 as an underlying protocol makes the end-user app quite efficient. It’s capable of working as a small ‘server’. That’s a requirement in TuxlerVPN’s optional configuration as a residential VPN. Regarding encryption, the OpenSSL library provides efficient algorithms both for symmetric and asymmetric ciphering: AES-256 and RSA-2048, respectively. All of that is hidden behind a simple GUI. The provider maintains a number of VPN servers spread worldwide, so users can choose one to connect with, as well as a premium subscription service. So there you have it, all the requirements for a VPN service are met. If you wish to try it out, there’s a nice surprise. The free edition has no time or data limit. Only the connection speed and number of servers are capped. It’s one of the few truly free VPN services.

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