There are many different proxy server types. Some of them differ by their source such as residential or datacenter proxies, others through encryption protocols. Finally, there are two types of proxies that can be differentiated by how they send network traffic. These two types are SOCKS and HTTP proxies.
As the names suggest, HTTP proxies use the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) while SOCKS proxies use the Socket Secure (SOCKS) protocol. These protocols have different security and network traffic requirements, which result in one of the proxy types being better at some specific use cases.
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What are HTTP Proxies?
HTTP proxies are ones that use the well-known HTTP protocol. It is the one we use on a daily basis to connect to websites and servers. On a simple level, the HTTP protocol allows applications (clients) to fetch resources from servers by sending text-based requests.
Generally, the HTTP protocol begins with a client sending a request to the server. It, in turn, fulfills the request to the best of its ability. The connection is then terminated.
A HTTP proxy works largely in the same way as it’s simply an intermediary server. So, it takes requests from an originator and forwards it to the intended recipient. HTTP proxies then return the result received to the machine that made the original request.
Finally, some HTTP proxies have an additional secure layer established. These are often called HTTPS proxies, which differ from regular ones only through the fact that they establish a secure connection by using SSL encryption.
Uses of HTTP proxies
As HTTP proxies are the most ubiquitous types of intermediary servers, they’re deployed in nearly every use case. In fact, the use cases for SOCKS proxies are much narrower as they’re only truly worth using in some niche applications.
HTTP proxies remain king in almost all web scraping applications. They essentially allow the process to exist by providing a pool of IP addresses that can be used if one of them is blocked. Additionally, a HTTP proxy has a clearly associated geographical location to it, which allows companies and individuals to gather data from specific regions.
HTTP proxies are also frequently used in email protection services. Their primary purpose is to change the IP address whenever the security system checks potentially malicious URLs. Smart attackers could attempt to restrict the usual IP addresses of security systems or companies, however, with HTTP proxies, they can bypass such blocks.
Similarly to web scraping, a HTTP proxy is used whenever large amounts of pricing data needs to be acquired. Companies use them to access prices from various regions and locations while being able to avoid any potential IP address bans a website could throw at them.
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What are SOCKS proxies?
SOCKS proxies are intermediary servers that use the Socket Secure protocol. It uses the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP, only in SOCKS5) to send and receive data. As the TCP protocol is a lower level one than HTTP, a SOCKS proxy cannot interpret web data or data packet headers.
It may seem like a drawback, however, a SOCKS proxy is also significantly faster than its HTTP counterpart. Additionally, a SOCKS proxy can establish connections through any port and network such as POP3, SMTP and others.
Other than these differences, SOCKS proxies work like their other counterparts. They take requests through whichever internet protocol is chosen and forward them to the intended destination. A SOCKS proxy has an IP address like any other and hides the original one as per usual.
Uses of SOCKS proxies
SOCKS proxies aren’t as universally used as their HTTP counterparts. A SOCKS proxy server is only truly used for its aforementioned speed advantage. Fairly few businesses, however, need the speed and the protocol flexibility that a SOCKS proxy server allows, so the use cases are few and far between.
Video intellectual property protection
All video content is extremely data-heavy. As such, services that scan the internet for potential infringing content would be better off using SOCKS proxies due to the speed they offer. Additionally, the ability to use any type of protocol might also come in handy.
Specific security systems
While a SOCKS proxy cannot block and manage traffic the way a HTTP proxy can, there are still some security applications that can be deployed. As a SOCKS proxy has little to no negative impact on the network speed, it can then act as a low-impact filter.
Additionally, a SOCKS proxy can be employed in cases where back-end services are hidden behind firewalls. Since whitelisting IP addresses or exposing the back-end services to public access are neither good options, a SOCKS proxy can be used as a way to avoid doing either.
Difference between SOCKS and HTTP proxies
Outside of the speed advantage and different use cases of the SOCKS protocol, you’re almost always better off using a HTTP proxy. Even in cases where SOCKS might be slightly better, you’ll find a lot more information on how to set up and use a HTTP proxy, so the entire endeavor will be made easier.
In the end, we would recommend using a HTTP proxy unless there’s really no way to accomplish the goals. Only then opt for a SOCKS proxy server.
More use cases
Can use more protocols
Some specialized software can only use a SOCKS proxy
Easier to acquire
Easier to adapt
Most software accept a HTTP proxy
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