First off, what are SOCKS and HTTP proxies?
Socket Secure (SOCKS) is an Internet protocol that allows for the exchange of network packets between clients and servers through a proxy server.
HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), designed specifically to work with a web browser, is the most common of proxy protocol.
Handling of traffic
HTTP protocols operate at a higher level than SOCKS protocols. That means that whereas HTTP can understand the traffic coming over TCP connections, SOCKS protocols cannot. With their ability to understand and interpret network traffic, HTTP protocols can recognize repeated data requests and cache the replies.
Caching puts the requested data much closer to the client (“requester”), thereby reducing latency – the delay caused by connection and transmission of data between two computers located far apart and communicating over the Internet. That’s a great boost to performance. HTTP proxies are also capable of directly receiving requests from applications that use HTTP as their protocol.
When it comes to operation, HTTP protocols are more limited than the SOCKS protocols. True, HTTP operates at higher Internet security levels than SOCKS, but an HTTP protocol is only able to work with connections over the same HTTP protocol. SOCKS does not use HTTP protocols, but clients using SOCKS are still able to view HTTP-based information online. SOCKS uses a lower level protocol, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), to collect and reassemble packets of transmitted data, giving SOCKS the versatility to operate in many environments.
As mentioned, SOCKS proxies cannot understand network traffic. Actually, that gives it a security advantage: the risk that your identifying data will be read is extremely low. With HTTP, the risk of someone accessing your information is higher; but a more secure option, HTTPS, is available if you need it.
Selecting a Protocol
Here are some criteria you might consider before choosing a protocol to use in proxying.
In selecting a protocol to work with, consider how they’re commonly used. HTTP protocols will mainly be used for accessing web pages and HTTP or HTTPS APIs. SOCKS protocols can be used for accessing any internet protocols, such as email, transferring files via FTP, or web browsing.
Speed is often more a function of the proxy server itself and where it’s located, not the protocol. As a general rule, you want to choose a proxy server that’s physically close to you and the target services, as well as having low latency and high performance. Many HTTP proxies, being available at no cost, naturally attract large numbers of users, often using the Internet at the same time. That can slow everybody down!
What tools do you use in your proxy operations? HTTP offers an advantage in that it will connect with most tools with relative ease, whereas SOCKS protocols are limited in that respect. A good proxy service can provide you the connectivity information you need to help you decide.
Picking a protocol
Clearly both of the proxies described here offer numerous advantages for your proxy use cases. Making a choice between them may come down to your requirements. Are you downloading large amounts of data, doing more general browsing, transferring sensitive information? You’ll need to answer questions like this as you look at the available options. Your online security is of great importance, and your choice of a trustworthy proxy service is equally important.