Testing an ad campaign or a mobile application across multiple locales is nearly impossible without the correct tools. Sure, you can call up a friend at a specific location and ask them to share their screen. But that only works if you have a lot of friends everywhere, tons of free time on your hands, and very simple tests to run.
It makes sense for professionals to opt for a premium service that provides a set of tools to analyze and debug geo-targeted campaigns and applications. VPNs and SOCKS proxies both enable content viewing as it would appear in different locations. But what is the difference, and which should you be using?
What is a VPN?
The VPN (Virtual Private Network) technology was initially designed as a tool to allow enterprises to securely connect remote offices to the corporate network over the Internet. By establishing an encrypted virtual tunnel for the data packets to travel across the Internet, the VPN saved those enterprises a lot of money previously spent on dedicated infrastructure.
Today, VPNs are the default solution for users looking to browse the Internet privately and securely. For businesses, premium VPN proxies serve multiple needs. From protecting the corporate network from intruders to complying with regulations – most businesses simply need one.
What is a SOCKS5 proxy?
SOCKS5 is an extension of the old SOCKS (Secure Socket) protocol that was originally designed to allow web traffic redirection through HTTP proxy servers. Its expansion allows for most types of traffic today to traverse through the proxy server, and even provides some limited encryption capabilities.
What is the difference?
Overall, the two main differences between SOCKS5 proxies and premium VPN services are security and connection speed.
Premium VPNs provide a tight level of security and privacy, encrypting all traffic and authentication. The downside can, potentially, be the speed (upload and download) and responsiveness (ping time) of the connection.
Since every packet has to be encrypted and decrypted on both client and server side the latency of the connection rises. This is especially true if the device you’re using is one with a weaker processor or one establishing multiple VPN tunnels.
That said, most PCs today are far more than capable of handling multiple VPN tunnels, and the professional premium VPN service providers have servers to process the workload on their side.
When it comes working with these services to conduct geo-targeted testing or debugging, there is one major difference that can impact your workflow. While a VPN connection masks and encrypts all Internet traffic to and from a device, a SOCKS5 proxy is application-specific. So while the VPN safely redirects all your traffic, with a SOCKS proxy you need to ensure that all the relevant software has the same SOCKS server defined to get consistent results.
Which is right for you?
VPN services targeting businesses usually include both as part of their offering, attempting to take into consideration the unique needs of every digital business using them. Your usage of the technologies depends highly on your workflow and tasks at hand.
If your application testing needs involve analysis of data packets and integration with tools like Fiddler or Charles, odds are you will be choosing the VPN option. It might also be your choice if you regularly work from inside a corporate firewall that may block SOCKS5 proxy traffic.
With VPN encapsulating the entire connection, it can be used to geo-test just about any service or app. For example, if you need to compare the performance of your video in a browser to its performance in an IM app at a specific location, a VPN would give more accurate results than the same SOCKS5 proxy server defined manually in the browser and IM app.
SOCKS5 is your choice for quick IP throttling in a browser with an extension, or testing from random devices you don’t own. Though not particularly secure, SOCKS5 has the advantage of working clientlessly as well. Most premium SOCKS5 service providers have a user-friendly web app for proxied browsing of websites from any Internet connected device. So if you need to run tests from a device where you cannot download and install a VPN client, SOCKS5 will be your solution.
SOCKS5 + VPN = ?
At this point you might be asking yourself “Why not both”? The answer to that depends, again, on how you run tests and in what environment.
Undoubtedly, using a premium SOCKS5 proxy over a VPN tunnel is the most secure way to mask an entire connection and throttle IP addresses in the browser as needed. That said, it’s worth taking into account the latency increase from the added “stops” along the way of the data.
Considering the differences between the two, you should now be able to see which of your tasks are best served by what tool.
Eyal Katz is head of marketing at Pangeo. Eyal also likes long walks on the beach at sunset, having a cocktail with friends, and listening to Swedish Death Metal