What is Shadowsocks and why is different than VPN?

What is Shadowsocks and why is different than VPN?

Tech solutions are brought to light and continuously improved by high-skilled programmers. And just like the Transylvanian legends, the ones that make an impact will last through the decades, gaining more and more popularity. The great thing is that tech solutions are as real as possible and available for all internet users.

For the sake of all the legends written in the mystic land of Transylvania, today, we are bringing out to light the story of Shadowsocks, a tech solution developed for people living in the shadow of the Great Firewall of China (GFW).

Therefore, if you’re wondering what is Shadowsocks, what is the difference between a VPN and Shadowsocks, and what are the advantages of Shadowsocks, activate your curious mood, and let’s proceed.

As all the great legends have an intro part that stimulates all of your senses, let’s start with our imaginary Transylvanian story that describes Shadowsock in such a manner that it will be impossible for you not to understand the principle behind this technology.

What is Shadowsocks? The curious Transylvanian explanation.

Many, many years ago, before Dracula was born, a bat colony lived in a cave far, far away in the Castlevanian mountains. At that time, vampires did not exist, and the only thing bats were afraid of during the long, dark, and cold nights were the powerful air currents that bats could not cope with. Sometimes, days, even weeks, passed before they could leave the cave without getting harmed by the unseen enemy standing in the way of their freedom.

The little creatures tried all sorts of methods to beat the ruthless wind knocking them down. They used walnut leaves to make their wings bigger and fight the air currents, and they even hung stones on their tiny feet to gain some weight, but this workaround did not allow them to rise from the ground.

Only a brighter mind could come up with a suitable solution, but not all bats are great engineers. Luckily, in the colony lived a bat that no one saw outside very often. He sat in the shadows of the caves, wearing thick socks on his feet, reading all day and learning new things.

Even if the wind didn’t bother him much, because he spent all day in the cave, learning, after the bats explained the situation, he joined the mission. Not long after, the idea kicked-in. To cope with the wind, they must create an access road to the foot of the mountain, where air currents are no longer a problem.

Said and done! With the help of the things they had at hand, they began to build, little by little, a covered vertical passage on the wall of the mountain. The teamwork allowed them to complete the project faster than they expected, and it was a real success, allowing the bats to leave the cave and fly freely again.

Shadowsocks VPN, the technical solution that helps Chinese users overcome the restrictions imposed by the government through the GFW, manages to do the same. Like the passage created by the bats, Shadowsocks allows the creation of an access passage in a remote location, from where all the desired sites are available at a click away.

What is Shadowsocks? An explanation in plain tech terms.

If you wander around the internet like the bats use to do on the narrow Transylvanian streets, you’ve probably heard about Shadowsocks. Another probability is that you may confuse it for a VPN technology-based software.

Well, in reality, a VPN and Shadowsocks are two completely different things that can work together really, really good. It’s like in life when opposites attract and are, usually, a match made in heaven.

But until debating the Shadowsocks – VPN connection, let’s have an overview of the mysterious tech solution that is able to bypass even the fierce Great Firewall of China.

Remember this article explaining the difference between VPN and proxy, and how is SOCKS5 the best SOCKS extension ever developed, capable of differentiating traffic types?

Why am I asking this? Because Shadowsocks is an open-source proxy project developed by a Chinese programmer known as “clowwindy” who used SOCKS5 as the core tech for creating Shadowsocks.

In super easy terms, we can say that Shadowsocks reroutes traffic to a remote server outside of your location, allowing you to bypass internet censorship and other types of online restriction techniques. Unlike an SSH tunnel (a method used for transporting data over an encrypted SSH connection), Shadowsocks can also proxy UDP traffic.

Since 2012, when it was first released, Shadowsocks gained a lot of popularity among internet users looking to bypass censorship and access wester websites. Its popularity drew the authorities’ attention really fast and no longer than 3 years, “clawwindy” decided to retire from the project due to the Chinese police’s pressure. From that point on, Shadowsocks remained an open-source project maintained by its contributors.

How does Shadowsocks work?

Shadowsocks uses a technique called proxying, which allows you to trick firewalls into seeing your connection as a clean and eligible one.

What happens behind the curtain is what makes Shadowsocks great.

When you connect to the internet in the traditional way, you use your device, open a web browser, type whatever you wanna search online, and from that point on, you will reach your final destination on the web.

When you use Shadowsocks, you first connect to a computer other than yours, which is called a proxy server. The proxy server is located in a completely different location in the world. So, if you’re in China and you connect to a server located in Transylvania, you can automatically access Facebook, Google, Youtube, or Skype. But wait, things are not that simple. By establishing a connection as simple as this one, the GFW can quickly identify that you’re trying to trick it. And this is what Shadowsocks does to help you out. When you connect to the Shadowsocks client, the connection between your device and the proxy server is automatically encrypted, by using SOCKS5.

What is shadowsocks and how does it work to help you bypass online censorship

As each Shadowsocks user creates its own proxy connection, detecting and blocking Shadowsocks traffic is almost impossible for the GFW. And just like that, the door to online freedom opens in front of you.

Is Shadowsocks a VPN?

In short and easy terms NO! Shadowsocks is not a VPN. Many people may confuse Shadowsocks for a VPN, because sometimes, on certain tech websites, Shadowsocks is reffered to as Shadowsocks VPN. In my opinion, this is a very wrong approach as there is a fundamental difference between these two technologies – SECURITY.

VPN and Shadowsocks use two technologies which are different in so many ways, starting from the components they have, and continuing with the way it works and the level of security and privacy these solutions offer.

Therefore, don’t confuse these two terms and pick the one that meets your needs, as soon as your needs and requirements are clear.

Shadowsocks vs VPN. Who wins?

The clash of the titans is about to begin, ladies and gentlemen! Who’s going to win the Shadowsocks vs. VPN fight? Let’s find out together by comparing these two technologies.

What we know so far is that Shadowsocks uses proxying to bypass the Great Firewall of China and online restriction and provide access to blocked content around the world. Also, we know that this whole procedure implies an additional server (or computer) that is called a proxy server, and this middle man is located in a different country/region other than yours. When it comes to data security, the information sent over the web is encrypted only between your device to the proxy server.

Each Shadowsocks connection established by users is individual, that is why the traffic generated does not look suspicious for the GFW or other firewalls, granting easy access to blocked content.

All these aspects make Shadowsocks one of the best solutions for circumventing internet censorship.

When it comes to VPN technology, things are a bit more… spicy. To properly work, VPN uses a VPN server, a VPN protocol, and an encryption standard. Anytime a user enables a VPN connection, he automatically connects to a VPN server in his location of choice and, then, the VPN server, helped by the VPN protocol and the encryption standard, encrypts the data and transports it to its destination. The process works back and forth, providing complete protection and data security for your connection.

As VPNs gain a lot of popularity among internet users in recent years, it quickly became a target for the GFW. That is why VPN traffic is easily detected and blocked by the firewall. VPN providers came up with lots of tricks to overcome blocks, and among these solutions, we can mention StealthVPN and even a workaround developed on Shadowsocks.

By simply analyzing this information, we can conclude that Shadowsocks and VPN are somehow the same, but really different. Shadowsocks is the ideal solution for overcoming geo-blocks, while VPN is the right tool to encrypt your traffic and secure your data for complete anonymity.

Advantages of Shadowsocks.

If you have decided that you want to go for a lite level of security and more online freedom, then Shadowsocks is your lucky charm.

Besides its ability to bypass restrictions, here are the other things that recommend this solution:

  • Open-source. Shadowsocks is free and available to use for whoever wants to regain his online freedom.
  • Superfast. Shadowsocks uses proxy technology, meaning that it won’t affect your speed as much as VPN does.
  • Cross-platform. Shadowsocks can be configured on the most popular OSs and devices, including Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, or Linux.
  • Easy to use. Shadowsocks is easy to set up and use, making it accessible for regular internet users.

Looking at things from the other perspective, because Shadowsocks is an open-source and independent project, it may have its lacks and, compared to the VPNs developed by providers who constantly invest in perfecting the service, Shadowsocks may lose some points in front of picky internet users

How to use Shadowsocks?

A great and expected question, I must say!

Considering all the benefits Shadowsocks has, it’s understandable why many internet users, especially the ones living in countries like China, focus on configuring and using this solution.

To enable a Shadowsocks connection, you will need the Shadowsocks client suitable for your device, available on their official site. It is super easy to download and install the application, so rest assured that the first step for enjoying online freedom is a piece of cake.

Next, you will need a virtual private server (VPS) located outside of China. Usually, you can buy/rent such servers from a VPS or cloud provider. The internet is filled with them, so make sure to pick the one that suits your budget and requirements. When you got your server, you will need to log in to it, enter the Linux commands for installing Shadowsocks on your server, set the server port, and the password, by using the command-line interface.

Average internet users may find this approach complicated. Some VPN providers thought about this detail and tried to come up with a working solution that helps users enable a Shadowsocks connection with just a click.

A provider who does a great job at this task is ibVPN. ibVPN implemented Shadowsocks on their Windows app, configuring it as a VPN protocol, meaning that, in this way, the whole connection is anonymous, private, and fully encrypted, allowing users to bypass the GFW too. 

What is Shadowsocks and what solution ibVPN provides for its users

Plus, they are providing tutorials for setting up Shadowsocks on other OSs than Windows. So, for further guidance, it would be more than helpful to throw an eye on their knowledgebase.

Can I combine Shadowsocks with a VPN?

Such a refreshing combination. Like a perfect cocktail on a hot summer afternoon. Combining these two ingredients, one perfect for online freedom, and the other one ideal for privacy, it results in the unstoppable Shadowsocks VPN solution.

As you can easily conclude, when you use both VPN and Shadowsocks, you enjoy the perks of these two technologies all at once.

To have a clear image over this concept, combining Shadowsocks with VPN is like using Tor over VPN. The reason would be the same – to maximize your online privacy while enjoying the advantages of an open internet without restrictions.

Behind the shadows – the conclusions on Shadowsocks.

We live the most interesting days in the history of humankind. People are proving that the impossible can be easily overcome, by taking the right path and by using the right tools.

Shadowsocks stands to prove that I am right. This solution turned out to be one of the best technologies to use when you look to regain your online freedom.

If we compare it to the popular VPN, Shadowsocks lacks security and encryption but internet users facing hardcore restrictions are more interested in gaining access to blocked content than being anonymous.

Therefore, I have some recommendations for you. Decide what you want to accomplish every time you go online, choose the right solution for your needs, but not before you subscribe to our newsletter to be up to date with the latest tech news. Looking forward to having you as a part of our bat-iful community.

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