Shadowsocks and VPN: What’s the Difference

Shadowsocks and VPN – What’s the Difference

Initially, the reason for creating Shadowsocks was to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. However, many countries now successfully use it to gain access to many foreign websites. The word “Shadow” in this term signifies the fact that it is an in-between technique programmers created as a workaround to evade authorities censoring internet traffic. Meanwhile, VPNs allow users from countries with firewalls to have access to the open internet.

Shadowsocks is a lightweight and portable program, specifically designed to aid internet users in China overcome the restrictions imposed by the so-called Great Firewall (GFW), also known as the Golden Shield. This tool allows you to enjoy your preferred television channels or site.

However, there has been a constant comparison between a VPN and Shadowsocks. Whereas Shadowsocks is a proxy, a Virtual Private Network encrypts your connection and makes your internet activities untraceable. Although both a VPN and Shodowsocks have numerous similarities, there are major differences between them. Read on to learn more. 

What Is Shadowsocks?

Shadowsocks is a lightweight, secure and fast proxy that helps bypass firewalls. It is fully compatible with all kinds of internet applications. It was created to help bypass the GFW (Great Firewall) in China.

Shadowsocks is an open-source SOCKS5 proxy that helps people all over the world to access online media. It helps bypass ISP firewalls and other forms of censorship. You can use Shadowsocks to send/receive data from every TCP application that has support for SOCKS5 proxy or use its API on your device or software.

It uses strong encryption to prevent advanced monitoring and filtering, detect protocol anomalies, and make it difficult for even the most powerful defenders to block its traffic.

An open-source SOCKS5-based proxy project, Shadowsocks was first released in 2012 by its creator, a Chinese programmer under the alias of “clowwindy”. However, the programmer retired in 2015 due to the Chinese police pressure, but it has since become open-source with different anonymous collaborators. 

How Does Shadowsocks Work?

Shadowsocks makes it possible for you to bypass internet censorship and firewalls, even when you’re in China. It is a proxy designed to help you visit the sites you want while bypassing your ISP’s DNS filtering. It will also bypass any censorship currently in place over the area. To understand how Shadowsocks works, we first need to understand something about the internet as a whole. It’s a big network of interconnected computers, with every computer connected to every other computer through paths called “network routes”.

Shadowsocks replaces your traditional TCP connection with a more advanced one. It does this by implementing a system that covers the connection between your device and the Shadowsocks server. With that little rule change, you can easily bypass the GFW and use any website you want within China. The clients establish a connection through an encrypted socks5 tunnel to the server, whose local IP address and port are public. The data is encrypted on its way to the server, and given the freedom to flow through the server, through a different network altogether, to be decrypted only when it reaches its final destination. It will bypass the geo-block and grant you access to your preferred content. 

Benefits of Using Shadowsocks

Individuals and companies choose Shadowsocks for several reasons. Some of the benefits of using the program include:

Easy Setup

While many of its peers have to rely on complex configurations, Shadowsocks is easy to set up. Its open-source nature ensures that all customers get more features for free.

You can simply download, run the server on any Linux machine, and connect to it from any Shadowsocks client. You can set up and use the Shadowsocks client in a matter of minutes, making it easy and unobtrusive for all users. No third parties are required for this process, making it a simple way to unblock the web. 

This means that with basic knowledge about how Shadowsocks works, you can use the program, unlike other programs and protocols that may require a lot of technicalities.

Bypass Geo-blocks

Shadowsocks was created to bypass the GFW in China. The firewall prevents users from accessing a lot of content and sites, so Shadowsocks was created to bypass it. Although it is now used in different countries all around the world, it remains effective in bypassing geo-restrictions and preventing government surveillance. 

Many people rely on Shadowsocks because it can bypass the strict restrictions on internet platforms including Netflix, GTA online, HBO, Disney+, and many others.

Choice of Encryption

Shadowsocks allows you to decide the sites to encrypt your traffic on. Shadowsocks makes it possible to choose where in the world you want to access the content. Therefore, you can get around firewalls and other internet blocks with no speed loss. Unlike other tunnels, Shadowsocks doesn’t redirect your entire traffic but only the applications you choose. For instance, you can choose to use Shadowsocks only for Netflix. All other traffic will be sent through your local ISP. With Shadowsocks you can use any internet application and any network on top of it, whether it’s in a censored country or not.

What Is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an encrypted tunnel that allows users to safely communicate to a network. It redirects your internet traffic into a private, encrypted tunnel through the internet. This way all the websites you visit, all communications towards the internet are secured and therefore made anonymous. 

Outside parties won’t have access to your sensitive data, like bank account information or passwords when shopping online. When you connect with a VPN, the vital information (emails, passwords, documents, instant messages) sent across the internet is encrypted before being transmitted, anonymously tunneled to your destination, and then decrypted. This prevents eavesdropping, identity theft, and even censorship by ISPs or local governments. The VPN also protects against hackers, identity thieves, and government surveillance

​Once you’re connected to this private network, you’ll be able to use any online service to its fullest. It changes your IP address and allows you to bypass all geo-restrictions and government surveillance. Blocked websites such as Netflix or Hulu will suddenly become accessible. 

How Does a VPN Work?

A VPN acts as an intermediary of sorts as you connect to the internet, thereby hiding your IP address — the string of numbers your ISP assigns your device – and protecting your identity. Furthermore, if your data is somehow intercepted, it will be unreadable until it reaches its final destination.

A VPN enables you to track down a remote server run by the VPN host, and surf the web through it. This means that the IP address which appears on sites is the VPN host’s, rather than yours. The VPN host applies its security to your data as well as enabling you to access content on sites that are geographically restricted – unlike a proxy, it offers true confidentiality.

If you regularly connect to public WiFi or log onto unsecured networks (like in an airport or hotel), then a VPN can help keep your private information out of the hands of hackers by encrypting all of your internet traffic.

Benefits of Using a VPN

VPNs are one of the most effective tools for access, privacy, and security. Some of the benefits of using a VPN include:

Total Online Security

The benefits of using a VPN are numerous. For one thing, a network can defend itself against intrusion and keep its data secure. Its encryption creates a secure tunnel for data you transmit so it can’t be intercepted. It does this by keeping the information you transmit out of reach. It helps protect your personal information, as well as keep search engines from tracking what you search for. In today’s world with lots of hackers looking to steal identity, using a VPN provides a bit more protection over the information you transmit over the web. It can keep your information secure, allowing you to browse the web anonymously and avoid government censorship.


Good VPN services have a strict no-logs policy. Not even the VPN provider will monitor your online activities. All your data and online activities will be encrypted, free from prying eyes, and government surveillance when you connect to a VPN service. A good VPN provider will keep your data safe and private. By using a VPN service, you can protect your identity from marketers, hackers, and cybercriminals who want to steal your data by monitoring your online activities. A VPN hides your IP address, so not even your Internet provider can tell what websites you are visiting.

Bypass Geo-blocks 

A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and allows you to appear in another location entirely. Whether it’s Netflix, AmazonPrime, or social media platforms, VPNs successfully bypass all forms of geo-restrictions. It will bypass the GFW, and grant users access to preferred content. 

Difference Between Shadowsocks and a VPN?

Following its introduction, the open-source Shadowsocks is now popular in China with millions of people now using it. While VPN allows you to access sites blocked by the Great Firewall of China with anonymity, Shadowsocks focuses on circumventing traffic restrictions. The core idea behind Shadowsocks is similar to the point-to-point protocol in that it establishes a connection between two networks regardless of the intervening network and any associated traffic restrictions. The difference here, however, is that Shadowsocks uses TCP as its base protocol and HTTPS as its tunneling protocol.

Compared to alternative measures such as a proxy service or an SSH tunneling utility, a VPN presents itself as a safer solution. Using a VPN routes your entire internet connection through a virtual tunnel secured by military-grade encryption. Not only will this make your online activities invisible, but choosing a secure version also assures that you remain protected from hackers and individual snoopers on public networks.

Unlike a VPN, Shadowsocks does not focus on privacy and security. Instead, it focuses on bypassing the GFW and accessing blocked content. Although it still provides security, it won’t protect you like a VPN. 

Shadowsocks servers can bypass firewalls, geo-blocking, and deep packet inspection. They are completely free to use and don’t affect the speed of your internet connection. Reliable VPNs on the other hand, require a paid subscription and can rely on a single server for access instead of an entire network like Shadowsocks. But VPN has the upper hand that it’s impossible to trace the user.


Shadowsocks and VPN share some similarities. They can both bypass firewalls like GFW and grant access to blocked content. However, VPN is much more suitable if you are looking for stability, better protection against cyber-attacks, and protection of your personal information. You can decide to use only a VPN or use both VPN and ShadowSocks simultaneously.