Shadowsocks is proxy software that was built for the specific purpose of helping people in internet censored countries access the blocked websites, it has become very popular among Chinese users recent years, it is also a very helpful tool for foreign travelers in China or some other internet censored countries, as it’s a cheaper way for them to unblock those frequently used websites like Google, Twitter, YouTube and the like.
Shadowsocks works similar to a VPN, it reroutes a user’s internet data sent by the computer or smartphone to a remote server in an uncensored country, which is called a Shadowsocks server, only then will it connect to the wider internet, as a result, the user can browse the internet content accessible from that country even he or she is actually traveling in China.
Unlike normal proxy software, Shadowsocks also encrypt the data transferred between the client and the server, so the authorities can’t recognize your proxy traffic, that’s why it is hard to get blocked like other proxies.
If you think the price of VPN service is higher than you can afford, then Shadowsocks is the best choice for you to access the open internet when you traveling in China, typically you only need to pay a small amount of fee for the server that runs Shadowsocks, usually about 5 to 10 dollars a month. If you think it’s a hassle to get a remote server by yourself, consider subscribe a VPN service, it’s much simpler.
To use Shadowsocks, you need to have two things: a Shadowsocks client application and a remote Shadowsocks server located outside of China(it’s for getting a foreign IP address, so that you can access the unfiltered web). The client application can be easily downloaded from the website of Shadowsocks or an app store and is easy to use, but the Shadowsocks server is a little complicated to set up, so let’s first see how to get a Shadowsocks server.
To get a Shadowsocks server, first rent a virtual private server(VPS) from a VPS or cloud provider(There are many different VPS and cloud providers, DigitalOcean is one of the most renowned cloud providers, you can get access to a VPS from DigitalOcean for only 5 dollars a month.), and then log in to that server using the command prompt on your local computer, and enter the script to install Shadowsocks on this remote server turning it into a Shadowsocks server, you will also need to set the server port and password for your connection, all these things must be done using command line interface, not a GUI software, this process requires some deep technique skills, it’s quite complicated for average users.
For this reason, many Shadowsocks users in China are not connecting to the Shadowsocks servers set up by themselves, but just ask for an account from some tech savvy users who wish to share their servers, or buy it from some sellers. So that they can skip the above mentioned complicated server setup process and directly use the Shadowsocks client app (which is easy to do, simply input the server IP address and an account password to the app) to enjoy the open internet.
However, for foreign travelers it’s hard for them to find a credible seller.
Luckily, now setting up your own Shadowsocks server is no longer that difficult for average users, since Jigsaw(a cyber-security division of Google’s parent company Alphabet) invented a new Shadowsocks software this year, it’s called Outline, and works with Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS and Linux, the software comes with two components, a client app and a managing app called Outline manager(the manager will only be used when setting up the Shadowsocks server).
The Outline Manager can help users to set up a Shadowsocks server with only a few clicks in less than a minute. You do not need to type a single command line, as after a few clicks it will automatically complete the configuration of things needed for running Shadowsocks on the server you rented. In contrast to a normal Shadowsocks software, Outline integrates with the API of DigitalOcean(the cloud provider that Outline recommends) to make the process for setting up of a Shadowsocks server simple enough so that people without deep technical skills can also use Shadowsocks.
Now let’s see how to set up a Shadowsocks server with Outline, after the steps below, you will be able to connect to the server to start using Shadowsocks.
First, go to the website of DigitalOcean and create an account there, you are also free to choose another VPS or Cloud provider, but for easiest setup experience, Outline recommends using DigitalOcean. You will have to complete many additional steps to set up the server if you do want to use other Cloud providers.
After an account of DigitalOcean is created, go to the website of Outline to download the Outline Manager.
Open Outline Manager, fill in the username and password of your DigitalOcean account and log in.
You will then see a list of the available server locations: Amsterdam, Singapore, Bangalore, Frankfurt, London, San Francisco, Toronto and New York.
Here we choose Singapore, as this city is located much closer to China and some smaller internet censored countries, typically, the shorter the distance between server and client, the faster and more stable the connection speed will be. After the server location is selected, click the “Set up Outline” button.
The Shadowsocks server will be automatically set up in seconds, then you need to connect to your server.
Note: Some security software may interfere with the setup process of Outline, if any of these steps doesn’t process, try to temporarily turn off the security software.
Click the text that says “Get connected” to connect, the text is right below that green “Add key” button, which you will not use unless you want to share your Shadowsocks server with other users.
And click the black “connect this device” button.
An access key will show up, copy the code, and better write down or type it to store it in a safe place, the access key will be used whenever you use the Outline on a new device.
You will then be prompted to download Outline client app, after the server is set up by the Outline Manager, the client app is the only thing you will need every time you want to connect and use Shadowsocks.
Wait a few seconds for the client app to be downloaded on your device. You are not restricted to download the app only through clicking that “Install outline” button, you can also download the client app from some app store or the website of Outline.
Once the client app is downloaded, open the app, it will automatically detect the access key you copied in your Outline Manager, in your client app, click “add server” your device will be connected to the Shadowsocks server.
After that just leave the app(don’t exit the app), and go back to your browser or apps of blocked websites like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, test to see if you can access them. If you are not using a really weak internet connection, you are now able to access or use those blocked websites or apps.
While Shadowsocks is much more reliable than other proxies in China, and cheaper than a VPN service, it also has several downsides.
Downsides of using Shadowsocks:
2. You can’t watch Netflix with Shadowsocks, as the software is not designed for that, it’s mostly used to access the blocked sites, Netflix is able to detect and block Shadowsocks traffic.
3. You can’t torrent with Shadowsocks, since your Shadowsocks server has only you or your friends connected, torrenting activities can be easily traced back to you.
4. Unlike a VPN, Shadowsocks is not a anonymity tool, it can’t make you anonymous on the internet.
5. Being one of proxy software, Shadowsocks proxy might not be compatible with some apps on your smartphone, which means some apps may still be blocked.
If the issues mentioned above are of your concern, then VPN service is most suitable for you, if you haven’t tried using a VPN before, check out this article to see what to look for when choosing a VPN service, and which are best ones on the market.