Proxy Firefox through a SSH tunnel


Have you ever wanted to visit sites during the day from a location that denied access to those sites? Perhaps the company has denied access due to bandwidth considerations or you might have decided that the site you want to goto might not always be work safe depending on the story or pictures? What you need is the ability to create a secure and encrypted ssh connection to tunnel your browser traffic through.

Using a ssh tunnel to retrieve the data from websites is significantly faster than trying to use X forwarding to open a remote copy of Firefox on the remote machine. If a remote browser is used the connection will be saturated by the graphical front end of the remote browser window. Use the tunnel for the web site's data and leave the rendering of the browser to the local machine. This is the most efficient solution.

If you have access to a remote machine by way of ssh you can set up Firefox, or any other SOCKS v5 enabled application, to tunnel its connection through ssh. This way, if you were at work and wanted to browse your favorite sites like MySpace, Facebook or Maxim that are blocked at the company firewall you could.

Getting Started

First you must have ssh access to the remote machine you want to proxy to. Let it be a home machine or a free shell you signed up for on-line. You must also make sure you can ssh from where your browser is to where you want to tunnel to. No need to set this up if port 22 is not open to you from your location to your destination.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Firefox tunnel using SOCKS5 (option 1) is the easiest and quickest proxy to setup. If you just want to get the proxy working then follow the SOCKS5 options.

Configure Firefox for the proxy

You need to configure Firefox to use the proxy. Find the section to add a proxy to the browser. On *nix systems of Firefox you will find the settings in File, Preferences, Advanced, Network, Settings. The setting by default is "Direct Connection to the Internet". We need to setup the "Manual proxy configuration".

You have two(2) options to pick from. You can proxy directly to the remote machine and then connect directly to web sites. This is the SOCKS5 method and is the easiest to setup. Or, you could use a Squid web proxy (if available) on the remote machine to accept the traffic from the ssh tunnel. Squid would then request the traffic from web sites. Pick one of the options below.

NOTE: For our example, ssh is going to listen on localhost ( and port 8080 of the local machine.

Option 1: ssh and direct connect (SOCKS5) : If you are going to use the ssh tunnel with the option "-D 8080" then you need to setup the browser to use a SOCKS5 proxy. Setup the proxy config page with the following entries and leave the rest of the entries blank.

Manual proxy configuration:
  SOCKS Proxy  Port 8080
  check the box for "SOCKS v5"

Option 2: ssh tunnel to squid proxy (HTTP/SSL Proxy) : If you are going to use the ssh tunnel with the option "-L 8080:localhost:2020" to connect to the remote machine's Squid proxy then configure the browser to use a HTTP/SSL proxy. Setup the proxy config page with the following entries and leave the rest of the entries blank.

Manual proxy configuration:
  HTTP Proxy:  Port 8080
  SSL Proxy :  Port 8080 

Optional Step: DNS proxying through SOCKS5 is highly recommended

This step is optional, but since we are going to be proxying the data over the ssh tunnel then we should also proxy the DNS requests as well. The purpose of this exercise is to get to a site we might not otherwise be able to retrieve or just to anonymize our browsing from your location. If we tunneled our data through ssh and then asked the local DNS server for the ips it would defeat the purpose. So, add a boolean option into the URL "about:config" page in Firefox. Name the entry "network.proxy.socks_remote_dns" and set it to true.

This method will only take affect if you use the SOCKS5 proxy method. If you are proxying using the squid method (HTTP/SSL Proxy) you could always check if you can query another, independent DNS server like OpenDNS.

##Preference Name                 Status     Type      Value
  network.proxy.socks_remote_dns  user set   boolean   true

FYI: If you are using the program FoxyProxy you must make sure to go into the "options" section under "miscellaneous" and check the option "use SOCKS proxy for DNS lookups." FoxyProxy will override the about:config option we set above.

Making the ssh tunnel

Lastly, we need to start the ssh tunnel. You have two choices depending if you want the packets to be forwarded to squid on the remote machine or not.

Option 1: ssh and direct connect (SOCKS5) : The following line will start the ssh client and connect to Port 8080 on localhost ( will listen for requests and send them to the remote machine. The remote machine will then send the packets out as if they originated from itself. The ssh options are in the man page of ssh, but to summarize them in order: Compression, SSH2 only, Quite, Force pseudo-tty allocation, Redirect stdin from /dev/null, and Place the ssh client into "master" mode for connection sharing.

ssh -C2qTnN -D 8080

Option 2: ssh to squid proxy (HTTP/SSL Proxy) : The following line will also start the ssh client and connect to Port 8080 on localhost ( on the current machine will listen for requests and ssh tunnel them to the remote machine. On the remote machine ssh will forward the packets to localhost port 2020. If squid is listening on localhost port 2020 on the remote machine then all requests sent though the ssh tunnel will then be forwarded to squid. You can use squid to block ads and speed up web access. If you need assistance with squid, check out the Squid "how to" page.

ssh -C2qTnN -L 8080:localhost:2020

Testing the ssh tunnel

Once you execute the ssh line the encrypted and compressed ssh tunnel will be active in the xterm. We used the "quite" options in ssh so there will not be any logging or output to the terminal.

Make sure Firefox is working by checking the proxy is active and then try to go to a web page. You can also try a site like to verify the ip you have with the proxy is different than without.

If everything is working then you can be assured that all of your browsing traffic is being encrypted through the tunnel and no one at your current location will be able to see your traffic over the network.

Once you are done with the proxy just exit the ssh xterm or kill this instance of ssh with Ctrl-c. Remember to set Firefox back to "Direct Connection" if you want to directly browse from your location otherwise you will not be going anywhere.

Interested in setting up Squid or Samba? Check out our guides covering the Squid Proxy and Samba file share servers. We offer clear explanations and fully working example configurations.


Do you have any recomended modifications for Firefox in about:config ?

Option 1: If you are also annoyed by pop up text when your mouse hovers over a web element you can turn that function off.  false

Option 2: Stop all animated gifs and pictures like ads and annoying dancing cartoons characters.

image.animation_mode  none

Option 3: Blinking text is annoying. Webmasters should not use it. In case they do, we will disallow the function in the browser.

browser.blink_allowed  false

Option 4: An easy way to speed up Firefox is to increase the amount of parallel connections the browser makes to the server. Open up Firefox and type in "about:config" in the URL. Then search for the string "conn" You should see the following entries listed. Modify them as follows:

network.http.max-connections                        50
network.http.max-connections-per-server             25
network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-proxy   12
network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server  12

It is _not_ recommended to use more then 16 parallel connections due to abuse of the remote server and concurrency bottlenecks on the local system. Understand that if you have a slow system then more parallel connections can actually slow the browser down considerably. Also, if you try to open too many connections to a server then that server many consider you hostile and block or blacklist you.

Option 5: The fastest and most efficient way to implement a browser is to use pipelining. This is where a single persistent connection is used, but instead of waiting for each response before sending the next request, several requests are sent out at a time. This reduces the amount of time the client and server are waiting for requests or responses to cross the network. Pipelined requests with a single connection are faster than multiple HTTP/1.0 requests in parallel, and considerably reduce the number of packets transmitted across the network. Apache supports both HTTP/1.0 keep-alive and HTTP/1.1 persistent connections. Pipelining is implement entirely at the browser end, using persistent connections.

To enable pipelining in Firefox browser goto the url about:config . Then search for "pipe" and set the following:

network.http.pipelining              true
network.http.pipelining.maxrequests  8
network.http.pipelining.ssl          true
network.http.proxy.pipelining        true

Is there any way I can switch proxies faster?

There are add-ons, also called extensions, for Firefox called FoxyProxy or SwitchProxyTool you can use. They offer the ability to setup multiple proxy settings and choose the one you want, or turn them off, using a drop down menu.

I noticed you use compression in the ssh tunnel proxy. Why?

The majority of the data you are retrieving using the browser is text or HTML data. This type of data compresses very well at up to 80%. Using compression in the tunnel will speed up the delivery of the data considerably.

Questions, comments, or suggestions? Contact