Monthly Archives: March 2009

SSH, Subversion through SOCKS proxy on Mac OS X

UPDATE Apr 2, 2012
Due to the complete lack of updates for tsocks, I recommend the use of proxychains over tsocks. It accomplishes the same thing but works out of the box.

One persistent problem that I run into is that I need to access certain network resources through a SOCKS proxy server. This is all well and good if they are web resources — Safari, Firefox, etc. support SOCKS proxies quite well. However, I also need, for example, SSH and Subversion access to some resources. SOCKS support is woefully inadequate or nonexistent in these tools.

In the case of SSH, even if you google for this, you’ll run through thousands of examples of using ssh as a SOCKS server, but not through one as a SOCKS client. There are some convoluted solutions, but none of them I can use directly on an OS X 10.5 machine.

TSocks: the solution…if it were that easy

Now, tsocks is a nifty little tool to transparently divert network calls through a SOCKS 4 or SOCKS 5 proxy. This allows even non-SOCKS-aware applications to function through a SOCKS server.

Unfortunately it is very old, unmaintained code (1.8 beta 5 was released in 2002). It doesn’t compile cleanly on OS X due to this, nor will it compile under GCC 4.x. Further, it won’t work out of the box either if you do manage to compile it. The problem is that it relies on the Linux-only LD_PRELOAD functionality to use a shared library to hijack network system calls. This mechanism is called DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES on OS X and only works if DYLD_FORCE_FLAT_NAMESPACES is active.

Getting a working tsocks: MacPorts

There is an easy way to get tsocks. MacPorts ships a ported tsocks package. If you use MacPorts, sudo port install tsocks should do it.

Unfortunately on several machines I don’t use MacPorts, and don’t want to pull down an entire third-party package manager with its own library tree on each of these boxes. So I have do to this the hard way.

Getting a working tsocks: rolling my own

First to notice is that there are two tsocks distributions. One is the original tsocks 1.8b5, last updated in the first half of this decade. To make it work, follow the instructions provided by Marc Abramowitz in 2006. Note that his patch is actually located at his new domain address instead of the old, linked one.

The MacPorts distribution, on the other hand, is based on R. Garcia’s patched tsocks distribution, incorporating some modernization and new features by the Tor team. This distribution is numbered 1.8.x, with the last being 1.8.4. Unfortunately it is also no longer maintained, as the Tor devs forked this into a custom version to use with the Tor network only. Unfortunate, but for now, it still compiles, and works a bit better than the 2002 original.

To roll your own tsocks via source out of the MacPorts distribution, you will want the patches from the MacPorts repository. An outline of the compilation procedure:

  1. Download tsocks 1.8.4 from the author’s page
  2. Download all the patches from the MacPorts repository
  3. Concatenate all of the patches together:
    cat patch-* > tsocks.osx.patch
  4. Put the concatenated tsocks.osx.patch file into the tsocks source directory. Apply the patches:
    patch -p0 < tsocks.osx.patch
  5. Regenerate the configure script:
  6. Configure the package:
    ./configure --prefix=/usr/local --bindir=/usr/local/bin --mandir=/usr/local/man --sysconfdir=/etc --libdir=/usr/local/lib
  7. Install the library and binaries:
    sudo make install
  8. Install the conf file:
    sudo cp ./tsocks.conf.complex.example /etc/tsocks.conf
  9. Edit the conf file. Make sure that if you’re not using tor, that you write in the conf file
    tordns_enable = false

Configuring tsocks

The complex configuration file example should have explained all of the features to be set. For my configuration:

Some important settings:

  • local – this setting, in the format of IP/netmask can be repeated several times, each time to exclude a set of IPs from being diverted to the SOCKS server. For obvious reasons, your SOCKS server will have to exist in one of these excluded IP ranges – otherwise you will never even reach your proxy server.
  • server and server_port – these should point to the IP address and port of your SOCKS server
  • server_typetsocks defaults to SOCKS4 mode. You may wish to set it to 5 for SOCKS5 usage.
  • tordns_enable – this needs to be set as false if you don’t use Tor.

Using tsocks

Once this is set up, simply prefixing the network command you want to run with tsocks will force a diversion through the proxy connection. For example:

tsocks ssh

The same can be applied to Subversion.

tsocks svn update

will force the svn client to act through the proxy set in tsocks.conf.

SOCKS on localhost

Note that SOCKS services on has a minor gotcha. Sometimes, you are able to SSH into a remote machine, and use that connection as your SOCKS server. This is described in my post about using SSH as a pseudo-VPN, which describes the -D switch. My use case here is that once you do this, all further local SSH connections to other machines should be diverted through the first SSH. For example, I’d like to do:

my-machine$ ssh -D 40000 # establish a SOCKS server on localhost:40000 to the gateway host

and then:

my-machine$ ssh # access the protected lan-1 machine through the SOCKS, which will see me as 

This is very doable in the tsocks setup if you set tsocks.conf:

server =
server_port = 40000

and then:

my-machine$ ssh -D 40000
my-machine$ tsocks ssh

This is the gotcha: make sure the netmask is set correctly to Otherwise tsocks will die with a cryptic:

IP ( & SUBNET ( != IP on line 22 in configuration file, ignored

It is apparently fairly sensitive about the subnet mask setup to conform to exact standards.

With this tsocks setup, you won’t have to create special VPNs to lock a LAN machine behind a gateway. As long as you can SSH into the gateway machine from your local machine, you can access the resources behind it with any application on your local machine via tsocks. Nifty, huh?