What Is the Tor Browser? A Guide to the Dark Web Browser

Computer on a table with onion icon and incognito Wi-Fi background
Click here for a short guide on how to install Tor
The Tor Browser: Quick Installation Guide

The Tor browser is an internet browser that allows users to surf the web anonymously. It also gives you access to the dark web. If you want to get started with the Tor browser, you can follow these steps:

  1. Install a VPN to protect you online.
  2. Go to the Tor project website.
  3. Download the right Tor browser installer for your operating system.
  4. Install the browser.
  5. Click “Connect.”

You’re now ready to browse all corners of the world wide web with the Tor browser. If you’re not sure which VPN will protect you best while using Tor, we’d like to recommend CyberGhost.

For more information about Tor and a detailed installation guide, check out our full article below.

The Tor Project is instrumental to true freedom on the internet. Its main offering, the Tor browser, is a web browser that lets users stay anonymous online and protects them from being tracked by hackers, internet service providers, and even corporations and governments.

In this article, we talk about how the Tor browser works, what you can use it for, and its advantages over other privacy-related solutions, like a proxy server.

What Is the Tor Browser?

Laptop with onion iconTor (short for “The Onion Router”) is a completely free, open-source browser that helps you surf the internet anonymously. It erases your browsing history automatically with every session, and encrypts all your traffic.

It also lets you access the dark web — the hidden and un-indexed websites on the internet. Because of its ability to let you access the world wide web freely, some countries block Tor entirely.

Originally, the Tor network was developed by the U.S. Navy to enable anonymous online communication for military organizations. In 2006, the military dropped the project, which has since been handled by a non-profit.

These days, the Tor Project mainly focuses its attention on its browser and the development of a few other privacy tools, which we’ll touch on later.

How does the Tor browser work?

Tor aims to improve your online privacy and, up to a point, your security. The browser makes use of Tor’s vast and worldwide server network to hide your IP and secure your connection.

When using Tor browser, your data goes through different Tor servers (or “nodes”). The traffic is heavily encrypted — and then slowly decoded — one layer at a time at the different nodes.

This means that, whoever is trying to identify you based on your online traffic, will just stumble on the last server your data traffic passed through (a.k.a. the ‘Tor exit node’). In other words: this browser makes it impossible — or at least very difficult — to identify Tor users. For surfing the web anonymously, using the Tor browser is better than using a normal web browser.

How Does Tor Work - Network Nodes

This triple-layered encryption comes with a disadvantage. The Tor browser is generally much slower than your bare internet connection. Because your online traffic is sent through different nodes, your internet connection will have to go the long way around and therefore become significantly slower.

Dark web icon with gavelThe use of the Tor browser itself (and any other Tor project software) is completely legal in most jurisdictions, especially in countries with minimal censorship. However, some Tor users do engage in illegal activities.

Using the Tor browser doesn’t make these activities any less illegal. Therefore, we strongly advise you to refrain from such practices. For more information on Tor’s legality, read this article on the topic.

What Can I Do with the Tor Browser?

anonymousMany people use the Tor browser to view geo-restricted content, bypass censorship, and visit websites that can’t be found on the surface web. This is called “the dark web” — a place where unregulated websites, pirated content, and illegal substances can be found.

Apart from visiting the dark web, many journalists and political activists use the Tor browser to circumvent censorship. The anonymity provided by Tor helps them avoid being spied on by interested parties and lets them publish articles and spread news about important events.

Popular news media like BBC News and ProPublica have “onion websites” (a.k.a. dark web versions of their regular websites).

Similarly, journalists use the Tor browser to protect their sources. If someone doesn’t want to risk being revealed or tracked, they can communicate sensitive information through the Tor network.

The Tor browser and the dark web

Pirated content iconThe Tor browser is the only browser that lets you visit the dark web. The dark web generally features websites that you can’t access through a normal search engine or via a conventional browser. You also need to know the exact web address to visit a dark website.

The dark web is home to unregulated websites, which means you can find anything from pirated movies to black markets, illegal drugs, and child porn on there.

As such, we don’t advise visiting the dark web unless you know what you’re doing. We also have a dedicated guide for information about the Dark Web.

How to Download the Tor Browser

Installing the Tor browser on your device is easy and straightforward. Follow the next few steps, and you’ll be able to use the browser in a matter of minutes. Just make sure you have a secure VPN and antivirus running before you do.

Safety first: Be careful when you use the Tor browser!

Being able to access unregulated websites possibilities comes with great risks. Opening the wrong link on the dark web can compromise your computer. There are some measures you can take to stay safe while using the Tor browser.

First of all, use a secure VPN. A VPN encrypts your data, hides your IP address, and displays a different IP address so you can’t be tracked. A VPN is essential when using Tor, especially if you’re in a country where Tor is forbidden.

For browsing with the Tor browser, we recommend NordVPN for its secure encryption system and blazing fast speeds.

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Second, never visit websites or click on links you don’t trust. This is especially true of websites on the dark web. Links look different on the dark web; instead of regular web addresses, you get links composed of random letters and numbers. This makes detecting dangerous links even more difficult. We also have a guide on how you can access the Dark Web.

Lastly, make sure you have a good antivirus installed. This will ensure that your device is healthy while you browse online using Tor. As much as possible, avoid downloading anything from the dark web — but in case you accidentally do, a trusted antivirus like Kaspersky will flag malicious files.


How to install the Tor browser on desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Step 1: Go to the Tor Project website and click on the Tor browser download button in the top right corner of your screen.

Tor installatie download button

Step 2: You’ll find yourself on the download page. Select your operating system by choosing one of the four icons shown below. As you can see, you can opt for either Windows, Mac, Linux, or Android. If you want to download the browser in a specific language, you can click “Download in another language or platform.”
Screenshot of a Tor browser download options for different OS
Step 3: A file will be downloaded onto your computer. Opening this file will start the process and install Tor. Choose your preferred language, then press “OK.”

Tor language

Step 4: The Browser Setup will appear. Choose the destination folder (usually you don’t have to change anything here, and the installer will automatically create a new folder for it) and press “Install.”

Tor install

Step 5: During the installation process, you can opt for Tor to start automatically once you’re done installing it. If you choose not to, you’ll have to open it yourself by looking up the program.


How to connect to Tor

The first time the browser opens, you’ll see the message below. In most cases, you can just click ‘Connect’ and get started.

However, if you are currently in a country that actively censors Tor (such as Turkey, China, or Egypt), then it’s best to click ‘Tor Network Settings’ first. The software will help you configure your browser so you won’t be bothered by your country’s online restrictions as much.
Screenshot of a Connect to Tor window with Tor Network Settings option highlighted
Once you’re done configuring, press ‘Connect’ and your Tor browser will open. While it’s setting up a connection, you can choose to have it connect automatically whenever you open the browser.
Screenshot of Establishing a Connection, Always connect automatically option highlighted, Tor browser
Once Tor sets up a connection, your traffic on the browser is secured, and you can use it freely. You can find more information on the Tor browser by visiting the Tor Project website.
Screenshot of a Tor browser interface


What Is the Difference Between Tor and a Proxy Server?

Tor is useful but definitely has its imperfections. Browsing with Tor isn’t as anonymous as you might hope.

Although the people at Tor are constantly working to improve their protection, their software has been cracked in the past. The developers have stressed that it wasn’t their network or system that was breached, but rather individual browsers. Although this assurance might give Tor users some peace of mind, this still shows the Tor browser is not perfect as a stand-alone privacy measure.

Apart from Tor, you can also choose to increase your privacy and online security by using a proxy server. However, proxy servers only work well for specific purposes and situations, such as accessing The Pirate Bay.

Even then, many consider them both less effective and less secure than both Tor and a good VPN. Nevertheless, people often wonder how a proxy differs from the Tor browser. We explain below.

What does a proxy server do?

A proxy server, much like a VPN or Tor, is another way to guide your online traffic through a different server that (figuratively) stands between your computer and your data’s “destination server.”

This server is the proxy, which is offered to you by the person or company that owns it. The setup used for this is often quite simple: everyone using the service sends their data through the same server. All of those people get the same “fake” IP addresses.

Person connecting to the internet through a Proxy Server

Why Tor and a VPN protect you better than proxies

People tend to like proxies because many of them are free to use. However, this doesn’t mean that proxies are the best solution for online safety.

Proxy servers only offer a smaller degree of anonymity. For example, proxies generally don’t encrypt your data, like Tor and VPNs do. Moreover, the privacy a proxy offers isn’t nearly as reliable as that of a secure VPN.

Another disadvantage of using a proxy server is that the server’s host can see exactly what you’re doing online. In theory, they could even log this information, compromising your online privacy.

That’s why, if you’re intent on using a proxy server, you should pick one being run by a trustworthy third party. More often than not, you won’t know the owner’s identity, which makes this hard to do. They could be collecting your data or even injecting ads into the pages you visit.

In short, a proxy server doesn’t offer Tor users the level of privacy and security as other solutions. But if you’re going to use one anyway, at least choose one of the best proxy sites.

Other Tor Projects

Apart from the browser, the Tor Project has quite a few other projects that all have something to do with online privacy. The Tor Project is constantly working on ways to protect its users’ online privacy and fight for online freedom.


Orbot

OrbotOrbot is a free proxy application for Android devices. It uses the same network of nodes as the browser to transport your information over the world wide web. Orbot both helps your online privacy and encrypts your internet traffic. Just like the browser, but for Android.

Note that Orbot is not a browser itself but a proxy application. You still need a secure mobile browser to be safe online.


OONI

OONI focuses on detecting online restrictions. OONI, which stands for Open Observatory of Network Interference, monitors internet censorship around the world. Since 2012, it has been developing free software to detect online censorship.

The software doesn’t protect your device, nor does it bypass the restrictions it finds. It is simply a way to get insights into the global situation surrounding online restrictions and censorship. You can learn more about OONI’s findings on the OONI website.


Tor Messenger

Tor MessengerThe Tor Project once created a chat program that encrypts all communication. They called it Tor Messenger. With this program, you could still use all your regular services such as Google Talk, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter, but your chat data would become anonymous. No logs could be kept, either, so your messages were all completely safe.

However, updates of the Tor Messenger have stopped as of April 2018, meaning the software isn’t as secure as it used to be. This is why we don’t recommend using it.


Stay Safe Online with Tor

Tor is a great champion of online privacy. Its browser provides users with the freedom to visit any website they want and offers them a certain degree of online anonymity. However, this protection is limited to the Tor browser and does not cover all internet activity. You still need a good VPN in addition to using Tor.

If you decide to use the browser, always be careful with unregulated websites, and protect yourself against malware with the best antivirus software. If you protect yourself well and think your choices through, the Tor browser can offer a fun, anonymous, and free internet experience.

Tor’s also great for unblocking restricted websites. For instance, you can access Facebook from Russia using Tor or a VPN. If you want even more privacy, you can also consider establishing an Onion over VPN connection.

What is the Tor Browser? Frequently Asked Questions

Have you got a question about the Tor browser that you’d like a quick answer for? Have a look at our FAQ down below!

Tor (The Onion Router) is a worldwide network of servers used by people who want to greatly increase their privacy and internet freedom. After all, the Tor browser ensures your data traffic passes through different servers (nodes) located all over the world. This makes it a lot more difficult for online entities to track Tor users. Read our article on Tor for more information.

Tor is used for a great number of different reasons. For instance, many journalists in countries without freedom of speech use the Tor browser to report safely and anonymously on sensitive topics. The Tor browser is also used to circumvent other types of online censorship. Furthermore, there are also people who simply use the Tor browser to browse the internet anonymously.

The Tor browser offers users more anonymity by guiding their data traffic through different servers, located all over the world. This ensures your IP-address changes at every server (node), making it way harder for websites to trace back where your data traffic originates from (you). For more information on how Tor works exactly, read our article “What is Tor?”.

Tor can be easily downloaded, for free, on Tor’s website. If you require help with installing the Tor browser on your device, then make sure to read our article, which explains in detail how to install Tor.

Yes, Tor’s main disadvantage is its lower internet speeds. Since Tor guides your traffic through different servers all over the world (nodes), it can greatly decrease your internet speeds. To people who want to browse the web more safely, anonymously and freely, but with good internet speeds, we recommend using a VPN. This privacy and internet freedom solution offers, depending on the provider, better connection speeds and better unblocking options.

Tech writer
Theodor is a content writer passionate about the newest tech developments and content marketing strategies. He likes privacy-friendly software, SEO tools, and when he's not writing, he's trying to convince people they should uninstall TikTok.
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  1. as of 2022 where ExpressVPN has merged with Kape Technologies and has been a confirmed breach of NordVPN in the past, what other VPN(s) do you recommend for extreme privacy.

    • Hi! You can read all about the VPNs we recommend in our top 5 list. NordVPN has upped its security since the hack of the Finnish server in 2019. Due to its strong no-log policy and the immediate action they undertook, we still consider them one of the safest premium VPNs, but if you’d rather not turn to them, we can recommend Surfshark as a (cheap!) alternative. Another option you might like in terms of privacy, would be Mullvad.

  2. If I am using a mobile OS like Tails, do I need VPN? as I have read Tails do no support VPN. so which one is safer to browser darkweb? Tor using Tails or Tor using VPN?
    and what are the advantages above the other?

    • We don’t recommend using Tails with a VPN, no. It can come with many possible issues. We personally recommend using a VPN in combination with Tor, because using an unusual operating system like Tails might make you easier to track online (though, admittedly, it would be hard, whether you use Tails or a VPN). Tails does provide a high level of anonymity, since it’s not tied to you in any way and is even stored on a separate hard drive. However, it’s trickier to use, and if you use a trustworthy VPN (with a “no logs” policy and diskless RAM servers) you’ll get the same results but with less effort and more user-friendliness.

  3. Via the Tor Browser (it states use DuckDuckGo to search) Yet Duck does not show Onion Sites, so why use Tor Browser at all, when searching via Duck?
    There is Torch Search, which I find easier to get Onion Sites, as its made for the Tor Network.
    However its links can be (how can I say) a little complex and there seems to be a lot of illigal activity via Torch Searching. Just read the links descriptions.

    Is there any other Search Engines that is made for Tor Browsers / Network that is much easier to navergate.

  4. I don’t get it. If you use TOR, but still go to Google, or Duck, etc, you still only see the results from those mainstream search engines. Google won’t give you dark web search results, right? And if they didn’t, no reason to use TOR if you have a VPN. So how (other than privacy) is TOR giving you access to the dark web?

    • The thing is, if you use Google’s Chrome browser (or any other browser that doesn’t allow .onion addresses such as Firefox, Edge, etc.) you can’t access .onion (dark web) websites in general. It’s not just that they don’t show up in your search engine. So if you want to visit dark web addresses, you need to use the TOR browser.

  5. It’s best not to use a VPN with Tor. Some VPN’s also keep logs of traffic.

    • While it’s true that some VPNs keep logs, most good ones don’t. Also, in certain cases, as stated on the Tor support site, if you know what you’re doing, a VPN might help increase anonymity, security, and privacy.

  6. What about ProtonVPN? Any comments?

    • ProtonVPN should work with Tor, seeing as they have special Tor servers. This is only the case with ProtonVPN’s ‘Plus’ subscription though, which is on the more expensive side.

  7. If you are have a paranoid mind and want to feed it even more, get a VPN like NordVPN or ExpressVPN and use it over TOR. For that complete anonymity anything is possible, so don’t just use Tor or just VPN, if you are afraid of torrenting or accessing certain pages. I prefer NordVPN because of their prices but ExpressVPN is also really good

    • We wholeheartedly agree. Our advise is to always use a VPN when you want to use Tor, just to give you that extra layer of protection in case you’ll need it. Both NordVPN and ExpressVPN are extremely good options. Both will keep you well protected.

  8. Nice

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