Tor preserves your online anonymity through its unique onion routing, in which your encrypted data passes through several intermediary nodes. None of the nodes know anything about the origin of your data or your final destination, thus protecting your identity, but this process can reduce your browsing speed, and ISPs can throttle Tor traffic without warning. The following tips below will help speed up the Tor browser and make it faster.
Why Is Tor Slow?
Tor is inherently slower compared to other browsers. The main reasons include the absence of a direct connection between the client and online service and, conversely, the presence of several intermediary layers to facilitate routing.
On a regular browser, a client device such as your laptop can directly talk to a web server. Instead of this conventional handshake, Tor uses a multi-layered network (also known as an “overlay network”) consisting of thousands of volunteer-managed relays (or “nodes”) that randomly bounce the data traffic off to a final destination.
Whenever you interact with a website on Tor, the connection will include a minimum of three relays:
- Entry relay: the entry point to a Tor network, also known as a Guard node.
- Middle relays: these pass on the data traffic to other relays and are used to disguise the user’s IP address.
- Exit relay: this shows up in the end when the data packet reaches the destination. It’s the IP address a website would see when you interact with it on the Tor network.
Since your data traffic has to pass through at least three relay nodes, it naturally increases the overall time for a website to appear on your screen. This is why when you use Tor, you feel like you are stuck at slower speeds than normal.
How to Make Tor Faster
While technically Tor will always run slower than a conventional Internet connection, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to browse at a snail’s pace. There are many workarounds to the speed up Tor, and we explain them in full in this article:
- Check Tor Browser for the Latest Updates
- Use Bridge Relays to Circumvent Throttling
- Use New Tor Circuit for this Site
- Make Sessions Discrete with the New Identity Feature
- Optimize Privacy and Security Settings
- Use Recommended Performance Settings
- Insert New Torrc File
1. Check Tor Browser for the Latest Updates
Frequent experience suggests updating the Tor browser allows you to achieve faster speeds. Go to the three-bar menu icon on the top right followed by “Options” and the “General” tab. Here you can check for any updates. If there hasn’t been an update in a long time, you may experience slower speeds. Thus, it is better to stay frequently updated.
2. Use Bridge Relays to Circumvent Throttling
If you suspect that the ISP is throttling your bandwidth while you’re using Tor, you will have to use one of its features called “bridge” relays. This would make it more difficult for anyone monitoring your traffic to determine that you are using this anonymous browser. Tor cannot use a bridge if a proxy was set by you.
To begin, go to the Options menu from the three-bar icon on the top right and select “Tor Settings.” Here you can find the Bridges section: don’t use the bridge relays if your Tor speeds are normal. (It will still be slower than your regular ISP speeds.)
While using a select built-in bridge, you should use the available pluggable transports, such as “obfs4,” “meek-azure” and “snowflake.” They will disguise the traffic between the client (you) and the first hop so that the ISP cannot identify you as a Tor connection.
If none of these pluggable transports can get you online (say you have one smart ISP!), you can then request a new bridge from torproject.com. After you solve the captcha, you will get a bridge connection which will look something like the following image.
Sometimes no new bridges are available. In that case, you can request one by dropping an email to “firstname.lastname@example.org” from Gmail, Yahoo or RiseUp addresses.
After a successful bridge connection, you will be able to enjoy regular or higher Tor speeds independent of your ISP restrictions.
3. Use New Tor Circuit for this Site
If your webpage is not loading fast enough, it can be due to several reasons, such as social networking buttons, analytical tools, advertisements, and other factors. To solve these issues, Tor has a new feature which allows the website or active window to be reloaded over a new Tor circuit. This menu item can be accessed from the three-bar menu. Every time your web page refuses to load quickly, you can click this option for a new circuit. Of course, for this option to be visible, you need to update your Tor browser.
4. Make Sessions Discrete with the New Identity Feature
Sometimes when you’re stuck at slower speeds for no reason, it may be helpful to restart the Tor browser to get fresh speeds. You can also use another feature called “New identity,” which is accessible from the three-bar menu. This is also a nice security feature, as it prevents your subsequent browser activity from being linkable to what you were doing before.
5. Optimize Privacy and Security Settings
To ensure that speed issues are minimal, you need to ensure that your system clock and time zone are set correctly. Tor recommends that the following software be temporarily disabled, as they’ve been known to interfere with browsing:
- Webroot SecureAnywhere
- Kaspersky Internet Security 2012
- Sophos Antivirus for Mac
- Microsoft Security Essentials
- Avast Antivirus
It is better to disable any antivirus software affecting your system tray. Also, disable your firewall, and if you are using a new Tor browser version, uninstall the old one. Do not overwrite the old program. If another Tor is running, it can severely impact your connection speeds.
You should configure Tor to isolate cookies and delete your browsing history after each session. Go to about:preferences#privacy in Tor and make sure you enable these privacy preferences.
6. Use Recommended Performance Settings
Tor has a feature that allows you to adjust the browser’s performance values based on your computer’s hardware and operating system. It can be accessed from Settings and is disabled by default. Enable it to ensure proper speeds that are supported by your device.
7. Insert New Torrc File
One shortcut to speed up Tor is editing your Torrc file. However, this method may not work for everyone and results may vary. You can locate it by right-clicking the Tor browser menu icon and clicking “Properties.” After that, go down the following path: “Tor Browser -> Browser -> Data -> Tor.”
You can search and download a new Torrc file online. Github is one place to look it up. Simply delete the older Torrc file in the folder path and replace it with the updated file.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can a VPN be used with Tor?
Yes. However, the Tor manual itself discourages the use of VPN, but it has more to do with privacy reasons. Tor states that “A VPN/SSH acts either as a permanent entry or permanent exit node. This can introduce new risks while solving others.” You’re certainly at risk when you use any unreliable VPN providers which log all your details.
Moreover, the VPN-encrypted tunnel prevents both the Tor network and your ISP from seeing your IP address, which in itself is an extra layer of privacy.
Since Tor network uses at least three relays, using VPN with Tor will not slow down your Tor network any more than it already is. Personally, I have always used Tor with VPN, and it does not affect the speeds noticeably. In fact, with the latest VPN protocols, like IKeV2 and WireGuard, you get extremely fast speeds which benefit the Tor network.
2. Does Tor slow down the Internet?
Given that the Tor network uses at least three relays, it should not be used when you want a fast data transfer. You’re always at the mercy of the slowest relay in the network. This doesn’t make Tor very suitable for watching online streaming videos, scheduling video-conferencing calls, or anything else that requires high network speeds.
However, that isn’t why Tor was designed. Tor is the most prolific solution to unravel the Onion sites, and you can’t use a VPN alone to get there. And it does connect to regular websites without any trouble.
3. How can I make Tor faster on Android?
At the moment of writing, the Tor Android version is considered final and stable by the Tor team. But the actual user experience is different. The main reason is that some of the desktop speed customizations can’t be replicated on a phone. The speed of the Tor Android version is good enough for basic browsing though.
Tor has become the go-to browser for privacy lovers, activists, journalists and all those who prefer anonymity in their browsing or when accessing the dark web. By using the methods mentioned in this article, you can speed up Tor and surf with ease.