For more information about Tor and the dark web, have a look at these articles:

What does tor do

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Tor Browser uses the Tor network to protect your privacy and anonymity. Using the Tor network has two main properties:

  • Your internet service provider, and anyone watching your connection locally, will not be able to track your internet activity, including the names and addresses of the websites you visit.
  • The operators of the websites and services that you use, and anyone watching them, will see a connection coming from the Tor network instead of your real Internet (IP) address, and will not know who you are unless you explicitly identify yourself.

In addition, Tor Browser is designed to prevent websites from “fingerprinting” or identifying you based on your browser configuration.

By default, Tor Browser does not keep any browsing history. Cookies are only valid for a single session (until Tor Browser is exited or a New Identity is requested).


Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows you to improve your privacy and security on the Internet. Tor works by sending your traffic through three random servers (also known as relays) in the Tor network. The last relay in the circuit (the “exit relay”) then sends the traffic out onto the public Internet.

How Tor works

The image above illustrates a user browsing to different websites over Tor. The green middle computers represent relays in the Tor network, while the three keys represent the layers of encryption between the user and each relay.

    Contributors to this page: cypherpunk
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What Is the Tor Browser? A Guide to the Dark Web Browser

Computer on a table with onion icon and incognito Wi-Fi background

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. Installa 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” and you’re all set to go.

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 NordVPN.


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

The Tor browser is a web browser that lets users stay anonymous online while on the dark web and protects them to a certain degree from being tracked by hackers, internet service providers, and even corporations and governments. This browser is the main offering of the Tor project, which focuses on creating open-source anonymity and privacy-focused technologies.

In this article, we walk you through the intricacies of the Tor browser, how to use it to access the dark web, and its advantages over other privacy-related solutions, like a proxy server. However, we will also delve into some of the drawbacks of using this browser.

What Is the Tor Browser?

Laptop with onion icon

The Tor browser, also known as the onion browser or dark web browser, is an abbreviation of the “The Onion Router.” It 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.

With Tor, you can access the dark web — the hidden and un-indexed websites on the internet. Tor’s ability to enable users to access the internet freely has led to some countries blocking it 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 uses Tor’s vast worldwide server network to hide your IP and secure your connection.

When using the Tor browser, your data goes through different Tor servers (or nodes):

  • Entry node: This is the first node Tor connects with. Your IP address is visible here, but the entry node cannot see what you are connecting with.
  • Relay node: This node passes along the traffic it receives.
  • Exit node: This part of the Tor server forwards you to the website you want to see. Your IP address is not visible here, but your destination is.

The traffic is heavily encrypted at the first node 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 this dark web browser is better than using a normal web browser.

infographic explaining what the Tor network is and how it works

This triple-layered encryption comes with a disadvantage, though. 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.

Is the Tor browser legal?

Dark web icon with gavel

The use of the Tor/dark web 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. You also need to understand the legal consequences of using Tor.

What Can I Do With the Tor Browser?


Many people use the Tor web browser to do the following:

  • View geo-restricted content
  • Bypass censorship
  • Visit websites not available on the surface web but accessible on the dark web

The dark web consists largely of unregulated websites, although some of these dark net websites are worth visiting. The dark web also contains pirated content and illegal substances.

Besides 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. People who don’t want to risk being revealed or tracked can communicate sensitive information through the Tor network.

The Tor browser and the dark web

Pirated content icon

The Tor browser is one of the best browsers for visiting the dark web anonymously.

The dark web generally features websites that you can’t access through a normal search engine or via a conventional browser. You must also know the exact web address to visit a dark web website.

As we’ve already mentioned, the dark web is home to unregulated websites, which means you can find anything from pirated movies to black markets, illegal drugs, and child pornography on there.

As such, we don’t advise visiting the dark net unless you know what you’re doing.

How to Download and Install the Tor Browser

Installing the Tor browser on your device is easy and straightforward. Once you install the browser, you’ll be able to use it in a few minutes. Just ensure you have a secure VPN and antivirus running before you do.

Installing the Tor browser on Windows

Step 1: Head to the Tor project website. At the top right, you should be able to see “Download Tor Browser.” Click on this to start the download process.

Tor installatie download button

Step 2: Select “Download for Windows.”

Screenshot of a Tor browser download options for different OS

Step 3: Once the file is downloaded, choose the language you prefer and click “OK.”

Tor language

Step 4: The Tor Browser Setup window will appear on your screen. Choose the folder you’d like to save Tor in and click “Install.”

Tor install

Step 5: You will be given a choice for Tor to launch automatically once the installation is finished. You can opt for this choice, or if you want, you can open Tor manually from the folder you saved it in.

Installing the Tor browser on Mac

Step 1: Go to the Tor website and click on “Download Tor Browser.”

Tor installatie download button

Step 2: Select “Download for macOS.”

Screenshot of a Tor browser download options for different OS

Step 3: Once the download process is finished, open the installation file. Drag the Tor Browser icon that appears into the “Applications” folder.

Tor browser drag instructions

Step 4: Click “Open” to access the browser from your Mac’s launchpad.

How to Connect to Tor

When you open the Tor browser the message below will appear. Usually, the only thing you have to do is clickConnect“ and start browsing.

Screenshot of a Connect to Tor window with Tor Network Settings option highlighted

The Tor browser will also allow you to connect automatically, so it’s up to you if you want to do that.

Screenshot of Establishing a Connection, Always connect automatically option highlighted, Tor browser

However, if you live in a country with strict censorship rules (such as Turkey, China, or Egypt), it is best to first select “Tor Network Settings.” Through these settings, you can adjust your browser to bypass online restrictions.

After the configuration process is finished, click “Connect” to open the Tor browser. The traffic on the Tor browser is secured once you start using it, so you can have a look at different pages safely.

Be careful when using 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. Thankfully, there are some measures you can take to stay safe while using this dark web 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.

To go on the dark web with Tor, we recommend NordVPN for its secure encryption 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.

Lastly, make sure you have a good antivirus installed. This will ensure that your device is protected 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.

What Is the Difference Between Tor and a Proxy Server?

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

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

Apart from Tor, you can also 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 proxy servers less effective and less secure than Tor in combination with a good VPN. Nevertheless, people often wonder how a proxy differs from the Tor browser. We explain more about this 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 users 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

Internet users 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, as 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. Theoretically, they could even log this information, compromising your online privacy.

That’s why, if you intend to use a proxy server, you should pick one from 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 out there.

Drawbacks of Using the Tor Browser

Tor is one of the most secure browsers as it provides more anonymity to its users compared to other browsers. However, even though Tor has many benefits there are also several security risks for those that opt to use this browser.

One of the main disadvantages of Tor is that it is almost impossible to prevent an end-to-end correlation attack. This means that, despite its best efforts, Tor cannot shield users from all malicious actors who are watching particular network locations to determine, for example, user identities.

Moreover, users that download content from the Tor browser can accidentally expose themselves to a malware attack while on the exit node. Hackers can overwhelm exit nodes with traffic, thereby forcing unsuspected users to choose nodes that they manipulate.

The fact that the Tor browser uses three separate nodes and the information is encrypted several times means that web browsing will be slow as information is redirected through different points. The same slow speeds will also affect your viewing experience should you choose to watch any videos using the Tor browser.

Other Tor Projects

The Tor project is constantly working on ways to protect its users’ online privacy and fight for online freedom. Apart from the deep web browser, the Tor project has several other projects connected with online privacy.

Name of Project What is it? Further details
Orbot A free proxy application for Android devices. Think of it as a Tor browser for mobile devices. It works by encrypting your traffic and bouncing it through multiple computers worldwide. It is not a browser itself but a proxy application. You still need a secure mobile browser to be safe online.
OONI Open Observatory of Network Interference has monitored internet censorship worldwide since 2012. 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.
Tor Messenger A desktop chat program created by the Tor project that encrypts all communication. With this program, you could still use all your regular services, such as Facebook Messenger, but your chat data would become anonymous. No logs could be kept, either. However, updates of the Tor Messenger have stopped as of April 2018, which is why we don’t recommend using it.

Use the Tor Browser With Caution

Tor is a great champion of online privacy. Its browser allows users to visit any website they want and offers them a certain degree of online anonymity when accessing the dark web. 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 this deep web browser, always be careful with unregulated websites, and protect yourself against malware with the best antivirus software. If you take the extra precautions needed and be mindful of the websites you visit, the Tor browser can offer a fun and anonymous 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.

For more information about Tor and the dark web, have a look at these articles:

  1. Is Tor Legal? Understand the Legal Consequences of Using Tor
  2. Dark Web Facts vs Myths: What You Need to Know
  3. Dangers of the Dark Web: 12 Tips for Avoiding Dark Web Dangers

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!

What is Tor?

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.

What is Tor used for?

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.

How does Tor work?

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.

Where can I download Tor?

Tor can be easily downloaded, for free, on Tor’s website. The process for installing Tor on Windows and Mac is similar AND is very straightforward.

Does Tor have disadvantages?

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.

Theodor Porutiu Author

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.