There are four main ways to knit socks:
1: Top down with a heel flap and gusset
2: Toe up with a heel flap and gusset
3: Top down with a short row or afterthought heel, and
4: Toe up with a short row or afterthought heel.
For top down socks you cast on for the cuff, then knit the leg, heel, foot and toe.
Whilst for toe up socks you start at the toe, then knit the foot, heel, leg and cast off at the top of the cuff.
There are numerous different heels within these three categories:
Heels with a flap and gusset knitted top down.
Heels with a flap and gusset knitted toe up.
Short row or afterthought heels.
Also there a numerous different toes and these may be interchanged at will.
Different sock knitting techniques
Additionally socks, which are really just knitted tubes, are often knitted in four different ways:
Four double pointed needles: The tube on 3 dpns with the fourth dpn used to knit with. In this method the sock is divided into three parts. Beginners to circular knitting often find four dpns easier to control than five.
Five double pointed needles: The tube on 4 dpns with the fifth dpn used to knit with. In this method the sock is divided into four parts. The advantage of this method is that you have two needles for the top of the foot / front of the ankle and two needles for the foot bottom and back of the ankle.
Two circular needles and
One circular needle using the magic loop method
Using either of the two techniques using circular needles it is possible to knit both socks from the pair at once. This avoids the dreaded Second Sock Syndrome and allows you to knit an identical pair without having to count rows or write down your pattern if you are following a recipe rather than a pattern.
Once you understand these different techniques you can take a sock pattern written using any of these four techniques and use your favourite technique.
Basic sock recipe
It is easy to knit a sock without a pattern but following a recipe. A Gauge Swatch will tell you how many stitches to cast on. For the cuff you want a stretchy stitch to hold the sock up. Good choices are 1×1 Ribbing, 2×2 Ribbing or 3×1 Ribbing. You can choose any stitch pattern for the leg from basic Stockinette Stitch, to Lace Stitches, Colourwork, Textured Stitches, or Cables. If your gauge is different in the pattern stitch you can either change needle sizes to achieve the gauge you want or you can increase or decrease stitches.
Follow the leg with your choice of heel. Then you can continue the pattern on the top of the foot but it is best to have plain Stockinette Stitch underneath the foot for comfort. To finish off work your choice of toe. But if you prefer to knit toe up you would of course reverse this recipe.