OpenVPN vs WireGuard vs SoftEther vs L2TP - The Ultimate VPN Protocol Comparison
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When it comes to protecting your privacy online, there have been many new and innovative ways that people have been using to keep themselves secure over the last few decades. However, one of the most widely utilized and universally adopted privacy protection methods still remains the VPN.
A VPN, short for a virtual private network, is a technology that routes your traffic through a safe tunnel and encrypts your information, keeping you safe from hackers, eavesdroppers and even your ISP! This is possible due to the different VPN protocols, which have been created over the years with each one having its own benefits and disadvantages.
While there are many advantages of using a VPN such as protecting you when you are connected to a public network as well as allowing you to access geo-restricted content, people tend to overlook the fact that there are currently a vast majority of VPN protocols on the market. Each protocol is divergent in its structure, which largely influences factors such as the overall speed of your VPN connection, its security and its customization options.
Because of this, we are going to focus on 4 of the most popular, open-source VPN protocols - OpenVPN, WireGuard VPN, SoftEther VPN and L2TP and share everything you need to know about each one! This means that the next time you start looking for a VPN provider or you decide to create your own VPS-hosted VPN server, you will be able to choose the appropriate VPN protocol that will match your needs!
OpenVPN - Popular, Tried & Tested VPN Protocol
Created in 2001 by James Yonan, OpenVPN has slowly risen to prominence, becoming one of the most popular VPN protocols worldwide. It managed to fill the VPN void in the early 2000s by offering a solution that is not only flexible, but also secure. Not only that but OpenVPN was also released under the GNU license, making it fully open-source and obtainable by anyone, which has also helped its growth over the years.
With its incredible flexibility, strong protection and relatively easy-to-use nature, it is not surprising that it is one of the most utilized protocols worldwide and here’s why!
Advantages of OpenVPN
OpenVPN is regarded as one of the most optimized and feature-rich VPN protocols, making it a go-to choice for many business, corporations as well as the top option for personal use. This is because the protocol has a number of different advantages such that make it stand out from its competitors. Here are the most notable benefits!
When it comes to security, OpenVPN is unsurprisingly one of the most secure and reliable VPN protocols on the market. Firstly, it supports Perfect Forward Secrecy, or PFS. But what does that mean? PFS ensures that even if an attacker is able to get a hand on your connection keys (which are used to establish a connection between your device and the VPN server), they will not be able to decrypt your connection past your generated traffic. OpenVPN integrates PFS by utilizing the Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm.
Secondly, it also utilizes the OpenSSL library, which is one of the most secure cryptography libraries, resulting in a much more robust encryption.
Thirdly, OpenVPN is one of the most popular VPN protocols worldwide, being utilized by a number of big corporations and governmental institutions, which not only adds to its resume, but also goes to show that it is trusted with sensitive and important information. In addition to this, the fact that it is open-source results in better community support, fast security issues reporting and of course - fast problem fixing.
When it comes to data and connection encryption, OpenVPN utilizes some of the most advanced and unbreakable algorithms such as AES-256, which is also used by a number of other VPN protocols. In short, AES-256 substitutes, transports and mixes data in individual blocks using a different key for each operation, which results in secure data encryption, making it a popular algorithm even today.
Additionally, OpenVPN also has a number of divergent encryption modes including CBC and GCM. CBC, short for Cipher Block Chaining, is used to encrypt data in a set of blocks and works by XORing each block with the previous one. This means that each block needs to be processed before all the data can be encrypted, which makes it very useful and resistant to a number of different attacks, the most popular of which is frequency analysis.
GCM, on the other hand, which stands for Galois/Counter Mode, is a relatively newer encryption mode and works similarly to CBC and AES by encrypting data in blocks. GCM offers more security due to the fact it encrypts data in a counter mode with the addition of a Galois field and an authentication tag, which it utilizes in order to check that the data has been successfully encrypted.
Authentication & Connection Protocols
When it comes to the authentication and connections, OpenVPN supports a wide range of protocols with some of the most prominent ones being TLS and HMAC.
TLS, short for Transport Layer Security, is one of the most utilized cryptographic protocols globally. It is primarily used to provide a secure communication and connection over a given network by encrypting the data that is exchanged over the network. It is generally utilized over the Internet, being regarded as the successor of SSL.
TLS works by having both parties exchange and verify their digital certificates. Once verified, they agree on a secret shared key, which is then used in order to encrypt the connection and the data which is going to be shared.
HMAC, which stands for Hash-based Message Authentication Code, works in a similar way but utilizes a hashing function instead to establish the connection and to encrypt the data.
Both of these methods make it so that only verified users can connect to a server running OpenVPN.
In terms of connections, OpenVPN supports 2 main types - TCP and UDP. TCP stands for Transmission Control Protocol and it mainly ensures that data packets arrive in the exact order in which they need to. UDP, on the other hand, stands for User Datagram Protocol does the exact opposite - wants to deliver packets as fast as possible, regardless of the order, which is why it is more commonly used for streaming and applications that need to exchange data in real-time.
In short, TCP connections are more reliable, whereas UDP connections are faster. This means that you should choose a connection type based on your preferences.
If you are going to be using a VPN with the intention of staying safe while browsing online, then TCP will be the better choice for you. If you are going to be accessing or streaming geo-restricted content, then you could consider using a UDP connection for a faster connection.
OpenVPN is a VPN protocol that is compatible with many devices such as phones, tablets and laptops, desktops as well as with different operating systems, meaning that you can get it on anything from Windows and macOS to Android, iOS and even Linux. This compatibility with Linux in particular makes it a very lucrative choice for those who wish to set up their own private VPN server by installing OpenVPN on a cloud VPS or VDS server.
Flexibility & Customization
Given everything that we’ve mentioned so far, it can be stated that OpenVPN is quite flexible, due to its encryption algorithm and because it allows you to choose a connection type.
This means that you can easily tailor the protocol to your needs, enabling you to get the most out of both security and speed. OpenVPN also supports port forwarding and server obfuscation, the latter of which is used to help hide the fact that you are using a VPN. This lets you configure OpenVPN in order to create a home network, which you can access remotely as well as making you capable of creating a personal VPN server.
If you do decide to make your own server, you can also check out our tutorial on how to manually create new users with the help of OVPN-Admin as well as how to connect your OpenVPN server!
Open-Source & Community Support
OpenVPN is open-source, which means that the code of the protocol can be accessed by anyone. This results in better security and more support especially by the community. This makes bugs, issues and problems easier to identify and fix, which results in OpenVPN becoming even more secure and reliable.
Drawbacks of OpenVPN
While OpenVPN does have a wide range of different advantages, it does come with some limitations as well.
Given that the VPN protocol utilizes strong encryption and authentication protocols, it is a given that the connection speed will be impacted in some way. Although you can customize the connection type, which can help boost the overall speed, OpenVPN will still be slower than some of the newer protocols such as WireGuard.
Complexity & Setup
While OpenVPN is really easy to use, setting it up can be quite a hassle due to all of the customization options that you can choose from, especially if you are going to be creating your own VPN server and if you don’t have any prior experience with virtual private networks.
OpenVPN is completely free for personal use, but when it comes to commercial utilization, companies need to pay for a license, which can be expensive, especially for businesses with many employees.
WireGuard VPN - a newer, faster VPN protocol
WireGuard VPN is a more modern VPN protocol, initially announced in 2017. Its creator - Jason Donenfeld, a security researcher and software engineer, wanted to create a VPN protocol that is not only top-notch when it comes to protection, but also ultra fast in terms of speed.
Based on the most innovative cryptographic algorithms, WireGuard manages to do just that - be more efficient, offer more in terms of speed while also having less overall code, making the protocol not only free to use, but also incredibly well-designed in terms of setup and management. However, while it does sound like WireGuard doesn’t have any disadvantages, that is not the case. Due to the fact that the protocol is still relatively new, there are still some bugs and issues that can occasionally be found. Here’s everything you need to know about WireGuard VPN.
Benefits of WireGuard VPN
Given that WireGuard is a more modern VPN protocol, it does come with its own set of advantages such as speed and simplicity. Not only that, but it can also be easily installed on a server, which you can even do with AI!
Fast Speed & Encryption Algorithms
WireGuard is currently one of the faster VPN protocols on the market, capable of reaching 5 times the speed of OpenVPN. But how is this possible? This notable difference comes from the encryption algorithms as well as the less overall code that goes into WireGuard!
While OpenVPN uses AES-256 for encryption (which is generally more secure), WireGuard utilizes ChaCha20, which is substantially more modern and faster. The main difference here is that ChaCha20 encrypts data in a stream format, rather than in blocks like AES-256, making it much more efficient while maintaining a high level of security and protection when it comes to the encryption process.
WireGuard also has a simpler design with less overall features, which also helps it perform much faster. Less clutter means more speed and WireGuard’s code optimization takes care of that. Similarly to OpenVPN, WireGuard also supports both TCP and UDP as connection types, which can also help boost connection speed, making it even better when it comes to streaming content.
Security & Reliability
As we already said, WireGuard is extremely secure, making use of innovative cryptography algorithms such as ChaCha20. It does also use Poly1305 and BLAKE2s which utilize hashing functions to encrypt data. Additionally, just like OpenVPN, WireGuard also supports PFS.
Simplicity & Easy Setup
Again, WireGuard has a much smaller codebase, which is partially due to the reason that the protocol is relatively new. This reduces the overall complexity and makes it much easier to use because the configuration process is not that complicated. This, consequently, makes WireGuard a much better option for beginners and those who are not that familiar with VPN networks.
You can also check out our step-by-step tutorials on how to install WireGuard VPN on a server as well as how to create and manage users! Not only that, but you can also learn how to connect to your VPN using WireGuard UI!
Open-Source & Support
Similarly to OpenVPN, WireGuard is also fully open-source, meaning that the code is publicly available to everyone. This promotes not only transparency and community support but also makes it so that bugs and issues are found and reported faster, ensuring that the protocol remains secure and reliable.
Disadvantages of WireGuard VPN
While WireGuard does have many advantages like speed and innovative encryption algorithms, there are some drawbacks of the VPN protocol.
As we already mentioned, WireGuard is a newer VPN protocol which is still under development, meaning that it is not as refined and polished as older, more established ones such as OpenVPN. This does result in bugs and security vulnerabilities appearing every so often, which is to be expected. Additionally, since the community is not as big as that of the other open-source VPN protocols, there is also less support for WireGuard, which can make it difficult to debug or discover issues fast.
Lack of Features
WireGuard is much simpler in design, which is why there are less features and customization options when compared to OpenVPN. For example, WireGuard does not natively support server obfuscation or dynamic port forwarding, which can both help boost the speed of the VPN connection and help you hide the fact that you are using a VPN.
SoftEther VPN - A Personal Project Turned Into VPN Protocol
Developed by a student - Daiyuu Nobori early in the 2000s, SoftEther VPN started out as a project for the University of Tsukuba in Japan. Similarly to WireGuard, Nobori’s intention was to create a VPN protocol that is secure, reliable and open-source due to the lack of viable VPN protocols at the time.
SoftEther does manage to live up to its creator’s expectations, utilizing a number of highly secure encryption algorithms and types of connections. However, while it is a very powerful and reliable protocol, it can be quite difficult to manage especially for beginners. Here is everything you need to know about the protocol.
What Makes SoftEther VPN Great?
Similarly to WireGuard, SoftEther VPN also has a number of advantages over protocols like OpenVPN such as speed and security.
Fast Connection Speed
SoftEther VPN is also one of the fastest VPN protocols currently available, boasting speeds up to 5 times faster than those of OpenVPN just like WireGuard. However, SoftEther’s speed advantage comes from a more efficient tunneling protocol rather than the encryption methods.
SoftEther employs SSTP, which is a hybrid combination between SSL and IPSec, ultimately reducing the overhead that most VPN protocols create. Additionally, SoftEther also has a smaller codebase, similar to WireGuard, meaning that it is far less complex and much faster.
In terms of encryption algorithms, SoftEther supports AES-256 like OpenVPN, ChaCha20 like WireGuard and Camellia, the latter of which is a symmetric key block cipher, which is very secure and while less popular than the traditional algorithms, remains quite versatile. In terms of security, SoftEther also supports PFS, meaning that your connection will not be compromised even if your connection keys fall into the wrong hands.
Finally, SoftEther can also be used with both TCP and UDP connections, which can help further increase its speed.
Flexibility & Open-Source
When it comes to flexibility, SoftEther is quite versatile as it can be utilized together with a variety of different VPN configurations such as site-to-site, tunnel-in-tunnel and remote access VPNs, which makes it a very viable option for big businesses and corporations as well as smaller organizations.
Additionally, it can also be utilized in combination with ICMP, which is a network layer protocol that is used to send error messages that can indicate success or failure for network communication. As for the features, SoftEther also supports server obfuscation and dynamic port forwarding.
SoftEther VPN is also an open-source VPN protocol, with its code being publicly available. Similarly to the other open-source protocols, this means better security, full transparency and fast issue reporting and fixing.
The Complexity of SoftEther VPN
While incredibly powerful, SoftEther VPN does have some drawbacks with some of its greatest disadvantages being the fact that it can be quite complex and difficult to manage as well as the lack of support and customization features.
SoftEther does have a client that you can download and utilize to create individual hubs, users and connections. However, the user interface and the way in which the protocol operates can be quite difficult to understand for those who are not familiar with virtual private networks. Because of this, most people usually go for a pre-configured VPN server as it is much easier as you will only need to download the client and enter the information given to you by your VPN provider.
If you are going to be manually installing SoftEther VPN on your cloud server, you can follow our detailed tutorials on user management as well as on how to both connect a desktop and connect a mobile device!
Similarly to WireGuard, SoftEther is not that popular and doesn’t have as much support as OpenVPN for example. This means that finding useful resources and tutorials for its management as well as troubleshooting any issues is generally more difficult.
L2TP - Old, Secure & Reliable
While all of the other VPN protocols started out as personal projects, this is not the case with L2TP. As a matter of fact, L2TP is one of the oldest, most robust protocols that is still going strong today. L2TP, short for Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, was developed by Microsoft and Cisco back in 1999 and was designed to be the successor and a more efficient replacement for PPTP, which was the most prominent and popular protocol.
The basic idea behind the protocol was to create a virtual tunnel between two devices over a public network in order for information to be passed safely. However, L2TP was not designed to encrypt data, which is why it is widely used together with IPSec.
Given that L2TP seems like an ancient protocol in comparison to the newer ones, you’d be surprised to find out that it can hold its own quite well despite its age and while it does have its own set of disadvantages, there are still benefits to using it.
Advantages of L2TP
When it comes to L2TP, there are a number of advantages that the VPN protocol has over the others such as security, performance and compatibility.
Security, IPSec Encryption & Authentication
The L2TP VPN protocol is extremely secure, utilizing IPsec for both encryption and authentication. IPSec in itself is a suite of protocols that is used by governments and businesses around the globe to encrypt and authenticate data in the form of packets. IPSec utilizes the Authentication Header and the Encapsulating Security Payload protocols in order to perform encryption and authentication of both the sender and the receiver, allowing for a secure tunnel to be set up between the two points in order to ensure a secure packet exchange.
Additionally, IPSec encrypts traffic at the IP layer, meaning that everything including your IP address is encrypted, which results in a much less likely scenario of your information or even traffic being traced or decrypted.
Not only that but IPSec also verifies the integrity of the data, which is being sent and received, meaning that it can easily detect and prevent any data tampering.
Speed & Performance
While it can’t reach the speed of WireGuard or SoftEther, L2TP is still quite fast, making it 5 times faster than PPTP, which for its time was extremely impressive. Additionally, L2TP also makes use of a very efficient tunneling protocol - L2TP over UDP, which is substantially faster than a TCP connection. Finally, the protocol also has very low overhead, meaning that it doesn’t add much on top of your existing traffic, which helps further boost the speed and performance.
Compatibility & Flexibility
L2TP is also compatible with many devices and is already integrated into most operating systems including all of the popular ones like Windows, macOS, Android and iOS and it will run on all devices. It is also quite flexible as it offers a number of different configuration options as well.
Drawbacks of L2TP
As with the other VPN protocols, L2TP also has its own set of disadvantages with the two most prominent ones being complexity and the lack of server obfuscation.
The complexity of L2TP comes from the fact that it uses IPSec for authentication and encryption. This is because while secure, IPSec is very difficult to manually configure and can be quite tough for people without prior experience. This is why similarly to SoftEther, people who wish to utilize L2TP usually go directly to a VPN provider that can configure everything and provide them with a ready to use user profile.
With that information, you can use your desktop device’s built-in VPN feature to easily connect to your VPN server. If you are having trouble, you can always follow our tutorial on how to connect a desktop to a L2TP VPN server. For those that have decided to manually install L2TP on a cloud server, you can also check out our resources on how to create additional users!
The other thing that L2TP doesn’t support natively, similarly to WireGuard, is server obfuscation, which can make some users turn towards OpenVPN or SoftEther if they wish to hide the fact that they are using a VPN.
The last drawback of L2TP is that it can automatically be blocked by most firewalls, which means that you will need to set up some additional firewall rules.
OpenVPN vs WireGuard vs SoftEther vs LT2P
Having covered all 4 VPN protocols, here is a table that shows the similarities and differences between them:
It is important to note that there is no single best VPN protocol as each has its own advantages and drawbacks and is useful in different situations. What you need to keep in mind when choosing a VPN protocol is what you are going to be using it for - access to content, streaming, security while browsing, remote work or anything else.
You should also make sure to consider your budget and the resources that you are going to need such as monthly traffic and processing power. Streaming usually takes up more bandwidth whereas remote work takes up more resources and server processing power, which can impact the cost of your VPN plan. You should also decide on what device and operating system you are going to be using the VPN before you select a VPN protocol.
If you do choose to create your own VPS-installed VPN server running on Ubuntu, you can take advantage of our available installation scripts for each individual protocol - OpenVPN, WireGuard VPN, SoftEther and L2TP! Alternatively, you can also go for our WireGuard VPN application template and get your own self-hosted VPN server up and running in a matter of minutes! You can also take advantage of our new annually-priced cloud hosting plan, which can provide you with all of the necessary resources to run your own dedicated VPN server at an affordable cost!