OpenVPN Review 2021 – What Is It & How Does It Work?

OpenVPN (review) is an open-source SSL virtual private network encryption protocol that is both fast and reliable.

Sound like gibberish? You’re lucky!

In this 6-minute article, we take the jargon out and explain everything you would like to understand about OpenVPN.

What it is, who uses it (who doesn’t) and why.

OpenVPN Protocol Logo
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

We also give you a look at some emerging rival VPN protocols, set to dethrone OpenVPN!

Whether you’re trying to match OpenVPN to IPsec or PPTP, or you just want to configure your VPN service with the simplest protocol to unblock geo-restricted content, we’ve got you covered.

Quick installation and app setup + compatibility with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and even Linux means you can easily charge OpenVPN too.

Are you disgusted with free, slow, and unreliable VPNs? Aren’t you interested in seemingly half the planet looking over your shoulder?

Keep reading!

What is OpenVPN

If VPNs are a hidden tunnel network, OpenVPN is the tunnel itself! Create the tunnel between the VPN software and the VPN server.

First developed by James Yonan in 2002, OpenVPN can be a VPN tunnel encryption protocol. Facilitates the secure transmission of your valuable data via 256-bit OpenSSL encryption.

That is military-grade encryption!

OpenVPN uses one of two protocols to try: TCP and UDP.

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol)
TCP is one of the most commonly used Internet protocols. it is usually ensured that all information transmitted is received correctly. As a computer-oriented protocol, TCP performs checks to verify the transmission of knowledge. Whenever bits of knowledge are transmitted over TCP, the sender waits for acknowledgment from the receiver before sending the next ones.

UDP (User Datagram Protocol)
UDP, a “fire and forget” protocol are much faster, with the value of reliability (no confirmation checks performed). Most VPN providers chose to configure OpenVPN over UDP by default. When UDP fails, OpenVPN switches to TCP to reestablish a stable link.


OpenVPN then uses the SSL / TLS handshake for key exchange. Keys are what figuratively lock your data away from third parties and spying eyes. Only devices with the 2 keys are ready to unlock 256-bit encrypted data. This protocol cannot read or modify your data, it is only there to block you and exchange the keys between your device and the VPN server.

In other words, this is what OpenVPN can offer:

  • tunnel any IP subnet or virtual ethernet adapter through a UDP or TCP port
  • Use all the encryption, authentication, and certification capabilities of the OpenSSL library to protect your private network traffic as it travels the web.
  • use any encryption, key size, or HMAC digest (for datagram integrity verification) supported by the OpenSSL library
  • Static, pre-shared keys or TLS-based dynamic key exchange are both viable options.

Putting it all together, OpenVPN is the software that transmits your data over UDP or TCP, while encrypting it through OpenSSL 256-bit encryption library code and using SSL / TSL key exchange.

It is important to remember that OpenVPN is not an independent VPN provider, it is just a protocol. you still need access to whatever device or server you are trying to connect to. Most people don’t have servers in 100 countries, therefore we pay a VPN provider to use theirs.

Why do VPNs use OpenVPN?

Over 90% of VPN providers use OpenVPN by default. With half a dozen other protocols available, that’s a solid sign.

So what makes OpenVPN so popular?

OpenVPN Best VPN Protocol
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

The quick answer:

  • Very sure; Has never been hacked
  • Very stable; The connection drops are few and many between
  • Fast; Although it is not the fastest, the decrease in speed is barely noticeable
  • Compatible; Strong desktop support, works on all mobile operating systems

Here are a couple of VPN services you may have heard of, which use OpenVPN as their default encryption protocol:

  • NordVPN
  • SurfShark
  • ExpressVPN
  • Perfect-Privacy
  • IPVanish
  • Mullvad
  • CyberGhost
  • Trust Zone
  • ibVPN
  • PIA

But not all providers do. Some like to use their own proprietary encryption protocols better.

VPN services that use their own proprietary closed-source encryption protocol and do not allow you to move to OpenVPN are strongly advised against.

Owner is the last word you would like to read within the context of privacy and online security. Everything you own is secret. Any secret lacks supervision.

If a VPN provider does not give you access to modify away from their proprietary protocol, it means that they are doing something that they do not want you to understand.

All of the VPNs below, coincidentally, scored very low on our best overall VPN rankings. None of them come highly recommended.

  • HotspotShield
  • HolaVPN
  • Psiphon
  • Hoxx VPN
  • Browsec VPN

How to Setup and Use OpenVPN

You have three options if you have chosen to travel with the most popular VPN protocol.

Connect to OpenVPN Automatically

This is the simplest and most recommended method of using OpenVPN.

You can download the application that your VPN provider has created for your device (Windows, iOS, Linux, etc.) and let their software do all the necessary settings.

If you have chosen one of our best options, your VPN connection will be established through OpenVPN by default.

With NordVPN, our favorite service provider, connecting via OpenVPN is as quick as installing your app and clicking on the country you’d like to connect to.

NordVPN Automatic OpenVPN Connection
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

Connect to OpenVPN Manually

We strongly advise you to use the automated attachment program provided by your VPN provider. Setting up a manual connection is much slower and has no advantages.

With a manual setup, you are simply navigating equivalent steps, with your hands. The downside is that you will have to repeat them all when you want to vary the servers or reconnect.

If you want to attach manually, we recommend that you follow the setup tutorial from your VPN provider.

See the manual NordVPNs Window 10 OpenVPN connection tutorial. As you will quickly see, the method is much more complicated than letting your software handle it for you.

Connect to OpenVPN Manually (without a VPN provider)

The third and final option is to establish a manual connection between two devices or servers that you own. You will need to follow these steps if you have chosen not to pay for a VPN provider.

Please note that you must have networking experience and know what you are doing. this is often only aimed at professionals.

OpenVPN Manual VPN Configuration Steps
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

If you just want to watch Netflix in peace, unblock some media websites or increase your privacy; this is often not for you.

OpenVPN Alternatives

For a detailed breakdown of the top VPN protocols in use today, check out our full article on the most widely used VPN protocols.

Here’s a short rundown on what they’re all about and how they compare:

Encryption160-bit, 256-bit128-bit256-bit256-bitChaCha20256-bit256-bit
SecurityVery highWeakHigh security (might be weakened by NSA)HighHighHighHigh
SpeedFastSpeedy, due to low encryptionMedium, due to double encapsulationVery fastFastFastVery fast
StabilityVery stableVery stableStableVery stableNot yet stableVery stableVery stable
CompatibilityStrong desktop support, but mobile could be improved. Requires third-party software.Strong Windows desktop support.Multiple device and platform support.Multiple desktop and mobile OS support. No native operating system support.Linux, being built for other platforms and operating systems.Windows-platform, but works on other Linux distributions.Limited platform support beyond Windows and Blackberry
Final WordMost recommended choice. Fast and secure.Native on Windows. Weak security. Useful for geo-restricted content.Versatile and secure. A decent alternative to OpenVPN.Up and coming. Flexible, fast, and secure. A great alternative to OpenVPN.Has promise to be fast and efficient. Still in development.Faster and more secure alternative to PPTP and L2TP.Secure, stable, and mobile-oriented.
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

SoftEther, WireGuard, and L2TP / IPsec are all viable OpenVPN alternatives.

SoftEther VPN Protocol

Softhether VPN Protocol Logo
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

Developed by Daiyuu Nobori for his master’s thesis research, SoftEther may be a free open source VPN protocol and VPN software. The protocol is extremely secure and therefore the VPN software allows the use of all major VPN protocols (SoftEther, OpenVPN, L2TP / IPSec, etc.).

It is compatible with many operating systems, but more importantly, SoftEther offers an excellent amount of security and, according to its developer, reaches speeds 13 times faster than OpenVPN.

After eight years of development, SoftEther was launched in 2014. It is quite new and environmentally friendly. Also, its implementation is not as fast and easy as OpenVPN. Thanks to this, mainstream adoption has stalled and most VPN providers still don’t support SoftEther.

We anticipate that more and more vendors will start adopting SoftEther in the near future.

Learn more about SoftEther.

WireGuard VPN Protocol

Wireguard VPN Protocol Logo
Article: OpenVPN Review 2021

Wireguard is a cutting-edge, free, and innovative open-source software and VPN protocol.

Among the three alternatives, Wireguard is by far the most impressive, and will likely beat OpenVPN in the next few years.

Officially launched in 2018, WireGuard has received praise and has been gaining an excellent amount of attention within the VPN community.

In terms of security, it competes with OpenVPN and Softether. When it comes to speed, it beats both.

Wireguard aims to be the only even more effective VPN protocol.

The only downside is that it is still in a lot of development, and will likely remain so for now.

Unfortunately, this suggests that no VPN provider will risk being adopted at this stage. We can’t wait to see what WireGuard holds in the long run!

Learn more about Wireguard.

L2TP/IPsec VPN Protocol

L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol) may be a VPN protocol that lacks strong enough encryption for standalone use. For this reason, it is paired with IPsec.

IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) can be a flexible and secure end-to-end protocol.

Together, these two protocols establish secure connections. The downside is that L2TP sometimes has problems with firewalls because it uses a port that firewalls can easily block.

Additionally, some reports suggest that the NSA has been ready to weaken this set of protocols. For this reason, its recommended use is for anonymous browsing purposes on the Internet.

For example, you would not use L2TP / IPsec to transfer critical business financial data.

Is OpenVPN the best VPN protocol?

Security; jack of all trades, master of one.

SoftEther is going to be much faster. Wireguard even faster than that, but also simpler, thinner, and more useful.

At the peak of the day, no other VPN protocol has been in constant use for 18 years, vetted by developers around the globe to deflect thousands of infiltration attempts by hackers and government agencies alike.

Is OpenVPN on the way out? Let’s go see him in five years. For the time being, OpenVPN is here to stay.

Head over to NordVPN or pick any of the simpler VPNs and see the OpenVPN installations for yourself.

We are sure to recommend this protocol to all or all VPN users. The second it changes, we’ll let you know.

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