VPN Protocols Explained: What They are and Which to Use

A digital non-public community encrypts your internet site visitors in order that your web service supplier and internet-connected apps or web sites don’t view your IP tackle. Instead, with a VPN enabled, ISPs, apps and web sites view your site visitors as originating from a distinct state or nation. 

A VPN protocol is the bedrock making a safe, encrypted connection between your system and a VPN server. Essentially, a protocol dictates how your system “talks” to the server. Like different types of communication, similar to e mail, textual content, cellphone calls or service pigeons, completely different digital non-public community protocols present various advantages. For occasion, a service pigeon would possibly take longer to succeed in its vacation spot but be more difficult to intercept than a cellphone name, which sends data rapidly however is straightforward to triangulate. On the opposite hand, emails could also be each quick and safe. Different VPN protocols supply varied forms of encryption and web speeds. Let’s discover the varied protocols so you possibly can be taught which is greatest on your wants. 

What forms of protocols are utilized in VPNs?

A digital non-public community protocol requires each an web protocol and an encryption protocol. Internet or community protocols outline how knowledge is transmitted over a community, whereas encryption protocols guard knowledge from being intercepted. 

VPN protocols use a community protocol, both UDP or TCP:

  • UDP: User datagram protocol prioritizes pace of information switch over reliability. It doesn’t require a connection, or “handshake,” between your system and an internet server, so data is broadcast rapidly however with the potential for knowledge loss within the course of. 
  • TCP: Transmission management protocol sends data between your system and a server whereas requiring a longtime connection. Accordingly, TCP focuses on knowledge switch reliability relatively than pace.

Most private VPNs use certainly one of two encryption strategies:

  • AES-256: Used in OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, SSTP and L2TP/IPSec. 
  • ChaCha20: Used in WireGuard. 

There are a number of VPN protocols, every with benefits and downsides: 

  • WireGuard: Fast speeds with out compromising on safety.
  • OpenVPN: Best-in-class safety, however slower speeds.
  • IKEv2/IPSec: Great for switching between Wi-Fi and cellular knowledge networks. 
  • L2TP/IPSec: A VPN protocol supposed as an enchancment over PPTP. 
  • SSTP: A Microsoft-created VPN protocol used to remotely entry servers.
  • PTPP: An outdated VPN protocol. 

We’ll dive into the small print about essentially the most extensively used protocols: WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec. L2TP, SSTP and PPTP are hardly ever utilized in VPNs lately. Even when you’ve obtained an possibility to make use of a type of protocols, their age and comparatively decrease safety in contrast with WireGuard, OpenVPN and IKEv2 make them poor selections. 

WireGuard gives the perfect steadiness of pace and privateness


  • Fast
  • Secure
  • Open-source
  • Lean source-code


  • Newer protocol — not as time-tested as OpenVPN
  • Harder to masks VPN site visitors

Who ought to use it: Streaming video fanatics, avid gamers and anybody who wants the quickest doable web speeds. 

WireGuard is a relatively newer, quicker VPN protocol that also gives strong privateness. Because WireGuard is likely one of the quickest VPN protocols, it’s a wonderful alternative for conditions the place quick web speeds are paramount — like streaming 4K movies or gaming. WireGuard is open-source, that means anybody can examine its supply code for debugging and figuring out vulnerabilities. Additionally, it is a lean VPN protocol — WireGuard consists of round 4,000 strains of code versus OpenVPN’s over 100,000 strains  — making it extra environment friendly through the use of fewer system sources, like CPU energy. WireGuard makes use of ChaCha20 encryption, which is quicker however gives comparable safety to AES-256 encryption.

While WireGuard delivers quicker speeds with out sacrificing safety, it is more difficult to cover that you simply’re utilizing a VPN. Additionally, as a more recent VPN protocol, it isn’t as tried and examined, so people with crucial safety wants might favor OpenVPN. Most trendy VPNs assist WireGuard, and a number of other digital non-public community suppliers function proprietary WireGuard-based protocols. For occasion, NordVPN’s NordLynx is constructed with WireGuard and options facilities like a double NAT for even stronger safety.  

OpenVPN is considerably slower than WireGuard however gives best-in-class privateness


  • Highly safe 
  • Open-source
  • Choice of UDP or TCP community protocols


  • Slower web speeds than different protocols like WireGuard

Who ought to use it: People with crucial privateness wants, similar to political activists, investigative journalists or these requiring obfuscated servers.  

OpenVPN is extremely safe and dependable however slower than different VPN protocols, particularly WireGuard. Therefore, OpenVPN is right for people with severe privateness issues. The seasoned tunneling technique boasts excellent AES-256 encryption. OpenVPN enables you to select between TCP and UDP, so you possibly can profit from quicker knowledge transmissions or better reliability. Because OpenVPN is open-source, anybody can analyze its supply code for flaws or backdoors. Coupled with its open-source code that’s simply audited, OpenVPN is extensively used, time-tested and due to this fact dependable. 

Most obfuscated servers — which make it tougher for apps, web sites or ISPs to find out that you simply’re utilizing a VPN — make the most of the OpenVPN protocol. Obfuscated servers are nice for conditions the place you are having issue unblocking streaming companies or bypassing censorship with web sites that limit VPN entry. The majority of present VPNs assist OpenVPN.

IPSec/IKEv2 is a superb VPN protocol for cellular units


  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Works properly when switching connections, like from Wi-Fi to mobile


  • Only appropriate with MacOS, iOS and iPadOS

Who ought to use it: IKEV2/IPSec is a strong alternative for iPhones, iPads or Apple computer systems to seamlessly reconnect a VPN when leaping between cellular knowledge and Wi-Fi networks. 

Internet Key Exchange model 2, or IKEv2, is a tunneling protocol that works together with Internet Protocol Security, or IPSec, to determine a safe connection. IKEv2/IPSec maintains a safe connection even whereas switching networks, similar to leaping forwards and backwards between Wi-Fi and mobile networks. Therefore, IKEv2/IPSec is a strong alternative for cellular units, like iOS and iPadOS telephones or tablets. IKEv2 additionally helps MacOS, however not Windows, Android or Linux. Like OpenVPN, IKEv2 makes use of AES-256-bit encryption.

IKEv2/IPSec is quick, dependable and safe — however each WireGuard and OpenVPN present extra sturdy safety. While many VPNs, together with NordVPN and ExpressVPN, assist IKEv2/IPSec, it is restricted to iOS, iPadOS and MacOS. Linux, Android and Windows customers are out of luck. 

What is the perfect VPN protocol to make use of?

The common particular person searching for privateness and the fastest-possible web connection ought to choose WireGuard or an equal — similar to NordVPN’s WireGuard-based NordLynx, or ExpressVPN’s proprietary LightWay. WireGuard gives the perfect expertise for low-lag on-line gaming, quick downloads and buffer-free streaming video. 

Folks with severe privateness issues or anybody requiring obfuscated servers ought to select OpenVPN. If it’s essential to cover the truth that you’re utilizing a VPN — for example, when circumventing censorship or accessing a web site that doesn’t load correctly with a VPN enabled — OpenVPN’s obfuscation capabilities come in useful. Use OpenVPN UDP for quicker web speeds or TCP for beefed-up privateness. 

IKEv2/IPSec is an efficient possibility for iPhones, iPads or MacOS units, however the principle benefit it might maintain over WireGuard and OpenVPN is its seamless VPN connection re-establishment when switching networks. For occasion, when you’re utilizing a cellular system with a VPN enabled and steadily hop between a mobile and Wi-Fi sign, IKEv2 is a superb alternative.

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