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What is WireGuard? (And How Does it Compare to OpenVPN)

WRITTEN BY
Timothy Shim
UPDATED
March 04, 2024

 

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) help us stay safer online, and the protocols available assist in that process. WireGuard represents the future of VPN protocols; lightweight, fast, safe, and highly adaptable.

 

Different VPN service providers will offer varying protocols. Not all have adopted WireGuard technology since it’s relatively new. Learning more about WireGuard and its comparison to predecessors can help you choose the right VPN to adopt.

 

 

If you’d prefer to learn more about VPN basics before diving into this topic, read our VPN beginner’s guide first.

 

What Is WireGuard?

 

WireGuard

 

WireGuard is a modern VPN connection protocol that offers significantly better performance than most previously released protocols. It provides instructions that help VPN users connect and communicate securely with their VPN servers.

 

Developed by Jason Donenfeld, WireGuard spent many years under development as a project initially sponsored by Netgate. First running on Linux, WireGuard is now available on Windows and other platforms.

 

 

How WireGuard Works

 

The design concept behind WireGuard is simple. The need for speed, security, and ease of use heavily influence the framework. Several technologies contribute to how WireGuard works, including Curve25519, ChaCha20, and Poly1305.

 

If you’re reading that in a state of shock, here’s the simple breakdown of WireGuard’s most critical moving parts;

 

  • Curve25519 provides WireGuard’s key pairing capabilities to keep connections secret.
  • ChaCha20 and Poly1305 help WireGuard with encryption.

 

Communication on WireGuard is solely UDP-based and supports even IPv6 addresses. It works on a pre-shared symmetric key model that offers better security than symmetric encryption. The design is technically modular and can work with third-party apps or scripts.

 

WireGuard developers claim that their VPN protocol offers state-of-the-art protection with improved performance over OpenVPN.

 

Pros and cons of WireGuard

 

Pros

  • ✓ Excellent speed performance
  • ✓ Fast connection process
  • ✓ Simple implementation
  • ✓ Uses newer cryptographic implementations
  • ✓ Suitable for all network types
  • ✓ Low resource overhead

Cons


 

 

WireGuard vs. OpenVPN: Which Is Best?

 

For many years, OpenVPN has been the industry mainstay in VPN protocols. Yet while it’s robust nature made it a secure choice, it wasn’t optimal in speed. Comparatively, WireGuard is like breath of fresh air, offering a significant improvement in performance.

 

OpenVPN D/U Speed WireGuard D/U Speed
New York 167 / 77 Mbps 385 / 196 Mbps
Berlin 220 / 277 Mbps 431 / 151 Mbps
Singapore 221 / 246 Mbps 504 / 484 Mbps

On Surfshark, WireGuard speeds were almost always significantly faster compared to OpenVPN.

 

Anyone who’s asked the question, What are the best protocols for VPN? will know that they all perform differently. Knowing the advantages of WireGuard makes it clear that this VPN protocol is impressive.

 

It addresses several key pain points consumers face – resource overhead, platform compatibility, speed, and security.

 

The main shortcoming that concerns detractors is that WireGuard needs to retain connection information like login timestamps. This necessary logging raises some red flags in potential loss of privacy.

 

The one alternative that addresses WireGuard’s shortcomings is NordVPN. This VPNs service provider offers NordLynx, a modified version of WireGuard that addresses the potential logging issue.

 

Who should use OpenVPN?

 

Those with stringent privacy requirements should, for now, consider staying with OpenVPN. After all, this protocol supports UDP and TCP modes, allowing increased speeds or security where necessary.

 

You should also stick to OpenVPN if you want to deploy your VPN on a router. Currently, only a handful of routers support WireGuard, and even those are somewhat experimental.

 

If you are concerned about using new technologies, you should also stick with OpenVPN. It’s been available for a long time, and many still consider it the de facto industry standard.

 

Who should use WireGuard?

 

If you’re on an ultra-fast Internet line and have a cutting-edge router, then WireGuard will be a dream come true. Connections to nearby servers will provide extremely low latency and breakneck speeds. You’ll hardly feel there’s a VPN running.

 

WireGuard is also an interesting choice for those who want to self-configure a VPN connection. The protocol is open source, so anyone can download it and customize it according to their needs.

 

If you’re looking for the fastest VPN, any with WireGuard will be a good bet.

 

 

How Can You Use WireGuard?

 

surfshark-wireguard-protocol

You can usually select the WireGuard protocol in your VPN app settings.

 

Consumers don’t have to worry much about using WireGuard since it is often included in the VPN app if supported. Most VPN providers that support this protocol will use it as the default choice once you’ve installed their app.

 

Most of the best VPN brands currently offer WireGuard or some adaptation. If you’re interested in checking them out, here are some of my top picks;

 

  • Surfshark is easily one of my top choices. It’s relatively new but has quickly grown into an industry mainstay. It adopted WireGuard early, and speeds have been both impressive and stable. Surfshark also comes at one of the most competitive price points around.
  • NordVPN can be considered a household name in the VPN scene. It often delivers advanced protection, this time with a modified version of WireGuard that further improves your digital privacy. NordVPN prices are also very reasonable.
  • ExpressVPN didn’t hop on the WireGuard gravy train but decided to build a custom protocol running on wolfSSL. While Lightway isn’t as fast as WireGuard, it shows incredible stability across all of ExpressVPN’s servers.

 

 

WireGuard Shows Great Potential As The Next Major VPN Protocol

 

WireGuard as it currently is seems to fit the needs of a large customer segment. It’s lightweight, fast, and secure. These features will address the performance issue gripes that many VPN users have.

 

The best part is that all the advantages WireGuard offers are already in place early in the game. We can expect further improvements over time, and when we see more maturity, I fully expect that it will replace OpenVPN as the industry standard.

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

1. Is WireGuard or OpenVPN better?

 

WireGuard offers better speed, protection, and adaptability than OpenVPN. However, OpenVPN is currently better if you need enhanced digital privacy. WireGuard is also newer and less thoroughly tested than OpenVPN.

 

2. Why is WireGuard faster than OpenVPN?

 

WireGuard features a tiny code base and efficient resource handling. These help it lower device requirements, allowing even the most lightweight platforms to use a VPN quickly and securely across any distance.

 

3. Can WireGuard be hacked?

 

It will be difficult for anyone to hack WireGuard since it uses proven cryptographic technology. Unless quantum computers can someday break public-private key partnerships, most VPN protocols will remain safe.

 

4. Is WireGuard the best VPN?

 

WireGuard is not a VPN or VPN brand. It is a VPN communication protocol that helps your device connect to secure VPN servers. The code in the WireGuard protocol helps lay the groundwork for the VPN connection.

 

5. What is WireGuard used for?

 

WireGuard is a general-purpose communications protocol that users can implement on all platforms. While it started with Linux, WireGuard today can run on most other platforms like Windows and macOS.

 

 

 

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