A Step-By-Step Guide to Establishing a VPN Connection With OpenVPN

Connect to a VPN server with the free OpenVPN software

Light beams streaming from computer screen
Ryan Etter / Getty Images

OpenVPN is software used for virtual private networking (VPN). It can be downloaded for free and used on Windows, Linux, and macOS computers, as well as Android and iOS devices.

VPNs protect data traffic across public networks such as the internet. Using a VPN improves the security of a computer, whether it's connected over Wi-Fi or a physical Ethernet cable.

It's important to note that OpenVPN is not a VPN service in and of itself. Instead, it's just a way to connect to a VPN server that you can access. This might be a VPN service provider you've purchased or are using for free or one provided by a school or business.

How to Use OpenVPN

OpenVPN can be used by both the server computer that's acting as the VPN and also by the client device that wants to connect to the server. A base package is a command-line tool for server setup, but a separate program exists for graphical user interface setup for ease of use.

An OVPN file must be used to tell OpenVPN what server to connect to. This file is a text file that includes instructions on how to make the connection, after which you are prompted to enter the login details to access the server.

For example, if you're using one of the OVPN profiles from the Private Internet Access VPN provider because you want to connect to a PIA VPN server, you first download the file to your computer and then right-click the OpenVPN program in the taskbar to import the profile. If you have more than one OVPN file that you want the program to be able to use, you can put all of them in the \config\ folder of the program's installation directory.

Once OpenVPN analyzes the file and knows what to do next. You log in to the server with the credentials given to you by the provider.

OpenVPN Program Options

There aren't a lot of settings in OpenVPN, but there are a few that might be useful.

If you're using the software on Windows, you can have it launch when the computer first boots up. There's also a Silent Connection and Never Show Balloon option you can enable to avoid getting alerts when OpenVPN connects you to the VPN server. A proxy can be used too, for even greater security and privacy.

Some advanced settings found in the Windows version of this tool include changing the folder of the configuration files (the OVPN files), setting the script timeout settings, and running the program as a service.

OpenVPN Price Options

OpenVPN software is free from a client's perspective, meaning a free connection can be made to a VPN server. However, if it is used on a server to accept incoming VPN connections, OpenVPN is only free for two clients. The company charges a modest annual fee for additional clients.