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Virtual private network (VPN) protocol is one of those salient factors that will always impact your user experience.

As important as it is, it will be beneficial to increase your understanding of such protocols before buying into any one of the best VPN software subscriptions in the market.

Perhaps, if you are not informed enough, you may end up making a decision that will result in some fatal and irreversible losses. For one thing, VPN is all about privacy and security.

Given how sensitive security and privacy could be on the internet, serious thought should be given to the type of connection you use and the related protocol.

In addition to exploring the types of VPN protocols, we’ll look into other relevant factors that will help you choose the best virtual private network software for your specific needs. While exploring these topics, it will be helpful to keep your intended use cases clearly in mind. Hence, what suits user A might not be the best option for user B.

What are VPN protocols?

A VPN protocol is a set of digital communication rules that guide how your internet activity data are routed between your devices and a VPN server.

Even though you are not interested in technical jargon, understanding the variations around these rules and how they work will be beneficial to you as an end-user. At the core of every VPN software functionality is a specific set of protocols that determines how the system works and the ultimate user experience. Technically, this is the thing that determines the level of security and speed you’ll experience when using VPN software.

In most cases, you’ll have the option to swap VPN protocols. But before you get into that, let’s look at the major types you’ll find among the best VPN providers.

As noted earlier, VPN protocols are rarely the same. With an increased understanding of the variations among them, you’ll be able to choose the one that will match your intended use cases. And that is what you should keep in mind while trying to choose or compare virtual private network providers.

  • OpenVPN Protocol

Among the most popular consumer VPN services you’ll find in the market, OpenVPN enjoys considerable wide adoption. It is an open-source protocol known for its exceptional ease of configuration.

For technical nerds that need to evade detection by security filters and firewalls, OpenVPN is a good option you should consider before taking others into account. This protocol works by masking itself like ordinary internet traffic. Interestingly, advanced users of VPN software can choose between the user data program protocol (UDP) or transmission control protocol (TCP).

The difference is that TCP prioritizes network stability while UDP is best for use cases where network transmission speed is a high priority. For an average user, you may not need to concern yourself with these technical options.

  • WireGuard VPN Protocol

For people interested in Linux-compatible VPN protocol, WireGuard is another option worth considering. Regarding speed and data encryption, WireGuard also scored high points when compared with other newer protocols used in today’s modern computing environment. Running with around 4,000 lines of code which is less than other competitors made it one of the fastest protocols for the job.

Moreover, in some specific contexts where platform compatibility is a big concern, WireGuard is likely to get the job done.

Unlike other protocols, this one is very easy to set up. And that means you don’t need to have the high-level technical expertise to make use of it.

  • Layer 2 Tunnelling Protocol (L2TP)

When a higher level of security is a top priority within a corporate or individual usage environment, the layer 2 tunneling protocol is a go-to option for many people.

As a standalone system, the layer 2 protocol doesn’t provide any form of data encryption. Based on this fact, it makes use of the IPSec protocol. Technically, the extra layer of security provided by this VPN protocol often slows down internet traffic. Based on past user experiences, the pre-built support for modern devices made the layer 2 tunneling protocol a great option.

The only downside is that configuration can be challenging for an average user. However, it is reliable when it comes to the prevention of transfer alteration between the sender and receiver.

  • Lightway VPN Protocol

Lightway protocol was built from scratch by ExpressVPN, one of the best private network service providers in today’s market. Depending on your connection, this protocol promises a very fast data transfer experience for all users.

And even when your device switches network connections, the VPN protocol will still give you a stable user experience. Under an open-source license, the code for Lightway was published on Github. Whether you prefer the UDP option mentioned earlier, you can get what you want from Lightway.

  • Secure Socket Tunnelling Protocol (SSTP)

Developed by Microsoft, this is the first protocol built into Windows Vista. When looking for a virtual private network protocol perfectly suited for the Windows operating system, the SSTP is the standard and most preferred option.

Having cleared that out, one thing you should bear in mind is that site-to-site VPN access with this protocol is usually a technical struggle.

For the Windows OS platform, getting around firewalls with SSTP is usually a breeze. But then, this is not an open-source kind of VPN protocol. And support for other operating systems isn’t there at all.

  • Internet Key Exchange Version 2 (IKEv2)

When mobile access speed is a high priority, this is the VPN protocol to use. Besides mobile device synchronicity, the data transfer speed you’ll experience on this protocol is exceptionally impressive. Another positive thing confirmed by other users found during research is that IKEv2 is best suited for a corporate environment.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have native support for Linux operating system. Moreover, the ease of configuring the system is something that most average users will have to struggle with.

Comparatively, the IKEv2 is best known for reconnecting to the server whenever there is a slight disconnection. In terms of overall stability, you can count on this protocol to give you what you want.

Finally, you have to keep this in mind. Implementation on the VPN server side is not something that everyone can handle easily.

  • SoftEther VPN Protocol

Starting as a school project in Japan, SoftEther had grown to become a multi-protocol VPN software. The main virtual private network protocol uses SSL (secure socket layer) for securing VPN client and server communication.

On the server side, SoftEther is known to support multiple VPN protocols like IPSec, OpenVPN, and its native protocol. In some cases where support for multiple operating systems is needed, this protocol can get you going with ease.

Please note that using this one requires installation and connection to a server. However, SoftEther is free to use at the time of this writing. The data encryption also works well for a secured browsing experience.

Which VPN Protocol Should I Use?

Now you know the types of VPN protocols in today’s digital world, the next question to ask may sound like this one. Which VPN protocol is the best for me?

The first thing worth reiterating here is that switching from one protocol to the other will affect your VPN user experience in most cases. Moreover, your personal use cases deserve high-priority consideration before you choose any VPN protocol.

Having said that, below here are the specific factors to keep in mind when you are ready to make the choice.

  • High-Level Security – When you are dealing with a lot of sensitive data, security should be your first consideration. Whether for personal or corporate use, you’ll get maximum security by going OpenVPN, WireGuard, and IKEv2/IPSec.
  • Internet Speed – The difference in speed is one of the things you’ll notice when you switch from one VPN protocol to the other. Assuming you want to use the software for streaming and gaming, you’ll be better off with OpenVPN/TCP, L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP. These protocols will give you the fastest connection experience without extra security layers to drag things down.
  • Peer To Peer File Sharing – Are you interested in the best VPN protocol for torrenting? Don’t go further. Consider the OpenVPN/UDP, IKEv2/IPSec, PPTP, and SSTP as the best options.
    Besides being the best for file sharing, these protocols are known to offer high levels of network stability.
  • Network Stability – In terms of network stability and seamless reconnection, most VPN users have found great value in these protocols – IPSec, SoftEther, IKEv2/IPSec, L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP. Especially for seamless reconnection on mobile devices, these protocols will give you what you want
  • Operating System Compatibility – Depending on your current operating system, you have to consider this when choosing a VPN protocol. While some are best suited for Windows, others work better with Mac OS devices.

Assuming you’ll be making heavy usage of your VPN subscription on mobile devices, do not ignore operating system compatibility considerations.

How VPN Encryption Works

Virtual private network encryption is a process of scrambling your online activity data so that third parties cannot read, interception, monitor, or alter them. By default, 100% of your online activities, including the transfer of sensitive information, is routed through an internet service provider (ISP).

What a VPN service provider does is to create a private and anonymized connection tunnel between your device and their server. Depending on the provider and other factors, such connections can be made through the VPN protocols described in the previous sections.

When a private connection is created and encrypted in this context, everything you on online will be invisible to third parties, including your internet service provider, hackers, and the government. Besides the core online activity data and communication, your original internet protocol (IP) address will be hidden.

In this case, you’ll be using a VPN provider IP address assigned to any location of your choice.

Even though you may not have anything to hide online because you trust the government and ISPs, cybercriminals are busy trying to exploit network and device vulnerabilities almost round the clock. That’s why you’ll need the best VPN software for maximum protection.

When it comes to VPN data encryption, some things are just not the same. Examples are the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) 128-bit vs AES 256 bit. Technically, these numbers represent the bit length of the digital keys that can decrypt data. But for successful decryption to happen, it has to take a lot of guesses based on the bit length of the keys.

In this case, a higher number of keys will take more guesses. Hence, 128 bit and 256-bit are not the same. Within the world of cybersecurity, these keys are used to prevent brute-force attacks.

To put things in perspective, a brute force attack is a trial-and-error process of guessing login details and encryption keys.

Based on our findings, it is always better to use the longest encryption keys. That will give you maximum protection in any security context.

Final Thoughts

Without a clear understanding of VPN protocols, you may end up choosing what is not suitable for your current needs.

As noted in the earlier sections of this post, what you choose will always affect your end-user experience. It doesn’t matter the virtual private network (VPN) provider, VPN protocols are usually the same across the board. However, the one you choose will be dependent on the VPN subscription plan.

Now you have a better understanding of how VPN protocols work and the types, choosing what’s best for your specific needs doesn’t need extra research. Regardless of the technical language, your ultimate focus should be on why you need this type of software in the first place.

Interestingly, people buy VPNs for different reasons. To make your decision easier, you may want to reread the section on the core use cases and what to consider before choosing a VPN protocol.

By doing so, you’ll be on the path to getting the best protocol that will give maximum value in terms of connection speed, security, and stability.