We often review products (Apple TV, Xbox, etc), routers and even post Top 5 lists (Best DD-WRT routers, Best VPNs for DD-WRT) where we mention the use of DD-WRT, but it has come to our attention that we never show you how to do it yourself. So to rectify this here is our guide to setting up your own DD-WRT VPN router. Shortly we will also be bringing you articles showing you how to make it into a media base, NAS (Network Area Storage) drive or use it to share your printer.
If you’re interested in DD-WRT we’ve also published a huge DD-WRT guide that covers everything from the basics to advance setups.
Before we continue we must state that some basic technical expertise will be required and there is a possibility of ‘bricking’ (making unusable) your router and/or voiding your warranty and we here at BestVPN can’t be held responsible in these cases. If after reading the article you think that you’d rather not attempt it than you’re in luck as you can buy pre-configured routers here and here.
What is DD-WRT
DD-WRT is an open source software that replaces the built-in programming of your router and thereby giving you high level of control and functionality without having to shell out for expensive routers. Flashed routers have many advantages but the one that we will be looking at today is setting it up for VPN use as this poises the following advantages:
- Only need one VPN connection for all your devices
- Safe and secure browsing for all connected devices
- Access geolocation content to allow more content for media servers
The only downside is that with using DD-WRT it is a bit more complicated to change server locations then it is with a built in client – though you can still use them side by side.
Getting started is very easy and only requires the following few things:
- A DD-WRT compatible router. A full list of the supported makes and models can be found on their wiki website or use their router database to search for a specific make and model. The latter is more helpful if you don’t already have one but know what specifications you would like.
- Note that if you wish to use OpenVPN the general rule is for your router to have at least 8Mb of RAM, you can check this on the supported makes and models website
- A full user manual of the router you wish to flash
- An Ethernet cable
- A valid VPN account. While you can use most VPN services, in our ‘Best VPNs for DD-WRT‘ article we recommend the companies that provide you with the best set-up guides and also customer service that can help you if anything goes wrong but below you can find a quick summary of them:
DD-WRT VPNs SummaryDisclosure: compensated affiliate: click here for more information
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This is the more ‘difficult’ part of the setting up process and it just gets easier from here.
- After finding your router using the router database download the .bin installation file. There should be two files “factory-to-ddwrt” is the one you will need to use the other is if they release an updated firmware for your model
- Do a 30/30/30 reset. What this means is hold the reset button for 90 seconds without letting go. When you first press it hold it for 30 seconds then unplug the power cable for 30 seconds while still pressing the button and then plug the power back in and hold the reset for a further 30 seconds.
- Plug your router into your computer using an Ethernet cable
- In your browser go to the default router IP (usually 192.168.1.1 or similar)
- Navigate to the ‘Firmware Upgrade’ section which is generally under ‘System Tools’
- Find the file you have downloaded from DD-WRT, click upgrade and wait until your router reboots itself.
- Repeat Step 2.
- When you login to your router (IP: 192.168.1.1, username: admin, password: admin) you will be greeted with the below image. In your possible wireless connections it will also appear as dd-wrt and initially it will be an unprotected connection.
- Change the basic settings (such as name and security) of your new DD-WRT wireless router under the ‘Wireless’ tab
Now as mentioned there are plenty of settings you can change on your new DD-WRT router and we will be writing instructions on a number of these in the future – leave us a comment if there is anything specific you’d like to see. For the moment we will concentrate on setting up a VPN connection. If you looked at the DD-WRT wiki website for setting up VPN you are probably very confused but don’t worry the process is very easy. There are two different methods and it’s best if you also look at the providers setup guide to see what they recommend. If your chosen provider doesn’t show the setup guide then don’t worry as long as you can obtain a .ovpn configuration file.
This method uses the DD-WRT GUI to help you set up the VPN connection. Since most providers only give out OpenVPN configuration files will only explain how to set up OpenVPN. The best thing about this method is that though you need to do some searching through text files it is easier to change servers than with the Command Method and the process is the same independent of the provider.
- Once you have logged in to DD-WRT navigate to Services -> VPN and here enable the ‘Start OpenVPN Client’
- Open your selected .ovpn file in a text editor – such as Notepad
- In the OpenVPN client enter the required information as we will explain in the next steps. The below image is for reference and can vary by provider so check their recommendations.
- Copy the following texts from the .ovpn file
- from the line that follows the pattern remote location.provider.com xxxx the web address goes into the “Server IP/Name” field and xxxx (usually 1194) is the “Port” field below it
- the text between <tls-auth> and </tlsauth> tags into the “TLS Auth Key” field
- the text between <ca> and </ca> tags into the “CA Cert” field
- the text between <cert> and </cert> tags into the “Public Client Cert” field
- the text between <key> and </key> tags into the “Private Client Key” field
- Click “Save” and then “Apply Settings” to start the service
- To check that the service is running correctly navigate to Status-> OpenVPN. The log should contain all kinds of messages about encryption and management if it is blank then you might have done something wrong.
The command method uses the command section to basically insert code directly into the system. The other downside of this compared to the GUI method is that it requires you to reboot the router a number of times. The upside is that it is a lot easier to change server locations and doesn’t require you copy and past as much text.
- On your providers website find the configuration files for the router. This should be just a plain text file.
- Once you have logged in to your router go to Administration -> Commands and paste the text you have downloaded in the previous step into the text box, enter your Username and Password as required and click ‘Save Startup’
- Reboot your rooter either manually or Administration -> Management -> Reboot Router
- Go to the commands page as per step 2 and type in /tmp/ibvpn/vpn start aaa.bbb.ccc.ddd where aaa.bbb.ccc.ddd is the IP of the server you wish to connect to – also found from your providers website. Press ‘Run Commands’ and you should successfully connect (this execution code will differ from provider to provider – clearly we used ibVPN for the demonstration)
- To stop the VPN service type in /tmp/ibvpn/vpn stop
- For OpenVPN the process is the same except you need to use a different Start Up file but you can also download these from your provider.
Reverting back to original software
If you decide you do not wish to use DD-WRT any longer for whatever reason then it is fairly simple to revert back to the original manufacturer software.
- First download the manufacturer provided firmware – this can be found on their website or with a quick Google search. If when downloaded it, it is within a Zip folder then unzip it.
- Do a 30/30/30 reset
- Plug your router into your computer using an Ethernet cable
- Log in to your DD-WRT by going to 192.168.1.1 in your browser and entering your account name and password
- Navigate to Administration -> Firmware Upgrade
- Choose ‘Reset to default settings’ and use the Choose file button to locate the .bin file firmware you downloaded in step 1
- Click upgrade and wait until the process finalises, you will (hopefully) see the below image.
Because each router is different some reversions might not be as straight forward and might require you to do some Googleing.
We have showed you the general path to setting up DD-WRT on your router, running a VPN service on it and the providers we recommend for you to use. Please however bare in mind that with so many DD-WRT builds, router types and VPN providers out there that if you have any problems Google and your service provider are your best friend .