How to set up your own VPN Server at Home

These days if you mention the word “VPN” to someone they automatically think about cloud-based subscription services or the tools that let them access the intranet at work from home.

Sure, we use these forms of VPNs for all sorts of thing, but there are some real advantages to setting up a VPN server on your home and then dialing in from wherever you are. Sound interesting? Let’s quickly go over you might want to do this.

What Can You Do With a Home VPN?

View from inside airplane

The idea with a home VPN server is to let you use your roaming internet connection as if it were your home service. Let’s say you were at a cafe and want to use the WiFi. Of course, it’s not secure so usually you’d use a commercial VPN server. If however you connected to a VPN server running on your home network, you’d have the same level of safety as sitting at home using the local WiFi or ethernet.

Not only that, but since you are essentially a part of the LAN no matter where you are, you can access network drives, download files and basically do everything else you can usually do at home. That also means you can still access any location-locked services you usually have at home when travelling abroad.

An Important Note About Speed

Traffic Long Exposure

If you do set up a VPN server at home then you’ll have to pay attention to two different speed issues. Obviously the speed of the local connection you’re using puts a cap on things, but so does your home network.

Since your home internet connection is acting like a relay for all your date, it’s speed specifications limit how fast your experience can be. This is why ADSL and VDSL are not great choices for home VPN servers. Their upload speeds are generally quite poor, which means your download speed on the other end will be just as bad.

This is only a realistic option for people who have symmetric up- and download speeds. Fiber internet is the most obvious example of this. If your connection’s upload speed is too slow then you’ll be better off coughing up a few bucks a month for a cloud-based VPN service. In that case, do check out our roundup of the best VPNs of 2018.

Setting Up Your Own VPN Server

A VPN server is a computer that runs VPN software and manages the encryption and data transfer process. There are a number of devices you can run VPN server software on for this project. Each of them has their own pros and cons.

VPN Routers

VPN Router

Some routers have a built in VPN server function. If you are lucky enough to already own such a router than almost all the work has already been done for you. All you need to do is configure the server and activate it through the router’s web-based interface.

If your router doesn’t support VPN server functionality out of the box then you aren’t out of luck yet. It might be possible to replace its firmware with custom router firmware such as DD-WRT. If you don’t have a router that can handle DD-WRT, then have a look at our roundup of DD-WRT routers.

Running the Server on Your Home PC

Laptop on White Background

Another option is to simply install VPN server software on your laptop or desktop PC. For this to work the PC can never be switched off. On top of this, the VPN software will also take up resources on that machine, which means potential slowdowns while using it. Most modern PCs are however so powerful it’s doubtful you’d notice a difference.

Use a Dedicated Computer

Old computers can be dedicated to home VPN server use quite easily. Once you’ve got it all configured, just connect it to the router (using Ethernet if possible) and leave it on.

An old laptop or desktop might not be the most elegant or attractive solution, but you can also use something like a Raspberry Pi to act as a dedicated VPN server. There’s a VPN operating system for the Raspberry Pi called PiVPN which makes the process pretty straightforward even for beginners.

Setting Up a VPN Server

Man Working on Car

Regardless of which hardware platform you use, the basic process of setting up the server is broadly the same. We recommend OpenVPN as the software of choice for this project. You can download OpenVPN here.

  • Download the OpenVPN software and install it
  • Generate certificates and keys
  • Generate config files for the server and clients
  • Starting the server itself

Apart from this you might have to do some port-forwarding magic on your router and possibly pony up for a static IP from you ISP.

I don’t have the space here to lay down the detailed instructions for every platform, but luckily the OpenVPN community has created great instructional documents with troubleshooting guides too. The best one to start with for most people is their Easy Windows Guide for OpenVPN. Doing this on Linux is a bit more complicated and you’re best off Googling for instructions relevant to the specific distro of Linux you have in mind. Ubuntu is the most popular for home user and you can find the official Ubuntu OpenVPN documents at the preceding link.

Taking it With You

After setting up a OpenVPN server on your home network according to the proper instructions, you can configure it on your phone, tablet or laptop the same way you would configure any commercial OpenVPN that does not have an app specifically for your device.

From there the world is your oyster! Enjoy taking your home internet connection with you everywhere you go. A luxury and convenience that’s well-worth the effort.

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