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What Is Wireguard?

What Is WireGuard? VPN Protocol Tunnel Guide for 2024

WireGuard is a novel VPN protocol that promises high speeds without compromising security. What is WireGuard, though? Join us as we seek to answer this question and discover everything there is to know about this VPN protocol.

Aleksandar KochovskiAleksander HougenSimona Ivanovski

Written by Aleksandar Kochovski (Writer, SEO Editor)

Reviewed by Aleksander Hougen (Co-Chief Editor)

Facts checked by Simona Ivanovski (Formatter / Fact-Checker)

Last Updated: 2024-04-12T12:12:00+00:00

All our content is written fully by humans; we do not publish AI writing. Learn more here.

Key Takeaways: What Is WireGuard?
  • WireGuard is a modern, open-source VPN protocol that prioritizes performance, simplicity and security through a minimalist design and advanced encryption methods.
  • It operates at the kernel level on Linux, Windows and Android, enabling efficient integration with the operating system and faster speeds than other protocols.
  • Though highly secure, WireGuard lacks certain privacy features like obfuscation and dynamic IP address distribution by default, prompting VPN providers to implement custom solutions to address these shortcomings.

Facts & Expert Analysis: The WireGuard Protocol

  • Routing: WireGuard utilizes cryptokey routing, associating each peer with a unique private/public key pair instead of traditional IP addresses for routing.
  • Encryption cipher: It employs the ChaCha20 cipher for encryption, Curve 25519 for key assignment and Poly1305 for authentication. 
  • Fast and secure: WireGuard operates over the UDP transport layer, leveraging its speed while implementing a separate packet confirmation mechanism to ensure reliability.

WireGuard is an innovative VPN protocol that boasts strong performance and security paired with greater simplicity than other popular protocols. Like all other VPN protocols, WireGuard creates an encrypted tunnel for transferring data over the internet, ensuring user privacy and protecting sensitive data from prying eyes.

Initially designed as an alternative to OpenVPN, the WireGuard protocol represents new VPN technology, and it was designed with performance, simplicity and ease of implementation in mind. Since its launch in 2015, WireGuard has become one of the dominant VPN protocols, offered by most top-tier VPNs.

The Best WireGuard VPN Providers Are:

  1. NordVPN — The best WireGuard VPN service.
  2. Surfshark — WireGuard VPN with unlimited simultaneous connections.
  3. Proton VPN — Free VPN with WireGuard support.
  4. CyberGhost — Highly customizable WireGuard VPN.
  5. Private Internet Access — Affordable VPN with WireGuard capabilities.
  • 04/12/2024 Facts checked

    Updated to reflect new developments in WireGuard, including its inclusion in the Windows kernel and support on other devices.

What Is the WireGuard VPN Protocol?

WireGuard is a modern VPN protocol designed with a focus on minimalism. It’s an open-source protocol based on a very slim codebase and modern encryption protocols, and it integrates directly into the Windows, Android and Linux kernels. It is so impressively lightweight that Linus Torvalds — the creator of Linux — called it a “work of art.”

Because it uses fewer lines of code, it has a smaller attack surface, making it less susceptible to cyberattacks. This also leads to reduced overhead and improved performance, and its kernel integration means it works better with the operating system’s network functionality than other VPN protocols.

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WireGuard Pros & Cons

WireGuard is among the best VPN protocols to use, but it isn’t without flaws. Bear in mind that even though we list certain disadvantages below, they only apply to the default WireGuard implementation. All VPN providers have to use a custom WireGuard implementation, and each VPN addresses WireGuard’s weaknesses in its own way (we’ll go into more detail on that later).

WireGuard Advantages:

  • Modern: WireGuard is the latest popular VPN protocol to come out.
  • Secure: It employs unique security measures, especially for establishing a VPN connection.
  • Minimal codebase: It uses fewer lines of code than most others, making it less susceptible to attacks. It also uses less processing power and performs better.
  • Very fast: It is theoretically among the fastest VPN protocols, as it runs at the kernel level.
  • Easy to implement: All it takes to configure WireGuard client-side is installing an app. The server configuration is much simpler than for other protocols.
  • Open source: All of WireGuard’s source code is available online for anyone to inspect and improve.

WireGuard Disadvantages:

  • Lack of obfuscation: WireGuard does not use obfuscation by default (though it does support it).
  • Static IP addresses: WireGuard does not assign dynamic IP addresses by default, so VPN providers need to implement a custom solution for it.
  • Not all VPNs support it yet: Because of the IP address issue, many VPN providers haven’t yet put in the effort to include WireGuard in their services.

How Does the WireGuard Tunnel Work & What Is It Used for? 

WireGuard was created as a way to replace older protocols using legacy encryption methods such as IKEv2 and OpenVPN. According to the WireGuard white paper, its creators intentionally avoided academic perfection, instead creating a lightweight yet imperfect protocol that solves the issues stemming from that imperfection with practical engineering.

How the WireGuard Protocol Works

At its core, WireGuard operates using the following mechanisms:

1. Cryptokey Routing

Whereas most VPN implementations make a distinction between user and server, WireGuard regards them both as peers. Instead of relying on traditional IP addresses for routing, WireGuard associates each peer with a unique public key and its related private key. 

2. Kernel-Level Implementation

WireGuard operates at the kernel level on Windows and Linux, meaning it is integrated directly into the operating systems’ cores. Because it communicates directly with the Windows or Linux kernel, WireGuard offers a more efficient and streamlined approach to establishing a secure connection than traditional user space-reliant VPN protocols.

3. UDP Transport

The UDP transport layer offers fast data transmission. Because it is connectionless, its default implementation can lead to packet loss, unlike with TCP, which authenticates each incoming packet and guarantees no packet loss. WireGuard implements a separate package confirmation mechanism to fix this issue, so it can leverage UDP’s speed without compromising on reliability.

4. Secure Key Exchange

WireGuard bases its secure key exchange process on the noise protocol framework, using ChaCha20 for encryption, Curve25519 for key agreement and Poly1305 for authentication. 

During the initial handshake, each WireGuard interface generates a private and a corresponding public key, which are exchanged between the peers to create a secret key used for encrypting communication between them.

WireGuard Protocols & Primitives

WireGuard uses the following protocols and primitives:

  • ChaCha20: A symmetric encryption algorithm used to encrypt transmitted data.
  • Poly1305: A message authentication code (MAC) algorithm that is used to authenticate the encrypted data (combined into a single process with ChaCha20 using an AEAD construction).
  • Curve25519: A specific curve used to establish a shared secret key between the user and the VPN server that is used to encrypt all data in the tunnel.
  • BLAKE2s: A cryptographic hash function that generates hash values used for secure data authentication.
  • SipHash24: A cryptographic hash function that generates hash values used in hash tables, ensuring efficient storage and retrieval of data.
  • HKDF: A key derivation function that generates multiple keys from a single master key.

Does WireGuard Use TCP or UDP? What’s the Difference? 

WireGuard is built on the user datagram protocol (or UDP) transport layer, as opposed to the slower, yet more reliable transmission control protocol (TCP). This means that WireGuard doesn’t rely on handshakes to verify and establish a connection between the user and the server.

Despite this, the WireGuard protocol does still use a handshake, albeit a simple one, to exchange the symmetric keys that enable communication. This handshake is repeated at intervals in order to provide perfect forward secrecy.

WireGuard Use Cases

Although WireGuard-encrypted tunnels are primarily used for creating VPN connections, it is suitable for a wide range of applications, such as secure communication between devices in the internet of things (IoT), cloud communication or as part of other network security applications.

Which Devices Are Compatible With WireGuard?

WireGuard is compatible with all major operating systems, though it operates slightly differently on each one due to differences in kernel implementation.

WireGuard Compatibility List
  • Linux: WireGuard is integrated into the Linux kernel.
  • Windows: WireGuard is integrated into the Windows kernel.
  • macOS: WireGuard used to be implemented as a kernel extension, offering the same level of performance, though it now operates in user space as a network extension.
  • Android: Since Android already uses a Linux kernel, it also integrates WireGuard at the kernel level.
  • iOS: WireGuard only operates in user space.

What this means for you as a user is that, despite WireGuard’s high speeds on Windows, Android and Linux, it might perform as well (or only slightly better) as the user space-based OpenVPN on macOS and iOS platforms.

Which VPN Services Support WireGuard?

Though not all VPNs on our list of the best VPNs support WireGuard yet, some of our favorites do.

1. NordVPN — Best VPN With WireGuard

nordvpn windows home
NordVPN is the best service on the VPN market with WireGuard support.

Pros:

  • NordLynx solves WireGuard’s IP address issues
  • Affordable for a premium VPN
  • Offers obfuscated servers

Cons:

  • Has had a server breach
  • UI on Mac & mobile can be difficult to navigate

NordVPN is one of the best VPNs out there. It is also among the fastest VPNs, in no small part thanks to NordLynx — NordVPN’s own WireGuard implementation, which adds dynamic IP address distribution to the protocol. NordVPN also solves the lack of obfuscation by offering obfuscated servers even over WireGuard.

However, it is a premium VPN, so it comes with a higher price tag than others. It’s still decently affordable on longer plans, though. You can read our full NordVPN review for more info or try it out using the 30-day money-back guarantee.

2. Surfshark — Budget-Friendly WireGuard VPN

surfshark iran
Surfshark is a very fast WireGuard VPN service.

Pros:

  • Extensive server network
  • Affordable on longer plans

Cons:

  • Torrenting on select servers only

Surfshark is another excellent VPN provider that supports WireGuard, boasting super-fast download speeds. It is also fairly affordable for such a capable VPN. However, in our Surfshark review, we did take issue with its lack of torrenting support — peer-to-peer connections are only available over select servers.

In terms of pricing, Surfshark is among the cheaper VPNs, though its recent price increases have soured our opinion somewhat. We do still recommend Surfshark if you can’t squeeze NordVPN into your budget. Like NordVPN, it also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee that you can use to test the service before buying.

Surfshark Starter
  • Unlimited GB bandwidth, Unlimited devices, Secure VPN, Ad blocker, Cookie pop-up blocker. Plans renew: $231.75 for one year, $417.15 for two years
  • Unlimited GB
  • Unlimited
  • Yes
Surfshark One
  • Everything in Starter, plus Antivirus protection, Identity protection, Email Breach and Credit Card Alerts, Online Alias Plans renew: $239.25 for one year, $430.65 for two years.
  • Unlimited GB
  • Unlimited
Surfshark One+
  • Everything in One, plus Data removal Plans renew: $269.25 for one year, $404.65 for two years
  • Unlimited GB
  • Unlimited

3. Proton VPN — Best Free VPN With Wireguard

protonvpn desktop ui
Proton VPN is a reliable, free VPN that supports WireGuard.

Pros:

  • Open-source apps
  • Based in Switzerland
  • Unlimited data on free plan

Cons:

  • Can’t select servers on free plan
  • UI can be difficult to navigate
  • Free servers are often slower

Proton VPN is a rare free VPN that we trust. It only uses the two most secure VPN protocols: OpenVPN and WireGuard. Developed by CERN scientists in Switzerland, Proton VPN is part of a larger digital privacy suite and an offshoot of Proton’s original end-to-end encrypted email business. We believe this showcases Proton’s dedication to user privacy and technical acumen.

Proton VPN has an unlimited free plan. It doesn’t place any hard limits on bandwidth or data use, but its free servers are often congested and slower than paid servers. The paid plans aren’t the cheapest, as they only come bundled with other Proton services, but you can make use of the free plan before deciding whether to upgrade. Read our Proton VPN review for more.

Free
  • Unlimited GB
  • 1
  • Yes
Plus
  • 1-year plan renews at $119.88; 2-year plan renews at $239.76
  • Unlimited GB
  • 10
  • Yes

Configuration: How to Install WireGuard

You don’t install WireGuard yourself as an end user. Instead, you simply install the official WireGuard client or a VPN application that supports it. If you’re a system admin who needs to run a custom WireGuard implementation, you can find installation guides on the official WireGuard website.

  1. Download and Install a VPN

    Download the VPN app of your choice from its website (on desktop) or from your device’s app store (on mobile). Then, install the VPN app by following the instructions in the setup wizard.

    nordvpn homepage
  2. Access the Settings Menu

    Open the VPN’s settings and find the connection and protocol settings.

    nordvpn connection settings
  3. Change the VPN Protocol to WireGuard

    Change the VPN protocol from its default to WireGuard (or NordLynx if using NordVPN).

    nordvpn vpn protocol settings

Final Thoughts 

WireGuard is a modern and innovative VPN protocol that offers a unique combination of simplicity, performance and security with its lean codebase, advanced cryptographic algorithms and efficient design. Though it might not be suitable for all VPN applications, it is undoubtedly a strong contender in the VPN market, where speed and mobility are priorities.

As WireGuard continues to gain traction among VPN service providers, developers and users, it is likely we’ll see further improvements and extensions to the protocol. What are your thoughts on WireGuard? Do you use WireGuard or a different protocol in your VPN app? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, thank you for reading.

FAQ: VPN WireGuard Protocol

  • Yes, WireGuard is an excellent, fast and secure VPN protocol.

  • Yes, WireGuard is open source and completely free to use.

  • WireGuard is one of the fastest and most secure VPN protocols, which means you should use it whenever it’s available. However, Mac and iPhone users might not see the same speed benefits as others.

  • Not only is WireGuard compatible with Linux, but it was built primarily for Linux and is integrated into Linux’s kernel.

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