The 5 Best Free Mac VPN Clients (And 2 Bonus Alternatives)
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are more popular than ever. They’re an important weapon in the ongoing fight against cyber-snooping and can even unlock some geo-blocked apps and websites.
Different VPN providers specialize in different areas; it can be difficult to choose the right supplier for your needs. But once you’ve selected your provider, you still have decisions to make. Specifically, how do you know which VPN client to use? Should you use your VPN provider’s proprietary app, or a flexible solution that can connect to several different services?
If you’re not sure where to turn, keep reading for the best free Mac VPN clients you can use right now, plus a few other options you might not have considered.
Let’s start with some open source VPN software for Mac. TunnelBlick is a free VPN client that works on macOS and iOS with any VPN provider that offers OpenVPN support. There is no Windows or Linux version.
Because the app is open source, you can be confident it’s not secretly tracking your internet usage in other ways and thus negating the benefit of using a VPN. It’s thus more transparent than proprietary apps.
Interestingly, TunnelBlick logs all your session data by default. This is not out of the ordinary—all OpenVPN clients do the same. If you want to turn off session data logging, all you need to do is add verb 0 to the app’s config file. Remember, this is not linked to whether the VPN provider itself is logging your data.
Finally, the app has a vibrant support community. If you encounter difficulties, head to its Google Group discussion forum, and someone will quickly step in to assist.
Download: TunnelBlick (Free)
The OpenVPN project began back in 2002 and is probably the most well-known of all free Mac VPN clients. In addition to the Mac version, the app is also available on iOS, Windows, and Android.
The app supports lots of different VPN configurations, including remote access, site-to-site VPNs, and enterprise-scale deployments.
OpenVPN isn’t as easy to use as proprietary apps—or even some other OpenVPN clients—but it’s established a name for itself thanks to its feature-rich menus and unflinching reliability.
The main criticism of OpenVPN is its VPN configurations limit. By default, you cannot have more than 50 saved. It’s possible to recompile the app to remove the limit, but that’s a complicated process beyond the scope of this list. It’s also important to be aware that the OpenVPN app only supports the OpenVPN protocol.
Download: OpenVPN (Free)
3. SoftEther VPN
SoftEther VPN is one of the leading multi-protocol VPN apps. It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The open source offering is entirely free, regardless of whether you use it in a personal or commercial environment.
The app supports almost all VPN protocols, meaning not only is it one of the best OpenVPN clients on Mac, but you can also hook it up to L2TP/IPsec, MS-SSTP, L2TPv3, EtherIP, and most impressively, VPN-over-HTTPS connections.
If you use the developer’s own SoftEther VPN protocol, you can expect faster surfing speeds than OpenVPN. In testing, the SoftEther server was 103 percent faster than Microsoft’s Windows implementation of L2TP/IPsec, and up to 117 percent faster than OpenVPN.
Additional features include support for packet filtering, dynamic DNS, and UDP hole punching.
Download: SoftEther VPN (Free)
WireGuard is a fast VPN tunnel that can outperform OpenVPN and IPSec. Connections via WireGuard rely on the exchange of public keys. As such, the VPN can roam between IPs and removes the need for managing connections and daemons.
The technology uses cutting-edge cryptography to keep you safe and deploys a tiny codebase in order to reduce the potential attack surface.
The VPN client app for Mac lets you connect to a VPN (assuming your provider supports WireGuard), import new tunnels from archives, and create new tunnels.
WireGuard is also available for Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS.
Download: WireGuard (Free)
5. OpenConnect GUI
OpenConnect GUI is a free Mac VPN client. It uses TLS and DTLS to establish sessions and is compatible with the Cisco AnyConnect SSL VPN protocol. For those who don’t know, OpenConnect was originally developed as an open source replacement for Cisco’s proprietary product, and it quickly grew in popularity.
However, OpenConnect is its raw form requires command line knowledge. This VPN client removes the need for that by providing a clean and easy-to-understand interface that beginners will quickly be able to wrap their heads around.
OpenConnect GUI is also available on Windows.
Download: OpenConnect GUI (Free)
Unfortunately, the selection of free VPN clients for Mac is fairly thin. Thus, we’ve included two paid options in case the above didn’t fit your needs.
Shimo supports OpenVPN, IPSec, PPTP, SSL, AnyConnect, and SSH connections (note that it does not support PPTP/L2TP on macOS Catalina, however). It allows for concurrent connections, automated connections, and 2FA. And there’s even a dark mode!
Security-wise, you can enjoy AES-256 encryption, SHA-2 hash functions, and secure key exchange using the D-H method. Connections that need certificates or one-time passcode tokens are also supported through the Extended Authentication (XAUTH) toolset.
The app costs a one-time fee of €49 (about $53 at the time of writing), but you can try before you buy.
Download: Shimo ($53, free trial available)
Like the free solutions we discussed, Viscosity is open source. It’s available for $14 and is cross-platform—you can run it on Windows as well as macOS.
Viscosity definitely has the best design here. Its user interface is more polished than the free alternatives, and it’s incredibly easy to use and navigate. If you’re new to the world of third-party VPN clients and aren’t familiar with VPN terminology, the app represents money well spent.
From a technical standpoint, the app gives you a complete traffic breakdown of your connections, integrates with Keychain to keep your details safe, and works with macOS’s advanced DNS system.
You can use a 30-day free trial before you commit to the single purchase.
Download: Viscosity ($14, free trial available)
Which Mac VPN Client Do You Prefer?
Each VPN client has different advantages and disadvantages. Which one you choose will depend on the protocols your VPN provider offers and your familiarity with setting up and using VPNs on third-party apps.
To learn more about VPNs, check our guide on how to set up a VPN on your Mac.
Read the full article: The 5 Best Free Mac VPN Clients (And 2 Bonus Alternatives)