Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are more popular than ever. They are 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, and a few other options you might not have considered.
Free Open-Source Clients
Here are the top free VPN clients you should consider.
TunnelBlick is an Apple-specific VPN client. It works on macOS and iOS. There is no Windows or Linux version. It works with any VPN provider which offers OpenVPN support.
Because the app is completely 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 is more transparent than proprietary apps.
Interestingly, TunnelBlick logs all your session data by default. This is not unusual — all OpenVPN clients do the same thing. 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 the Google Group discussion forum and someone will quickly step in to assist.
The OpenVPN project began back in 2002. It is probably the most well-known of all the free VPN clients. In addition to a Mac version, the app is also available on iOS, Windows, and Android.
The app itself supports lots of different VPN configurations, including remote access, site-to-site VPNs, and enterprise-scale deployments.
The app 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 is possible to recompile the app to remove the limit, but it’s a complicated process and beyond the scope of this article. It’s also important to be aware that the OpenVPN app only supports the OpenVPN protocol.
SoftEther VPN is possibly the easiest to use multi-protocol VPN app on this list. It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The open-source app is entirely free, regardless of whether you’re going to use it in a personal or commercial environment.
It supports almost all VPN protocols, including L2TP/IPsec, OpenVPN, MS-SSTP, L2TPv3, EtherIP, and most impressively, VPN-over-HTTPS.
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.
Some providers offer their own apps. The apps themselves are free, but they only work with the providers’ services.
Here are a couple of the best free provider specific apps. Remember, the quality of any provider’s app has no bearing on the quality of the actual VPN service, but they often offer more pleasing interfaces than the open source options above.
NordVPN is widely considered to be one of the best VPN services available. It always scores highly on privacy tests thanks to its lack of logging and Panamanian jurisdiction.
The Mac app was recently overhauled. You can choose from hundreds of servers around the world on the app’s interactive map, chat to tech support via live chat, and quickly jump between server locations with a single click.
The app also has a kill switch that prevents data being revealed to snoopers if you unexpectedly get disconnected from your VPN. Lastly, it includes shortcuts to servers specifically designed for streaming and P2P downloading.
You can download the NordVPN app on macOS, Windows, iOS, Android, and even on some smart TVs and gaming consoles.
ExpressVPN is another well-known VPN provider that been around since 2009. It’s headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, thus giving you peace of mind regarding anonymity and data disclosure. It’s also one of the fastest VPN providers and offers unlimited bandwidth.
The Mac desktop client supports OpenVPN (UDP and TCP), L2TP, and PPTP protocols. The app lets you bookmark your favorite servers for easy access and chat with the tech support team.
It also provides a way to set up one-click connect and, like NordVPN, has a kill switch in case you lose your connection. The app is free to download and use, but it will only work with ExpressVPN’s service.
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For a Small Fee…
There’s one paid app that deserves a mention in this list.
Like the three free solutions I discussed, Viscosity is open source. It costs a one-time fee of $9. It’s also cross-platform — you can run it on Windows as well as macOS.
Viscosity undoubtedly wins the design award. Its user interface is much 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 au-fait with terminology, it’s $9 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.
On the downside, the app only works with the OpenVPN protocol.
Which VPN Client Do You Use?
Each VPN client has different advantages and disadvantages. Which one you choose to use will depend on which protocols your VPN provider offers and your familiarity with setting up and using VPNs on third-party apps.
Which is the best free VPN client on macOS? Do you use one of the apps I reviewed, or have you found a better app that did not make this list? You can let us know which app you use and why it’s so good in the comments section below.