A Guide to Setting up OpenVPN on Android Mobile and Tablets

What is OpenVPN?

OpenVPN for Android by Arne Schwabe is an app that uses any standard OpenVPN configuration files to allow Android users to connect to any VPN service which supports the OpenVPN protocol. Well... not only is OpenVPN on Android open source, but it is actually more fully-featured than most custom VPN Android apps

OpenVPN for Android is free and open source software (FOSS), so it is free in every sense of the word. Do please be aware, however, that in order to use it you must either subscribe to a commercial VPN service or setup your own private OpenVPN server. If you cannot or do not want to use the Google Play Store, OpenVPN for Android can instead be downloaded as an .apk file or installed from F-Droid.

OpenVPN for Android features

OpenVPN for Android is based on the community version of OpenVPN and uses the latest OpenVPN 2.x source code. This means it offers the following key features:

  • Open source
  • Full Domain Name System (DNS) leak protection – both Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) and Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6)
  • Full IPv6 routing
  • Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) leak protection
  • Uses the most up-to-date version of OpenVPN (and therefore the most secure)
  • Can be configured to act as a kill switch

How to use OpenVPN for Android

Using OpenVPN for Android is not hard, but the need to import third-party OpenVPN configuration files does make setup a little more involved than with preconfigured custom VPN apps.

1. Download the OpenVPN configuration files from your VPN provider’s website. Unzip them (if required) and transfer to a folder on your Android device via USB. Alternatively, download them directly to your Android device and unzip them with an app such as ZArchiver.

2. Download, install and run OpenVPN for Android(if you haven’t already). Touch the + icon to the top right of the screen to Add Profile. Give the profile a suitable name, then hit “Import.”

AirVPN profile

3. Navigate to the folder where you saved the unzipped OpenVPN config file(s), and choose a server (.ovpn file). Once imported, touch the tick ✔ icon to continue.

convert config file

Many providers include all necessary keys and account information in customized .ovpn files, so no further configuration is needed. Others may require that you enter your account information and other details. Please see your provider’s documentation for specific instructions.

4. Once done, you’ll see the server name under the Profiles tab. To start the VPN, just touch it. You can import .ovpn files for as many servers as you like, and they will show up here.

OpenVPN profile view

A rather natty set of graphs allows you to monitor your VPN bandwidth usage.

openvpn bandwidth per minute log

How to enable IPV6 routing on OpenVPN for Android

You can prevent IPv6 DNS leaks by telling OpenVPN for Android to properly route all IPv6 traffic over the VPN. To ensure this is enabled:

1. Edit the specific VPN connection in the “Profiles” tab.

edit device setting

2. Ensure that IPv6 -> Use default Route is checked. While you are here, also check that IPv4 leak protection is enabled (it should be by default).

select IPV4 or IPV6

Enable a kill switch on Android

To configure OpenVPN for Android to act as a kill switch:

1. Edit the specific VPN connection in the “Profiles” tab (see above).

2. Go to the “Advanced” tab and check “Persistent Tun” and set “Connection retries” to Unlimited.

OpenVPN settings

Ta-da! You now have an OpenVPN kill switch for Android.

Update: Android

Nougat 7+ includes a built-in kill switch that works with any VPN. This includes OpenVPN for Android. This built-in kill switch is almost certainly more robust than the persistent TUN method described above, so if you have more recent Android device we recommend using this instead. Please see here for how. 

OpenVPN Connect

Other than custom VPN apps, OpenVPN for Android’s main rival is OpenVPN Connect. Like OpenVPN for Android, this is a generic OpenVPN client that can use regular OpenVPN configuration files to connect to any VPN service that supports OpenVPN.

OpenVPN Connect is the “official” client from OpenVPN Inc. and is designed to be very user-friendly for the casual VPN user without any technical skills. It is therefore less fully featured than OpenVPN for Android, which is aimed at more advanced users.

Another important difference is that OpenVPN for Android is open source while the official OpenVPN Connect app is not. For this reason, OpenVPN for Android is regarded as being the “semi-official” app by many in open source OpenVPN community.

Conclusion

It may seem a little counterintuitive, but with full IPv6 routing, bandwidth usage graphs, and the ability to configure as a kill switch, OpenVPN for Android is more fully-featured than almost any custom Android VPN app I have yet reviewed. It is also more fully featured than its desktop equivalents.

Add in the fact that OpenVPN for Android is open source and always uses the latest version of OpenVPN, and we have a compelling case for preferring it over custom Android VPN apps.

Written by: Douglas Crawford

Has worked for almost six years as senior staff writer and resident tech and VPN industry expert at ProPrivacy.com. Widely quoted on issues relating cybersecurity and digital privacy in the UK national press (The Independent & Daily Mail Online) and international technology publications such as Ars Technica.

3 Comments

  1. RevolveR

    on September 30, 2019
    Reply

    Thank you. After Bitmask have connection problems I need to try original Open VPN.

  2. thierrybo

    on June 8, 2019
    Reply

    I do not see any interest for Android Connect. The "non technical / casual" VPN user will anyhow use the App from his VPN provider that is even more simple than Android Connect.

    1. Douglas Crawford replied to thierrybo

      on June 10, 2019
      Reply

      Hi thierrybo, This is a look at OpenVPN for Android by Arne Schwabe, not OpenVPN Connect (which we review here: https://proprivacy.com/guides/openvpn-connect-review). It is part of an in-depth series of guides looking at third party (and in most cases open source) OpenVPN clients for various platforms. As you say, most casual users will just their provider's app, which is covered in detail in our general article on How to install a VPN on your Android phone or tablet (https://proprivacy.com/guides/install-vpn-android).

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