What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (2024)

Posted on Apr 4, 2024 by Naiyie Lamb

What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (1)

VPN protocols are sets of rules determining how data is encrypted and securely transferred to the VPN server. They can differ in performance, simplicity, and security. Before the WireGuard® protocol was introduced in 2015, OpenVPN was widely considered the most secure protocol.

The open-source WireGuard® protocol was created after years of heavy research, and it aims to condense the benefits of other protocols and minimize their disadvantages. Due to its speed, performance, and high level of security, WireGuard® is now recognized as the one of the best VPN protocols on the market.

You might already know the benefits of using a VPN and wonder “What makes WireGuard® so special?” Well, its most defining characteristic is how simple its code is. WireGuard® consists of only 4,000 lines of code. That’s a big difference compared to OpenVPN’s 70,000 lines. It also turns out that using fewer lines of code benefits speed and security – by quite a lot.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the WireGuard® VPN protocol. We’ll even provide a step-by-step guide on how to set up WireGuard® with PIA VPN.

PIA is the best all-around VPN. We use powerful encryption to fortify your internet traffic against intrusion. Our no-logs policy is supported by RAM-only servers and entirely open-source apps, as well as protocol options like WireGuard® and OpenVPN. A single PIA subscription lets you connect unlimited devices simultaneously and gives you access to high-speed 10-Gbps servers around the world.

Table of Contents

What Is the WireGuard® VPN Protocol?
WireGuard® VPN Protocol: Pros and Cons
WireGuard® Compared to Other VPN Protocols
How to Change VPN Protocol to WireGuard® on the PIA App
WireGuard® Making Waves

What Is the WireGuard® VPN Protocol?

WireGuard® is a relatively new VPN protocol that made waves throughout the VPN industry when it was made available to the public. It’s now widely recognized as one of the best protocols out there, mainly because it offers better performance and security – two things you need in a VPN.

What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (2)

One of WireGuard®’s biggest advantages comes from its relatively simple source code, making it easier to debug and audit. Less code also means less space for vulnerability. It’s more difficult for attackers to find weaknesses with a smaller attack surface. Since WireGuard® is open source, anyone can scrutinize the protocol’s code, and help eliminate potential vulnerabilities.

WireGuard® is the result of a lengthy academic process and its design underwent intense scrutiny. The researchers who designed it wrote a detailed technical whitepaper outlining the considerations and ideas behind it. Their main aim was to replace IKEv2/IPSec and OpenVPN with a faster and more secure alternative. So far, they’re succeeding.

While many already consider the WireGuard® VPN protocol to be at the top of the proverbial food chain, it’s still under heavy development. The Linux version got a stable production build release in March 2020, but it’s unclear when other platforms will get stable build releases.

How Does WireGuard® Work?

WireGuard® uses an advanced cryptography technique it calls “CryptoKey Routing.” It associates a public and private key pair with your IP address and the VPN server’s IP address – similar to asymmetric encryption.

When data travels between your VPN client (app) and the VPN server, WireGuard® instructs the VPN to scramble the data, making it essentially indecipherable – unless you have the correct IP address and encryption key pair. Only your device and the server have these keys. This prevents unauthorized parties from accessing any data about your online activity.

So far, though, this sounds somewhat similar to how all VPN protocols work. What makes WireGuard® stand out is that it uses ChaCha20-authenticated encryption. ChaCha20 has much shorter encryption keys, which allows for faster encryption and decryption, resulting in a much smoother experience for you. This makes WireGuard® a popular choice among people who like to use streaming platforms or play games online.

Which Devices Support WireGuard®?

What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (3)

Even though it was released for the Linux kernel first, WireGuard® is now also used on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. It’s designed as a general-purpose VPN protocol, and it’s suitable for most uses.

You can easily use the WireGuard® protocol just by connecting to PIA VPN – it’s our default protocol! If you’d like to try any other VPN protocols, you can easily switch between them in our app settings.

WireGuard® VPN Protocol: Pros and Cons

Like everything else in life, WireGuard® has pros and cons – but mostly pros. Here’s a quick overview of its benefits and drawbacks:


What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (4)
  • Lightweight and efficient. Since WireGuard® uses ChaCha20 encryption and less code than other protocols, the encryption and decryption process is much faster. This means you enjoy better speed and performance.
  • Minimal attack surface. Less code means fewer threats as attackers have fewer opportunities to find vulnerabilities. Its minimal attack surface makes it one of the most secure VPN protocols.
  • Stable and reliable. WireGuard®’s code is optimized to provide the best performance, meaning your VPN connection stays stable with minimal packet loss.
  • Open source. Tech experts can easily audit the code to fix faults and improve the general performance of the protocol.
  • Well-researched. WireGuard® is the result of a lengthy research process aimed at creating a protocol that’s lightweight and secure.


  • No dynamic IP addresses. WireGuard® only uses static IP addresses. This means you’ll always have the same IP address on a specific server. Dynamic IP addresses change every time you connect to the internet, which is better for privacy.
  • Less privacy than OpenVPN. To give you a static IP address, WireGuard® tries to log your real IP address on the VPN server you’re using. While your IP address is still masked to outsiders, some argue this may put your privacy at risk if the server or system were compromised at any point.
  • Not used by all providers. Since WireGuard® is a relatively new technology, it isn’t available with all VPN providers. PIA offers WireGuard® alongside OpenVPN. You can easily switch protocols based on your needs and preferences.

PIA VPN gets around WireGuard®’s privacy issues by running an RSA certificate-protected RESTful API to ensure any data transmitted over the connection stays confidential. We also run a daemon that deletes connection data periodically when the VPN server no longer detects keepalive pings from your connection for three minutes. Finally, our RAM-only servers are set to reboot regularly, which wipes all remaining session data from their temporary memory.

WireGuard® Compared to Other VPN Protocols

WireGuard® sounds great, but is it the right VPN protocol for you? Here’s a quick comparison between WireGuard® and the other two most common VPN protocols – OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec – to help you decide.

WireGuard® vs OpenVPN

We’ve already pointed out WireGuard®’s general standing compared to OpenVPN, but let’s sum up the facts.

Having simpler source code makes WireGuard® easier to implement, use, and audit than OpenVPN. While WireGuard® is faster, OpenVPN can be better at hiding the fact you’re using a VPN. This is because OpenVPN automatically applies obfuscation – a feature WireGuard® doesn’t have.

What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (5)

People also consider OpenVPN to be more private, since it doesn’t try to log your real IP address. While the difference in privacy is minimal if your VPN provider manages WireGuard® properly, OpenVPN is still a valid choice if you prefer to be sure.

WireGuard® vs IKEv2/IPSec

WireGuard® surpasses IKEv2/IPsec in speed, encryption, and codebase simplicity. It stands as the superior choice for the majority of users. IKEv2/IPsec may be a more appealing choice for those who prefer more traditional encryption protocols with a solid reputation. Many people also prefer using IKEv2/IPsec for better stability on mobile connections.

It used to be easier to find VPNs that offer IKEv2/IPsec as WireGuard® is compatible with fewer encryption algorithms. However, platforms like Apple and many VPN providers are already starting to phase out IKEv2/IPsec. Meanwhile, WireGuard® is still actively being worked on and may improve its compatibility with time.

If you’re looking for a VPN that uses the latest in encryption and provides the best speeds, WireGuard® is the frontrunner here.

How to Change Your VPN Protocol to WireGuard® on the PIA App

We’ve intentionally made the PIA VPN app user-friendly so you can quickly switch between protocols – even if you’re not a tech buff. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to switch to the WireGuard® protocol in the PIA app.

  1. Open the app and click on the menu icon in the top left corner.
What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (6)
  1. Select Settings from the menu.
What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (7)
  1. Choose Protocols from the list of settings options.
What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (8)
  1. From there, tap Protocol Selection.
What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (9)
  1. Select WireGuard® and click SAVE.
What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (10)

You can use WireGuard® with PIA VPN on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. It’s easy to set up and you can protect all your devices with a single subscription.

What VPN Protocols Does PIA Offer?

Aside from WireGuard®, PIA also offers the OpenVPN protocol. You can easily switch between protocols according to your needs. If you want to prioritize performance and security, WireGuard® is your best choice. However, if you need to hide the fact that you’re using a VPN, OpenVPN could be the better option. While WireGuard® doesn’t natively offer this option, PIA has a VPN obfuscation feature you can turn on in the app.

If you need to hide that you’re using a VPN, getting a dedicated IP address is also a good option. VPN detectors rarely pick up dedicated IP addresses since they’re not being shared by hundreds of people simultaneously.

WireGuard® Is Making Waves

It’s normal for technology to get more efficient over time, and that’s exactly what WireGuard® has done in the VPN protocol arena. After a long-winded process of academic research, tech experts created a protocol designed to be lightweight, secure, and efficient.

It combines the best elements of older protocols into one that works well across the board. Despite still being under development, it’s widely recognized as the best VPN protocol for general use.

PIA VPN automatically uses WireGuard® and you can switch between WireGuard® and OpenVPN in our app. Try PIA VPN with a 30-day money-back guarantee and keep all your devices covered with best-in-class security and privacy features!


Is WireGuard® a good VPN protocol?

WireGuard® is widely considered the best VPN protocol in terms of all-around use. Despite being relatively new, it’s built on a simple codebase which is beneficial for performance, speed, and security. The WireGuard® protocol is the result of a lengthy academic research process and has been fine-tuned to outperform other protocols.

Which is better, OpenVPN or WireGuard®?

In most situations, WireGuard® will outperform OpenVPN. While OpenVPN has around 70,000 lines of code, WireGuard® only has about 4,000 lines. This makes it more lightweight and efficient. Less code also means less room for cyber attacks. However, OpenVPN might outperform WireGuard® when it comes to hiding the fact that you’re using a VPN.

Is WireGuard® VPN secure?

WireGuard® is extremely secure and rivals OpenVPN in terms of security. Due to its simpler code structure and minimal attack surface, it may even outperform OpenVPN in most cases.

What platforms can you use WireGuard® on?

You can use WireGuard® via PIA VPN’s app on all the popular OSes, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS. It’s designed to be for general use, so you won’t have to worry about compatibility issues.

How do I set up the WireGuard® VPN protocol?

You can easily use the WireGuard® VPN protocol with PIA. Here’s how:

1- Install the app and get a subscription. Try it with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
2- In the app, click on the menu icon and choose Settings.
3- Select Protocols
4- Choose Protocol Selection
5- Select WireGuard® and click SAVE.

Is WireGuard® TCP or UDP?

WireGuard® uses UDP to avoid possible performance issues stemming from using TCP over a TCP-based connection (TCP-over-TCP). That’s why the protocol always uses UDP and its default port is 51820.

What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (11)

What Is WireGuard®? VPN Protocol Explained (2024)


What is WireGuard VPN protocol? ›

WireGuard is an open-source communication protocol for setting up secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Using advanced cryptographic primitives to secure exchanged data, it seals it within an encrypted tunnel.

What is the VPN protocol? ›

A VPN Protocol is a set of rules that govern how data is transmitted between your device and a virtual private network (VPN) server. VPN apps use these protocols to establish a secure and stable connection.

What is the difference between VPN and WireGuard? ›

SUMMARY: OpenVPN offers greater freedom when it comes to encryption and security, but WireGuard is easier to audit and has a smaller attack surface. Both protocols are very secure, but less tech-savvy users may prefer to trust the experts at WireGuard, rather than take matters into their own hands.

What are the disadvantages of WireGuard? ›

Known Limitations
  • Deep Packet Inspection. WireGuard does not focus on obfuscation. ...
  • TCP Mode. ...
  • Hardware Crypto. ...
  • Roaming Mischief. ...
  • Identity Hiding Forward Secrecy. ...
  • Post-Quantum Secrecy. ...
  • Denial of Service. ...
  • Unreliable Monotonic Counter.

Is WireGuard a good VPN protocol? ›

While other protocols might be able to improve speeds by compromising on security, WireGuard provides very strong encryption. This combination of speed and security makes it one of the best VPN protocols available.

What is the default port and protocol for WireGuard? ›

The default port is 51820 , additional tunnels must use a different port. The GUI will automatically suggest the next highest available port. The private and public key pair for this WireGuard tunnel. The public key is derived from the private key and does not need to be entered separately.

What is the most common VPN protocol? ›

The most common VPN protocols
  • OpenVPN. OpenVPN is a cryptographic protocol that emphasizes security. ...
  • IPSec / IKEv2. Internet key exchange version 2 (IKEv2) is often used in combination with Internet Protocol Security (IPSec). ...
  • L2TP/IPSec. ...
  • PPTP. ...
  • WireGuard. ...
  • SSTP. ...
  • IPSec vs OpenVPN. ...
  • PPTP vs OpenVPN.
Sep 22, 2023

What is the simplest VPN protocol? ›

If you're doing a manual installation, IKEv2, L2TP, and PPTP are the easiest to set up, because they are built into most computers. You can use those three protocols without third-party software when setting up a VPN manually on Android, for example.

What are the 4 main types of VPN explain each VPN? ›

Remote access VPNs — for remote employees accessing the company network; Site-to-site VPNs — for company networks accessing each other; Personal VPNs — for individuals who want to safely access their home network; Mobile VPNs — a VPN that you access from the client app on your phone.

Why do I need WireGuard? ›

Increased speed

If you need speed, then WireGuard could become your go-to VPN protocol. WireGuard is faster than older VPN protocols for a few reasons — starting with the fact that the protocol's components reside within the Linux kernel, which allows for faster speeds.

What is better than WireGuard? ›

OpenVPN is supported by more routers than WireGuard, and it also can operate with TCP, which offers more stable connections than UDP, and is generally better for remote connections as well.

Does WireGuard hide your IP? ›

As explained above WireGuard does not allocate a dynamic IP address to the VPN user. And, it indefinitely stores user IP addresses on the VPN server until the server reboots. So, there is no anonymity and privacy in WireGuard.

Does WireGuard slow down Internet? ›

- Perform speed tests with wireguard connection, it is indeed significantly (x10) slower when connected through wireguard.

Can WireGuard be trusted? ›

WireGuard is considered safe for torrenting due to its strong encryption and efficient code. Additionally, the simplicity and efficiency of WireGuard contribute to its speed, which is a significant advantage for P2P traffic. You can securely torrent using WireGuard without creating delays.

Why do I have WireGuard on my PC? ›

WireGuard VPN works by creating a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the Internet. It uses a modern and efficient protocol that ensures fast speeds and low latency, which means that your online activity is kept private and protected from prying eyes.

Can WireGuard hide my IP? ›

As explained above WireGuard does not allocate a dynamic IP address to the VPN user. And, it indefinitely stores user IP addresses on the VPN server until the server reboots. So, there is no anonymity and privacy in WireGuard.

Is WireGuard a free VPN? ›

WireGuard is originally open source and can be used for free, absolutely.

What is the difference between VPN protocol WireGuard and IKEv2? ›

Wireguard has better performance/throughput and uses less bandwidth than OpenVPN. IKEv2 is probably more secure (256-bit encryption through IPSec)…

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