Encrypting your internet usage on Linux makes sense, but not necessarily as easy as it is on Windows, MacOS or mobile devices. Not all VPN services offer Linux clients. So what can you do?
As the most popular family of Linux distributions We're going to look at how to install a VPN on Ubuntu. The screenshots use the major version of Ubuntu (19.10), although the same steps should work (or should be closely approximated) in alternate versions of Ubuntu and downstream builds such as Lubuntu and Mint.
Table of Contents
There are many excellent VPNs that are perfect for Linux. This article uses ExpressVPN (click here for a massive discount) which is perhaps the best VPN out there, especially for those who stream Netflix.
The 7 best VPNs for Linux
Are you using Linux and need a compatible VPN service? Many of the best VPN services offer a Linux client for improved online privacy.
Ubuntu or Ubuntu-based distribution
Ubuntu Compatible VPN
The VPN client that can be downloaded from your VPN provider
Choosing an Ubuntu Linux VPN
VPN providers like to hedge their bets when it comes to Linux. While offering client apps is rare, they do support OpenVPN (OVPN), an open source VPN client. However, if you're looking for a simple solution that doesn't require you to download OpenVPN files (see below), you need a VPN service with a Linux client app.
However, it is important to note that almost all Linux VPN clients start from the terminal. After installation, all you have to do is call up the VPN client, issue a connection command and specify a server. It's straightforward, but rarely offers the flexibility you can enjoy on other platforms.
So where do you start? The following VPN services provide Ubuntu-compatible Linux VPN clients:
Are there free VPNs for Ubuntu?
All of the above VPN services are subscription based. But what if you need a free VPN for Ubuntu?
The options are limited. Very few (if any) free VPN providers can be trusted to do anything other than encrypt your data. But that's the low level of trust for such companies, and that's a risk too. If you only need a free Ubuntu VPN for a short time, many top VPN services offer short-term trials.
Two such services are ProtonVPN and AirVPN. Each program has limitations designed to convince you to subscribe to the full price alternative.
For example, ProtonVPN has no data limits, but you are limited to one device. The other free VPN for Ubuntu, AirVPN, is only free for a short time, but offers a longer three-day trial for just € 2 (about $ 2.25). It should be noted, however, that AirVPN is not always available for new sign-ups, so this option may not be available to you.
Set up your VPN on Ubuntu
With the VPN service selected, download the client and set it up on Ubuntu. Setting up a VPN on Ubuntu depends on the specifications of the client software. This could mean downloading a DEB file, a snap file, or simply pulling the client from the repositories or GitHub using the terminal.
To demonstrate this, here's how to set up ExpressVPN on Ubuntu.
Sign in to the website with an active subscription and complete the two-step verification. If your operating system is not automatically detected, select Show all devices and choose Linux. Select your distribution here (we use Ubuntu 64-bit for this demonstration) and click Download.
The DEB file will download and you will be prompted to open the file. To do this, use your standard software manager and wait while the VPN installs.
ExpressVPN, like many other Linux VPNs, runs from the command line. However, some settings are still required. While some VPNs require you to enter a username and password, ExpressVPN uses an authentication key. To set up ExpressVPN on Ubuntu, you need to launch Command Prompt and then type:
When prompted, paste (or enter) the authentication string.
Use the expressvpn Command to display options. You can quickly connect to a VPN server by entering the country with the following command:
expressvpn connect Germany
Alternatively, you can also enter the country, location and server number:
expressvpn connect Germany – Frankfurt -1
Seems too technical? Fortunately, ExpressVPN and other VPNs offer browser plugins for Chrome and Firefox. These make it much easier to use the VPN service if your operating system does not have a client with mouse access.
All Linux-friendly VPN providers offer similar command line apps. Hence, you should consider these steps a useful guide for most. Of course, check the documentation for the VPN service you choose for exact steps.
No VPN client? Install OpenVPN on Linux
What if you don't have a VPN client available with your chosen VPN service or you switch between VPNs regularly? In this scenario, it makes sense to have a VPN client app ready to go. Just use a single VPN client app instead of installing one client at a time.
Fortunately, there is such a solution. You need the OpenVPN client on Ubuntu Linux, which can be installed with:
sudo apt install openvpn
Using OpenVPN on Linux Ubuntu
So you have installed the OpenVPN client on Linux. But how do you connect to a VPN server?
First, make sure your VPN provider supports OpenVPN. Almost all of them do, but you will need to download the configuration file for the VPN server you plan to use. Please refer to your VPN provider's support pages for more information. The configuration files have the file extension OVPN.
For example, a London-based VPN server might be called London-VPN.OVPN.
If you're using the ExpressVPN sample again, the file to connect to a server in Switzerland is: my_expressvpn_switzerland_udp.ovpn. Enter the following to use this with the OpenVPN client on Ubuntu Linux:
sudo openvpn –config my_expressvpn_switzerland_udp.ovpn
You will then be asked to enter your credentials to access the VPN provider. Enter this and the VPN connection will be established.
Keep your activity private: enable your Ubuntu VPN client
It's important to note that VPN providers regularly update their client apps and server IPs. Take the time to update your OVPN configurations regularly, regardless of whether you are using a client app or the OpenVPN app. Do this weekly or biweekly to make sure you have access to the best servers available.
Various VPN providers offer support for Linux, but a small amount does not. By those who do, the focus is almost always on Ubuntu rather than other Linux distributions. While the steps outlined here work with the Ubuntu / Debian branch of Linux distributions, OpenVPN can be used with all other Linux versions.
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About the author
(1414 articles published)
Deputy Editor for Security, Linux, DIY, Programming and Technology explains. He also produces The Really Useful Podcast and has extensive desktop and software support experience.
Christian is an employee of Linux Format Magazine and a Raspberry Pi hobbyist, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.
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