pfSense vs. OPNsense

In this article, we’re going to look at pfSense vs. OPNsense.

pfSense and OPNsense are both firewalls that have many similarities, but also a bunch of differences. Overall, they both will function as a great firewall and allow you to set up various types of things like VLANs, VPNs, and more. These are two of the most popular firewalls that you can use, especially due to how powerful they are when properly configured. In this pfSense vs. OPNsense article, we’re going to focus on some of the differences to help you decide which firewall is best for you.

A few disclaimers before we get started:

  • pfSense and OPNsense are both excellent. Overall, you’ll most likely be happy with either, but there are differences you should consider.
  • If you have a hypervisor of some sort and a supported network card, you can virtualize both firewalls (pfSense and OPNsense) to determine which you like best.
  • I have a bunch of tutorials on pfSense and OPNsense, so please check them out!

pfSense vs. OPNsense

Before we look at pfSense vs. OPNsense, we’re going to look at exactly what they are to try and help you understand their background a little better.

What is pfSense?

pfSense is a free, open-source firewall and router based on FreeBSD, created and maintained by Netgate. pfSense is as customizable as you want it to be, meaning that you can simply use it as a basic firewall and DHCP server, or customize it thoroughly and create VLANs, install packages, and even run WireGuard or OpenVPN on it to ensure you can access your network from anywhere.

pfsense vs. opnsense - pfsense dashboard.

While pfSense can be installed on older hardware or even virtualized, Netgate does sell devices that you can purchase which are extremely powerful and come with pfSense preinstalled. They also come with pfSense Plus included at no charge, whereas pfSense Community Edition is the version used for personal hardware.

pfsense+ logo in top left.
pfSense Plus

One of the best things about pfSense is that there’s a really great community behind it, so if you have a question, want to implement something new, or need to learn how to troubleshoot an issue, there’s a great group of people who are willing to help.

What is OPNsense?

Similar to pfSense, OPNsense is a free and open source FreeBSD-based firewall, created by Deciso. OPNsense has many of the same features as pfSense, but an entirely different GUI which we’ll take a look at below. Deciso sells hardware that you can purchase which comes pre-installed with OPNsense, but can also be installed on personal hardware or in a virtual machine.

pfsense vs. opnsense - opnsense dashboard.

OPNsense is extremely customizable and has a bunch of different things you can configure, from VLANs to VPNs, and generally, is extremely user-friendly. We will look at some of that user-friendliness below.

User Interface: pfSense vs. OPNsense

No matter what system you’re using, the user interface is extremely important as it’s what you use to interact with the system. While pfSense has a clean user interface, I tend to find OPNsense easier to use and more logical, meaning that things are where you’d expect them to be. In OPNsense, you navigate through the settings by using the menu bar on the left side of the screen.

opnsense main menu options.

pfSense has a menu bar at the top that will allow you to navigate through the system, but the overall function is slightly more confusing (in my opinion).

Where OPNsense feels logical, pfSense feels clunky. That’s not to say that it’s bad (as a lot of those extra menu items are used for customization), but there have been times when it’s taken me longer to find what I’m looking for than it probably should. This is mostly due to the fact that there are a lot of menu options in pfSense. That could be a good or bad thing depending on how you like to operate.

pfsense top menu bar.

Usability: pfSense vs. OPNsense

pfSense and OPNsense are extremely similar when it comes to usability. That’s a good thing, as switching from one to the other will mean that you’re fairly familiar with the system and will be able to figure everything out.

The main differences come when you first start using pfSense or OPNsense. pfSense and OPNsense are extremely different than most consumer-grade routers and firewalls. Even things that are fairly simple like port forwarding have a lot more settings on pfSense/OPNsense. There is a learning curve to both of these systems, but you’ll find quickly that all of the options make sense.

It’s also important to note that these additional settings are what make pfSense and OPNsense so great, but it will be slightly confusing the first time you use them and you’ll probably have to reference documentation to ensure you’re doing everything correctly.

pfsense firewall rule page.
Port Forwarding on pfSense

The GUI does make OPNsense slightly more usable, but you’ll find that the usability benefits are really just from a navigational standpoint. Overall, they both are extremely powerful and due to that, tend to have more confusing settings than some may expect. While this may sound like a negative, it’s a huge positive.

Packages & Plugins: pfSense vs. OPNsense

In pfSense and OPNsense, you can install various different applications that will help customize your experience

Packages in pfSense

packages in pfsense.

Plugins/Packages in OPNsense

plugins/packages in opnsense.

A lot of the packages and plugins that you can download are similar. Whether you want to run WireGuard in pfSense or OPNsense, set up a UPS server, manage certificates, or do tons of other things, you can probably do it in both.

There are differences between the packages (like pfBlockerNG existing on pfSense only), but they’re so user-specific that I highly suggest that you search exactly what you’d like to implement and confirm that pfSense/OPNsense has it before deciding which firewall to use.

I do want to be clear that this is one of the biggest differences between pfSense and OPNsense. pfSense and OPNsense have extremely similar offerings by default, so you need to ensure that the packages/plugins that you’d like to use (if you’d like to use them), exist on the software.

VPN: pfSense vs. OPNsense

If you’re interested in setting up a VPN, pfSense and OPNsense will both allow you to do it relatively easily. I did find the process of installing WireGuard slightly easier on OPNsense, but I have tutorials on pfSense and OPNsense which will help you get up and running quickly.

pfSense and OPNsense will allow you to set up IPsec, OpenVPN, and WireGuard VPNs.

opnsense vpn options.
VPN menu in OPNsense

They’re also extremely customizable and allow you to set up servers and clients (in OpenVPN, for example), which means that you can set up site-to-site VPNs easily, or even connect to other VPNs as well.

One cool thing that I’ve set up (and plan on creating a tutorial for) is NordVPN on pfSense/OPNsense. After NordVPN is configured as a client, you can specify an IP range or subnet and route all traffic through that VPN. No more authenticating on client devices!

Conclusion: pfSense vs. OPNsense

Overall, I think that most people will be extremely happy with both of these firewalls. While I prefer the OPNsense GUI, I don’t necessarily think that pfSense is hard to use. It’s just a nod to the developers that configured the OPNsense GUI, as they packed a bunch of powerful settings into a pretty easily understood user interface.

It’s hard to pick which is better because there really isn’t a better choice in my opinion. Both options are extremely powerful and depending on your goals, you might prefer one over the other, but that doesn’t make the other option bad. For moderate to advanced firewall configurations, you’ll most likely be able to use either and be happy. The differences really come with some of the packages, so I’d suggest that you take the time to think about what you’d like to do (or learn about some of the different options) and go from there.

Once again, if you have an older PC or hypervisor, you can install both and play around with them to try and determine which you like best! Thanks for checking out the article on pfSense vs. OPNsense. If you have any questions on pfSense vs. OPNsense, please leave them in the comments!