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What are the differences between using dev tap and dev tun for openvpn? I know the different modes cannot inter-operate. What is the technical differences, other then just layer 2 vs 3 operation. Are there different performance characteristics, or different levels of overhead. Which mode is better. What functionality is exclusively available in each mode.

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Please explain the difference? whats ethernet bridging and why is it bad? – Thomaschaaf Jun 7 '09 at 16:13
up vote 53 down vote accepted

if it's ok to create vpn on layer 3 (one more hop between subnets) - go for tun.

if you need to bridge two ethernet segments in two different locations - then use tap. in such setup you can have computers in the same ip subnet (eg on both ends of vpn, and they'll be able to 'talk' to each other directly without any changes in their routing tables. vpn will act like ethernet switch. this might sound cool and is useful in some cases but i would advice not to go for it unless you really need it. if you choose such layer 2 bridging setup - there will be a bit of 'garbage' (that is broadcast packets) going across your vpn.

using tap you'll have slightly more overhead - besides ip headers also 38B or more of ethernet headers are going to be sent via the tunnel (depending on the type of your traffic - it'll possibly introduce more fragmentation).

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I chose "tap" when setting up a VPN for a friend who owned a small business because his office uses a tangle of Windows machines, commercial printers, and a Samba file server. Some of them use pure TCP/IP, some seem to only use NetBIOS (and thus need Ethernet broadcast packets) to communicate, and some I'm not even sure of.

If I had chosen "tun", I would probably have faced lots of broken services — lots of things that worked while you are in the office physically, but then would break when you went off-site and your laptop couldn't "see" the devices on the Ethernet subnet anymore.

But by choosing "tap", I tell the VPN to make remote machines feel exactly like they're on the LAN, with broadcast Ethernet packets and raw Ethernet protocols available for communicating with printers and file servers and for powering their Network Neighborhood display. It works great, and I never get reports of things that don't work offsite!

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I always set up tun. Tap is used by ethernet bridging in OpenVPN and introduces an unprecendented level of complexity that is simply not worth bothering with. Usually when a VPN needs to be installed, its needed now, and complex deployments don't come fast.

The OpenVPN FAQ and the Ethernet Bridging HOWTO are excellent resources on this topic.

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In my experience, tun is easier to setup but doesn't handle as many network configurations, so you run into a lot more weird networking problems. In contrast, tap is a bit more complicated to setup, but once you do, it typically "just works" for everyone. – Cerin Mar 28 '13 at 21:36

I started out using tun, but switched to tap since I didn't like the use of a /30 subnet for each PC (I need to support Windows). I found that to be wasteful and confusing.

Then I discovered the "topology subnet" option on the server. Works with the 2.1 RCs (not 2.0), but it gives me all the advantages of tun (no bridging, performance, routing, etc) with the convenience of one (sequential) IP address per (windows) machine.

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If you plan to connect mobile ( iOS or Android ) devices using OpenVPN, then you should use TUN as currently TAP is not supported by OpenVPN on them.

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I had this same question years ago and attempted to explain it in straightforward terms (which I personally found lacking in other resources) on my blog: An OpenVPN Primer

Hope it helps someone

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Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. – Mark Henderson Apr 8 '15 at 19:28
Great post! I rarely read a whole post like this but this one I did. I agree with Mark Henderson though, you should write a small summary and put the link after. – Pierre-Luc Bertrand Jul 7 '15 at 1:46
The post was excellent. Thank you! – Compeek Oct 19 '15 at 16:46

My "rules of thumb"
TUN - if you ONLY need access to resources connected directly to the OpenVPN server machine at the other end, and there are no Windows issues. A little creativity here can help, by making resources "appear" to be local to the OpenVPN server. (examples might be a CUPS connection to a network printer, or a Samba share on another machine MOUNTed on the OpenVPN server.)

TAP - if you need access to multiple resources (machines, storage, printers, devices) connected via the network at the other end. TAP may also be required for certain Windows applications.

TUN normally confines VPN access to a single machine (IP address) and therefore (presumably) better security through limited connectivity to the far-side network. TUN connection will create less load on the VPN tunnel, and in turn the far-side network because only traffic to/from the single IP address will cross the VPN to the other side. IP Routes to other stations in the subnet are not included, so traffic is not sent across the VPN tunnel and little or no communication is possible beyond the OpenVPN server.

TAP - usually allows packets to flow freely between the endpoints. This gives the flexibility of communication with other stations on the far-side network, including some methods used by older Microsoft software. TAP has the inherent security exposures involved with granting outside access "behind the firewall". It will allow more traffic packets to flow through the VPN tunnel. This also opens the possibility of address conflicts between the endpoints.

There are differences in latency because of the stack layer, but in most end-user scenarios the connection speed of the endpoints is probably a more significant contributor to latency than the particular stack layer of the transmission. If latency is at issue, it might be a good idea to consider other alternatives. Current GHz-level multiprocessors normally outrun the bottleneck of transmission via the internet.

"Better" and "Worse" are not definable without a context.
(This is the consultant's favorite answer, "Well that depends...")
Is a Ferrari "better" than a dump truck? If you are trying to go fast, it may be; but if you're trying to haul heavy loads, probably not.

Constraints like "need for access" and "security requirements" must be defined, as well as defining constraints like network throughput and equipment limitations, before one can decide whether TUN or TAP is better-suited to your needs.

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If then, why what, how much have you got? I would utilize TAP, explicitly for the reason that the layering of the packets proceeds with much less latency and loss of transmission which is abated with this method. However only with layer 3 does this affect any apparent effect on the operation of the VPN, notably the tunneling aspect and which IPs are allowed through and assignable addresses. The use of UDP possibly introduces another situation where you would need to decide which is the best route to take for you. Each network is different and requires a unique set of parameters. Hope this helps.

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Quite confusing. Please consider cleaing it up, explaining the differences that matter and keying off them. – vonbrand Jun 25 '14 at 20:03

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