OpenWRT, a great alternative to DD-WRT

For many years now, I’ve been running DD-WRT on my Linksys WRT54GL & WRT54G2.2 routers. The two routers have lasted for over 6 years, but recently they started to develop certain issues such as wireless dropouts and slow ping times (including packet losses).

As a replacement, I decided to go the cheap route and get a TP-Link TL-WR1043ND router. To be honest, my home network requirements are pretty small. I didn’t care too much about wireless throughput as most of the network is wired gigabit. The only features I needed were:

  • Flexible port-based VLAN tagging
  • Full dnsmasq control, for assigning hostnames/domain to local machines
  • Dynamic DNS client (for dyndns.org)
  • Remote SSH management

To be honest, I have managed to achieve much of this via DD-WRT, but the whole interface is messy, with various settings being in seemingly random places. In particular, VLAN/port based tagging was so confusing via the Web UI, and CLI management (via SSH) felt disconnected and more of a “hack”, as many commands have to be saved as start-up scripts.

Enter OpenWRT, which may not have as “nice looking” a Web UI (though more than enough, in my opinion). What draws me is the neat layout of the OS. All configuration is done by editing config files directly in the file system. In addition, all the configuration options are nicely separated into different files such as ddns, network, wireless, dhcp, firewall, etc. The flexibility is nearly limitless, and because one is able to give names to interfaces and reference them in other configuration files, things are far less confusing. Configuring the switch was a breeze via the Web UI, and I was able to set up my Unifi internet connection easily to split up Internet and IPTV.

OpenWRT feels much more like a fully-fledged OS. For example, there is direct access to iptables. All I need to do is to change /etc/config/firewall, and when I’m done, just restart it with /etc/init.d/firewall restart, just like in any other Linux installation. Also, OpenWRT has built in package management, with the ability to install more packages (Yes, DD-WRT does have similar ability with optware). I quickly added WebUI Wake-On-LAN and OpenVPN.

To be honest, there are a ton of other things you can do with OpenWRT, and this messy post isn’t really a thorough comparison of the two. But having used both DD-WRT and OpenWRT, I have to say that when you need flexibility and getting the most out of your router, OpenWRT definitely trumps DD-WRT (which is still a good 3rd-party firmware, no doubt, but more useful for general/easy tasks, or for nice graphs). Once you have grasped the basics of how to manage an OpenWRT installation, you’ll be amazed how the configuration is so much easier to apply and how it works.

2 Comments

  1. Aub says:

    I am an EE but have never used OpenWRT, rather only used dd-wrt. After reading your article, sounds like OpenWRT is for "geeks" where dd-wrt is for you average user who enjoys a simple GUI interface.

  2. PaLt says:

    Screw dd-wrt - they took an open source project and monetized it. And he continues to have the nerve to ask for donations of cash and hardware. I'm sure that a lot of people who contributed to the project would never have participated if they knew that their efforts would go toward making lots of money for somebody else.

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