OpenWrt vs. pfSense vs. OPNSense

This doc is intended to provide a detailed comparison of those router OSes. For a brief one, see Which router OS to chose.


OpenWrt is installed by writing the disk image into the disk of the router. This is more like "flashing" firmware on network devices.

pfSense & OPNSense are installed by writing the installation image on to a USB drive first, then use it to boot up the router. The installer will install the OS into the disk of the router. In fact their install process is a customized FreeBSD install process.


On x86 soft routers, OpenWrt can’t be easily upgraded “in place”. The upgrade process is very much like a new install: backup the configuration, then install the new version, and finally restore the backup. This is also mentioned on the OpenWrt Wiki

This usually involves certain technical skills such as writing disk image to a drive, and debug problems in case they occur. This is more time consuming and error prone, some times creates problem for not-so-experienced users.

However, it is possible to setup the router to have multiple OpenWrt root partitions if there is enough disk space. And then the new version could be installed into one of the spare partitions without wiping the old version. This allows you to switch back to the old version if there's something wrong with the new version.

On the other hand, both pfSense & OPNSense can be upgraded in the web UI easily. By clicking few buttons, the web UI will check for updates and show them if available. Then updates can be installed by another few clicks.

This easy-to-upgrade feature actually makes pfSense & OPNSense a bit more “secure” in some environment, as the user could upgrade their router more frequently, they can stick with the latest version more easily. However, although it's very rare, such in-place upgrade could have the chance to break the OS. In the worst case, for example, a power failure during upgrade process, may render the router unbootable and may require a reinstall.


OpenWrt has more packages than the other two. For example, Transmission and Samba are available on OpenWrt and can be installed easily via the opkg command or the web UI. However pfSense & OPNSense does not provide such packages. In fact, they are somewhat against of running such applications on a router or firewall.

Web UI

The UI styles are all different. It is hard to tell which one is better as they all can get your job done.

IMHO the pfSense web UI is less intuitive than the other two, as some of the navigation wording may not be what a regular user expects.


It is generally considered that FreeBSD has better network performance than Linux. This may not be true for modern Linux versions. I will find time to run some benchmark, stay tuned!

Anyway, unless you have really a large network with a lot of network clients, the difference should not be noticeable.


OpenWrt is based on Linux, pfSense and OPNSense are based on FreeBSD. Both operating systems are widely used and very secure. The communities of the three router OSes are all working hard to keep them secure, by releasing upgrades to fix known security issues.

However, I believe OpenWrt is a little bit less secure than the other two unless the user works very hard to make them up to date. This is because, as mentioned, by default upgrading OpenWrt is not as convenient as the other two so it is more possible that a OpenWrt installation is left outdated. This could be mitigated if the user upgrade their router in time, for example, follow the dual root partition instruction mentioned above.

Furthermore, OpenWrt provides more functionalities than the other two, means it could potentially introduce more security risks. This, however, could be mitigated too if the user chose to run a basic installation with only firewall and routing functionality.