My love for the Linux Operating system knows no bounds. I consider myself a power user and control freak who must absolutely have things his way when it comes to my software. It’s not surprising therefore that I make it my mission in life to preach the OpenWrt gospel whenever I can.
I came across OpenWrt back in 2014 after I signed up for ZOL’s infamous Wimax package and got a TP-Link router (a TL-WR841N) that came with shockingly limited functionality. A few months in and the tiny adorable thing was no longer receiving firmware updates.
OpenWrt is a stripped-down version of Linux meant for routers. It is open-source software firmware-just the way I like it. Unlike the firmware (operating system) that comes preinstalled on your router, this is a genuine operating system that allows you to install packages and extent the router’s functionality.
As already mentioned there are a number of reasons why you might need to install OpenWrt on your router:
It’s easy for me to hype up or maybe overestimate what OpenWrt can do. The first thing I do whenever I buy a router is install OpenWrt on it. However, the ease of doing so really depends on the router you have.
As said above, the steps you need to follow to install OpenWrt on your router vary depending on the router you have. For most routers especially TP-Link, it’s a matter of downloading an OpenWrt firmware and uploading it in the upgrade page in the WebUI. For some routers like my TP-Link TL-MR3420 v5 the steps are a bit more involved especially if you are squirmish.
OpenWrt has pretty extensive instructions on the different methods one can use in their Wiki. You can usually get specific instructions for your router by Googling “[your router’s make and model] how to install OpenWrt”. Chances are the instructions for your router in the Wiki.
Once you succeed in installing OpenWrt the possibilities are limitless. The first thing you want to do is set the root password. Visit 192.168.1.1 in your browser to see the WebGui and set the password which is blank by default.
Once the password is set you can now login via ssh. You can then carry out routine tasks such as updating the system and installing extra packages and configuring the system. The truth is that OpenWrt defaults are good for most people but if you are on ZOL Wibroniks like me consider the following tips:
For me, the best part of having OpenWrt is that I have access to iptables the wand with which you can redirect traffic. This can be pretty useful if you are into US Netflix like me. Using iptables also allows me to Chromecast iPlayer, Channel 4, SBS and TVNZ shows. These services only have mobile apps that often want to do their own DNS lookups and making using Chromecast hard if you don’t have granular control of traffic.
It is always advisable to install full images when you are updating OpenWrt instead of using opkg its package manager. Using opkg uses the overlay system and takes more space.
To be honest, OpenWrt is not for everyone. If you are one of those people who hates tinkering and just want your vendor’s firmware after installing OpenWrt do not fret. It’s usually pretty easy to revert back. You just need to download the latest firmware image, upload it as an update and reboot the device. This will take you to your old sterile world of no fun.
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