VPN technology has evolved over the years in response to user requirements and needs of the consumer base. Although the core concept of VPN has hardly changed over the years, providers have introduced useful innovations to add more value to their service.
One of these innovations is what networking experts like to call “split-tunneling”, though the VPN providers that support this feature usually brand it by different names.
In this article, I will explain the concept behind split-tunneling, its advantages, and disadvantages, and provide mini-review of best VPN 2019 providers that contain this feature in their client.
What is Split-tunneling?
Do you find yourself switching your VPN service on and off, depending on what you are currently doing on your computer or smartphone?
That’s a nuisance we all have to deal with.
This is where the benefit of split-tunneling stems from.
Normally, when you connect to a VPN, all your traffic is routed through the remote VPN server indiscriminately.
Although covering all your traffic with the VPN’s solid encryption and tunneling protocols gives you the maximum safety, there are tasks that don’t really require the extra security of VPNs.
For instance, if WhatsApp isn’t blocked in your country, then you don’t need to use a VPN because WhatsApp already uses end-to-end encryption.
But if you are doing online shopping or accessing a website prohibited in your country that you fear may be under the surveillance of agencies, then this is a task where VPN usage becomes essential for your own security.
What split-tunneling does, is that it creates a virtual split in your traffic, so that only a selected fraction of your data moves through the VPN. The rest moves over the regular Internet, without hopping through the VPN network along the way.
This forces the VPN to discriminate between your traffic based on your preference. You can imagine it as a tunnel running parallel to a road overhead.
The traffic under the tunnel represents all your data that is being routed through the VPN, while the traffic on the parallel road represents all the data communication directly to the Internet, without any VPN servers in between.
But split-tunneling is only supported by a few providers in the market. Let’s now see which providers these are and how their split-tunneling exactly works.
5 Best VPNs for Split-tunneling
All the VPNs below have built-in split-tunneling functionality and were selected here for their efficiency.
1. ExpressVPN – Best split-tunneling solution for Mac
ExpressVPN has a great split-tunneling feature with flexible configurability. These feature works are only, however, available on Windows and Mac apps of the VPN.
There are three different split-tunneling settings that users can configure ExpressVPN to follow:
- All apps use the VPN: This configuration is enabled by default and it basically treats all your traffic equally. Use this setting if you want all of your apps to use the VPN.
- Do not allow selected apps to use the VPN: This setting allows you to choose apps that you DON’T want to be using the VPN.
- Only allow selected apps to use the VPN: This setting reverses the logic used by the above configuration. Here, you have to choose the apps that you DO want to be secured with ExpressVPN.
For details about the split-tunneling feature, you can check out the tutorial page on the official website.
Other than this, ExpressVPN has excellent features for boosting the security and privacy of users. For encryption, it uses the AES-256 standard and supports modern tunneling protocols including OpenVPN.
The 3,000+ servers in the 94 locations get the job done perfectly well when you want to unblock any censored websites from anywhere in the world.
Read our complete ExpressVPN review for more details.
2. PureVPN – Best split-tunneling option for Windows
PureVPN is one of the pioneering VPN brands that first introduced split-tunneling in the market. However, this feature is only limited to the Windows app.
PureVPN’s split-tunneling works as an inclusion system i.e. you can select which apps on your PC should be using the VPN network. All the apps not selected in this configuration will directly connect to the Internet without passing through the VPN servers.
In terms of servers, PureVPN covers over 140 countries with its network, which includes more than 2,000 servers. The Hong Kong jurisdiction is also ideal from the privacy standpoint since the country has no obligatory data retention laws.
Therefore, this VPN covers all the bases as a top-of-the-order privacy solution.
To learn more about this service, check out our PureVPN review.
3. Surfshark – Best split-tunneling choice for Android
Surfshark has pretty much every nifty feature bundle in a single package that any other provider has to offer. This includes split-tunneling, which is branded by the company as WhiteLister.
As the name implies, the WhiteLister allows you to select all apps that should use the VPNs.
All the apps left unchecked in the WhiteLister function will be left untouched by Surfshark, allowing these to communicate to the Internet directly.
In addition, the 800+ server size seems small but is more than capable of bypassing any censored websites with ease.
The subscription rate of $1.99/month only cements its position as one of the most desirable VPNs out there.
To find out more about this service, explore our Surfshark review.
4. IPVanish – Best split-tunneling functionality for FireStick
IPVanish is another VPN app that provides plenty of configurable functionalities to the users. The service includes a split-tunneling feature for its Android app. This works for Android-based smartphones, as well as FireStick devices.
The IPVanish split-tunneling works on the exclusion principle i.e. those apps that you select in the configuration will be routed directly to your ISP and excluded from the VPN servers, while the apps left unchecked will stay on the VPN tunnel.
Unfortunately, only Android users can enjoy the split-tunneling feature of IPVanish, since it is not supported in apps of the service for any other platform.
Apart from this, IPVanish boasts decent server speeds, encryption strength, and other security features like the kill switch. But the US jurisdiction of the VPN goes against this provider for reasons considered in great depth in our Five Eyes guide.
Take a look at IPvanish review to see how the various components of this VPN perform in practice.
Ivacy is another VPN that supports split-tunneling functionality. The feature is available on Windows and Android apps of Ivacy.
Like most other VPNs, Ivacy’s split-tunneling works by creating a list of apps that should use the VPN. All the apps excluded from this list will remain outside the VPN tunnel.
Along with the well-functioning split-tunneling, Ivacy has 1,000 working servers in 100+ locations around the world which support streaming as well as torrenting.
Find out more about this VPN in our in-depth Ivacy review.
Benefits of VPN split-tunneling
- Split-tunneling offers users the benefit of deploying their VPN in parallel to the regular ISP connection. This is extremely convenient for users that only need to use a VPN for selected tasks and apps, but not for others.
- What’s more, VPN networks have slower speeds than that provided by the ISPs. It is therefore counterproductive to use VPN for all your apps, even when you don’t really need extra encryption and security.
- Bandwidth management is also made a lot easier through split-tunneling. If you have bandwidth caps, then split-tunneling allows you to divide your online traffic to reserve your VPN bandwidth to only those apps where security is paramount or where access is only possible via offshore servers.
Split-tunneling is, therefore, an extremely valuable tool that can significantly streamline the user experience.
Split-tunneling in Free VPNs
Free VPN services are generally a bad idea because:
- Many services masquerading as “free VPNs” collect data behind your back and even install adware
- They seldom offer additional features other than basic VPN functionality
If you randomly choose a VPN service with the “free” tag attached to it, chances are that it won’t have split-tunneling.
But even if you do manage to find a VPN with split-tunneling support, there’s still the nagging doubt regarding the legitimacy of the VPN that you’ll have to live to worry about.
Therefore, it is a much safer bet to avoid free VPN services and stick with premium options with the capability to split-tunnel your traffic based on your preferences.
The VPN industry has offered a few innovations over the years and split-tunneling is one of the most convenient features in a VPN client.
The ability to create a split in your online traffic – one path routing through the VPN, while the other reaching the ISP directly – has massive practical utility, and users should take full advantage of this feature to streamline their VPN usage.