Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Set Up OpenVPN Server In 5 Minutes

I am a new Ubuntu Linux 18.04 LTS server user. How do I set up an OpenVPN Server on Ubuntu Linux version 18.04 LTS server to shield my browsing activity from bad guys on public Wi-Fi, and more?

Introduction OpenVPN is a full-featured SSL VPN (virtual private network). It implements OSI layer 2 or 3 secure network extension using the SSL/TLS protocol. It is an open source software and distributed under the GNU GPL. A VPN allows you to connect securely to an insecure public network such as wifi network at the airport or hotel. VPN is also required to access your corporate or enterprise or home server resources. You can bypass the geo-blocked site and increase your privacy or safety online. This tutorial provides step-by-step instructions for configuring an OpenVPN server on Ubuntu Linux 18.04 LTS server.

Procedure: Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Set Up OpenVPN Server In 5 Minutes

The steps are as follows:

Step 1 – Update your system

Run the apt command/apt-get command:
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt upgrade

Step 2 – Find and note down your IP address

Use the ip command as follows:
$ ip a
$ ip a show eth0


Another option is to run the following dig command/host command to find out your public IP address from Linux command line:
$ dig +short myip.opendns.com @resolver1.opendns.com
OR
dig TXT +short o-o.myaddr.l.google.com @ns1.google.com | awk -F'"' '{ print $2}'

A note about IP address

Most cloud servers have two types of IP address:

  1. Public static IP address directly assigned to your box and routed from the Internet. For example, Linode, Digital Ocean, and others gives you direct public IP address.
  2. Private static IP address directly attached to your server and your server is behind NAT with public IP address. For example, AWS EC2/Lightsail give you this kind of NAT public IP address.

The script will automatically detect your networking setup. All you have to do is provide correct IP address when asked for it.

Step 3 – Download and run openvpn-install.sh script

I am going to use the wget command:
$ wget https://git.io/vpn -O openvpn-install.sh

Setup permissions using the chmod command:
$ chmod +x openvpn-install.sh
One can view the script using a text editor such as nano/vim:
$ vim openvpn-install.sh

Run openvpn-install.sh to install OpenVPN server

Now all you have to do is:
$ sudo ./openvpn-install.sh
Sample session from AWS/Lightsail where my cloud server is behind NAT:

Sample session from Linode/DO server where cloud server has direct public IPv4 address:

To avoid problem always choose DNS as 1.1.1.1 or Google DNS. Those are fast DNS server and reached from anywhere on the Internet.

How do I start/stop/restart OpenVPN server on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS?

We need to use the systemctl command:
$ sudo systemctl stop openvpn-server@server.service # <--- stop server
$ sudo systemctl start openvpn-server@server.service # <--- start server
$ sudo systemctl restart openvpn-server@server.service # <--- restart server
$ sudo systemctl status openvpn-server@server.service # <--- get server status

 openvpn-server@server.service - OpenVPN service for server
   Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/openvpn-server@.service; indirect; vendor preset: enabled)
   Active: active (running) since Sun 2020-11-22 13:42:38 UTC; 3min 55s ago
     Docs: man:openvpn(8)
           https://community.openvpn.net/openvpn/wiki/Openvpn24ManPage
           https://community.openvpn.net/openvpn/wiki/HOWTO
 Main PID: 825 (openvpn)
   Status: "Initialization Sequence Completed"
    Tasks: 1 (limit: 536)
   CGroup: /system.slice/system-openvpn\x2dserver.slice/openvpn-server@server.service
           └─825 /usr/sbin/openvpn --status /run/openvpn-server/status-server.log --status-version 2 --suppress-timestamps --config server.conf

Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: Could not determine IPv4/IPv6 protocol. Using AF_INET
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: Socket Buffers: R=[212992->212992] S=[212992->212992]
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: UDPv4 link local (bound): [AF_INET]172.26.5.75:1194
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: UDPv4 link remote: [AF_UNSPEC]
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: GID set to nogroup
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: UID set to nobody
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: MULTI: multi_init called, r=256 v=256
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: IFCONFIG POOL: base=10.8.0.2 size=252, ipv6=0
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: IFCONFIG POOL LIST
Nov 22 13:42:39 ip-172-26-5-75 openvpn[825]: Initialization Sequence Completed


Warning: AWS EC2/Lightsail users need to open the default OpenVPN port UDP/1194 using Amazon EC2 security groups for the Linux instances feature. Run the following ss command to see your OpenVPN port on EC2 cloud instance:
sudo ss -tulpn | grep -i openvpn

OpenVPN UDP port 1194 opened using AWS EC2/Lightsail Linux instance

Step 4 – Connect an OpenVPN server using IOS/Android/Linux/Windows client

On server your will find a client configuration file called ~/desktop.ovpn. All you have to do is copy this file to your local desktop using the scp command:
$ scp vivek@104.20.187.5:~/deskcop.ovpn .
Next, provide this file to your OpenVPN client to connect:

  1. Apple iOS client
  2. Android client
  3. Apple MacOS (OS X) client
  4. Windows 8/10 client

Forgotten your .opvn file location such as desktop.ovpn on the Ubuntu server? Try locating by typing the following command:
sudo find / -iname "*.ovpn"

Linux Desktop: OpenVPN client configuration

First, install the openvpn client for your desktop, enter:
$ sudo yum install openvpn
OR
$ sudo apt install openvpn
Next, copy desktop.ovpn as follows:
$ sudo cp desktop.ovpn /etc/openvpn/client.conf
Test connectivity from the CLI:
$ sudo openvpn --client --config /etc/openvpn/desktop.conf
Your Linux system will automatically connect when computer restart using openvpn script/service:
$ sudo systemctl start openvpn@client #

Step 5 - Verify/test the connectivity

Execute the following commands after connecting to OpenVPN server from your Linux desktop:
$ ping 10.8.0.1 #Ping to the OpenVPN server gateway
$ ip route #Make sure routing setup working
$ dig TXT +short o-o.myaddr.l.google.com @ns1.google.com #Must return public IP address of OpenVPN server

Step 6 - Adding or removing OpenVPN client

Log in to your server and run the script again:
$ sudo ./openvpn-install.sh

OpenVPN is already installed.

Select an option:
   1) Add a new client
   2) Revoke an existing client
   3) Remove OpenVPN
   4) Exit
Option: 

Use option number 1 to add a new client and option number 2 to remove or revoke an existing OpenVPN client from the server.

A note about trouble shooting OpenVPN server and client issues

Check OpenVPN server for errors using the jourlctl command:
$ sudo journalctl --identifier openvpn
## OR filter it using the grep command/egrep command ##
$ sudo journalctl -x -e | grep -i 'error'
$ sudo journalctl -x -e | egrep -i 'error|warn|your_ip_here'
$ sudo journalctl -xe -u openvpn-server@server.service

Click to enlarge image

Is firewall rule setup correctly on your server? Use the cat command to see rules:
$ cat /etc/systemd/system/openvpn-iptables.service
[Unit]
Before=network.target
[Service]
Type=oneshot
ExecStart=/sbin/iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s 10.8.0.0/24 ! -d 10.8.0.0/24 -j SNAT --to 172.xxx.yyy.zzz
ExecStart=/sbin/iptables -I INPUT -p udp --dport 1194 -j ACCEPT
ExecStart=/sbin/iptables -I FORWARD -s 10.8.0.0/24 -j ACCEPT
ExecStart=/sbin/iptables -I FORWARD -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
ExecStop=/sbin/iptables -t nat -D POSTROUTING -s 10.8.0.0/24 ! -d 10.8.0.0/24 -j SNAT --to 172.xxx.yyy.zzz
ExecStop=/sbin/iptables -D INPUT -p udp --dport 1194 -j ACCEPT
ExecStop=/sbin/iptables -D FORWARD -s 10.8.0.0/24 -j ACCEPT
ExecStop=/sbin/iptables -D FORWARD -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
ExecStart=/sbin/ip6tables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s fddd:1194:1194:1194::/64 ! -d fddd:1194:1194:1194::/64 -j SNAT --to 2600:xxxx::yyyy:zzzz:dddd:cccc
ExecStart=/sbin/ip6tables -I FORWARD -s fddd:1194:1194:1194::/64 -j ACCEPT
ExecStart=/sbin/ip6tables -I FORWARD -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
ExecStop=/sbin/ip6tables -t nat -D POSTROUTING -s fddd:1194:1194:1194::/64 ! -d fddd:1194:1194:1194::/64 -j SNAT --to 2600:xxxx::yyyy:zzzz:dddd:cccc
ExecStop=/sbin/ip6tables -D FORWARD -s fddd:1194:1194:1194::/64 -j ACCEPT
ExecStop=/sbin/ip6tables -D FORWARD -m state --state RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT
RemainAfterExit=yes
[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

Of course, we check status of the iptables rules that required for OpenVPN using the following command:
$ sudo systemctl status openvpn-iptables.service
If not running or failed start it:
$ sudo systemctl start openvpn-iptables.service
Another option is to run iptables command and sysctl command commands to verify NAT rule setup on your server:
$ sudo iptables -t nat -L -n -v
$ sysctl net.ipv4.ip_forward


Insert the rules if not inserted from /etc/rc.local
$ sudo systemctl start openvpn-iptables.service
$ sudo sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1

Is OpenVPN server running and port is open? Use the ss command or netstat command and pidof command/ps command:
$ netstat -tulpn | grep :1194 ## 1194 is the openvpn server port ##
$ ss -tulpn | grep :1194 ## 1194 is the openvpn server port ##
$ ps aux | grep openvpn ## is the openvpn server running? ##
$ ps -C openvpn ## is the openvpn server running? ##
$ pidof openvpn ## find the openvpn server PID ##


If not running, restart the OpenVPN server:
$ sudo systemctl start openvpn-server@server.service
Look out for errors:
$ sudo systemctl status openvpn-server@server.service
Can the Linux desktop client connect to the OpenVPN server machine? First you need to run a simple test to see if the OpenVPN server port (UDP 1194) accepts connections:
$ nc -vu 104.20.187.5 1194
Connection to 104.20.187.5 1194 port [udp/openvpn] succeeded!

If not connected it means either a Linux desktop firewall or your router is blocking access to server. Make sure both client and server using same protocol and port, e.g. UDP port 1194.

Conclusion

Congratulations. You successfully set up an OpenVPN server on Ubuntu Linux 18.04 LTS server running in the cloud. See the OpenVPN website server, Github script page, and Ubuntu server/project for additional information.

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21 comments… add one
  • nas Aug 9, 2020 @ 15:18

    it doesn’t work

  • Gangasagar Aug 12, 2020 @ 12:14

    how to connect openvpn from web by installing above method

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Aug 15, 2020 @ 8:57

      Once server configured, download clients as per your operating system. Copy the client file (.ovpn) from the server and install it using your client app.

  • ignacio Aug 14, 2020 @ 16:25

    when i try to start server it gives me the following error:

    Job for openvpn@server.service failed because the control process exited with error code.
    See “systemctl status openvpn@server.service” and “journalctl -xe” for details.

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Aug 15, 2020 @ 8:22

      Check status and error log using the following syntax (note the correct name of service changed/updated in scripts to ‘openvpn-server@server.service‘:
      sudo systemctl status openvpn-server@server.service
      sudo journalctl -xe -u openvpn-server@server.service
      sudo journalctl -xe | more

  • Hannah Aug 17, 2020 @ 14:30

    This worked perfectly on a fresh install of 18.04. Thank you. Is there a way more suited to this install script to create a second client?

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Aug 17, 2020 @ 17:17

      Run the same script again to add or remove client.

  • Ram.k Aug 27, 2020 @ 19:58

    Great post… it worked for me… please include how to add authentication for the openvpn clients.

  • Phan Loi Sep 1, 2020 @ 8:19

    Great post. It work perfectly for me.

    Is there any way we can enable both IPv4 and IPv6? When I try this, only my IPv4 get change. My IPv6 is not changed.

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Sep 13, 2020 @ 6:59

      You need to specify IPv6 while setting up server.

  • Jerry Sep 13, 2020 @ 3:46

    I get the following:

    Sep 12 22:36:01 nvr ovpn-server[31205]: Options error: In [CMD-LINE]:1: Error opening configuration file: /etc/openvpn/server.conf
    Sep 12 22:36:01 nvr ovpn-server[31205]: Use --help for more information.
    Sep 12 22:36:01 nvr systemd[1]: openvpn@server.service: Main process exited, code=exited, status=1/FAILURE

    The file is there, just not sure why it can’t open it.

  • lumajang Sep 24, 2020 @ 3:28

    is this can only connect to 1 device? because when i try with laptop and android one of them disconnected

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Sep 24, 2020 @ 7:33

      You need to create user/certificate for each device. See step # 6.

  • lumajang Sep 24, 2020 @ 3:29

    is this can only connect to 1 device? when i connect with 2 device 1 get disconnected

  • chico1852 Sep 27, 2020 @ 10:59

    Impossible to download deskcop.ovpn:
    ssh: connect to host 104.20.187.5 port 22: Connection timed out

  • Anonymous Oct 13, 2020 @ 19:53

    Dear, i can’t connect, i think it is because of DPI of my internet provider.
    Can you tell me which tls version used this server configuration, is it tls 1.3???

  • minhthuan Nov 5, 2020 @ 17:53

    How I find ~/desktop.ovpn ??? Please help me

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Nov 22, 2020 @ 13:31

      Run the following command:
      sudo find / -iname "~/desktop.ovpn"

  • wclau Nov 22, 2020 @ 7:58

    Hi,

    I tried the instructions multiple times on an AWS EC2 Ubuntu 18.04 instance.
    I understand my instance is behind the AWS NAT and the script successfully detected its public ip address correctly.

    However, after launching the openvpn service, I could not connect to the openvpn server from outside.
    The following was what I got after checking the status of the openvpn server using the
    sudo systemctl status openvpn@server” command:

    It seems when launching the openvpn service from your install script, it could not
    locate the certificate and key files: ca.crt, server.crt, server.key, etc.

    Options error: --ca fails with 'ca.crt': No such file or directory (errno=2)
    Options error:  --cert fails with 'server.crt': No such file or directory (errno=2)
     WARNING: cannot stat file 'server.key': No such file or directory (errno=2)
    Options error: --key fails with 'server.key': No such file or directory (errno=2)
    

    However, I manually check, all these key and cert files are available at /etc/openvpn/server directory.
    Is there something missing when specifying the path of these files in your script ?

    I have tried running the “sudo ./openvpn-install” both either my home directory or from the /etc/openvpn/server directory but it still did not work.

    Please advise and many thanks in advance.

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