One feature that has gradually established itself in most VPN services around the world is the shared tunnel feature. It could be called something else, but in essence it allows some apps to use the VPN connection while others don’t.
By default, when you press the “Connect in a VPN application” button, an encrypted connection is established between your device (such as a cell phone or PC) and a server on the Internet.
All applications, and even the operating system, will connect to the Internet through this connection. In most cases, it’s okay and that’s a good thing. This means that your ISP and the government cannot see what you are doing, and having the VPN server change your IP address helps protect your identity.
But in some situations, not everything working over a VPN connection is ideal. This may mean that you cannot access devices on your home network (such as a Wi-Fi printer) and some local websites may not function properly.
If you are using a VPN with a bandwidth limit, as they have a lot of free services, you will use up your allowance unnecessarily if all the traffic is routed through the VPN and Windows decides to download a big OS update.
And this is where the split tunnel comes in. If your VPN supports it, you should find a setting where you can choose which apps will and won’t use the VPN connection, depending on the benefits.
It works the same as filtering web pages in parental control software. You will either create an exclusion list (apps that connect to the internet without VPN protection) or you will create a list of apps that use the VPN and all others don’t.
It just depends on how your VPN provider offers a shared tunnel. Some like ExpressVPN, they offer both approaches, so you can choose.
However, don’t assume that the shared tunnel will be available on all platforms. You can verify that it is present in Windows and Android apps, but not in iOS or macOS, for example. (Some providers like ExpressVPN still implement separate tunnels for Big Sur, but it works on older versions of macOS.)
With curiosity, NordVPN It does not yet offer separate tunnels, except through extensions in your browser (see below). Surfshark it offers it, it’s called Whitelister and it works like ExpressVPN: you can have a list of apps that use the VPN or a list of those that don’t.
Advantages of the split tunnel
- Access to internet services and home network devices at the same time
- Use VPN bandwidth only for applications that need it
- Get maximum internet speed for apps that don’t need VPN
Disadvantages of the split tunnel
- You need to configure it on each device (unless you are running a VPN from your router)
- Not necessarily available on all operating systems
- No protection for apps running outside of VPN
VPN web browser extensions
An alternative to using the shared tunnel feature in the VPN app, or a workaround if it isn’t even supported, is to use an extension for Chrome, Firefox, or another web browser.
This is a good option if you are using a laptop, PC or Mac and want to open two browsers, one using VPN and one not. You’ll have to be a little careful here, remembering which browser has VPN protection and which doesn’t.
Also check the kill switch, as they may or may not work with browser extensions. This may mean that your activity is no longer private if the VPN connection is interrupted.
Chrome and Firefox tend to be the only browsers to support VPN extensions, and they’re not generally available on mobile devices. Check here the best VPN extension for your browser.
See other articles related to VPN services