How to connect to a Softether VPN server from Mac

How to connect to a Softether VPN server from Mac

This tutorial is a guide on how to set up Softether VPN on Mac. As the Softether VPN server can support multiple protocols there are several options to get connect from macOS.

This article also briefly explains what Softether is and what are the advantages of a Softether VPN server.

Softether VPN setup on macOS [Summary]

A Softether VPN server is able to “serve” multiple protocols such as Softether VPN, OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSL VPN, SSTP. To connect to such a server from macOS you have the following options:

Depending on the type of server you need to connect to there are several options to use a VPN on Mac.

What is Softether and what are its advantages?

Softether is a project developed in Japan at the University of Tsukuba and consists of the Softether protocol, a new VPN protocol, and a VPN server that is able to accept connections using various VPN protocols (Softether, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, OpenVPN).

The Softether VPN server can be installed on macOS, Windows (check our guide on how to use a VPN on Windows), Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD. You may find more information about the Softether server architecture here.

Softether has some important benefits:

  • The Softether VPN project is open-source. Thus, free and constantly updated.
  • The Softether protocol is fast.
  • The protocol uses high-level encryption (AES 256-bit and RSA 4096-bit).
  • The Softether traffic can penetrate highly-restricted firewalls.
  • Softether fully supports IPv6.

What is a Softether VPN server?

The Softether VPN server is the central piece of the Softether system and accepts connections from various VPN clients or VPN bridges.

To use the Softether protocol a Softether server needs to be installed. Such a server can successfully replace other VPN servers (e.g., OpenVPN).

Public Soft ether VPN servers (using the Softether technology) can be found listed on the VPN Gate project website (also created by a team from the University of Tsukuba).

How to connect to a Softether VPN server from Mac?

To connect to a Softether VPN server you need to configure a VPN client capable of communicating with the server.

The Mac application provided by the Softether VPN project should be the first choice. However, as mentioned on their website the existing VPN client is only experimental and it is “very difficult to use because of lack of GUI“. But, if you are comfortable with using command lines you may give it a shot.

Thus, other options need to be explored.

Connect using the Softether VPN protocol

As the VPN client for Mac from Softether is not recommended, here is a third-party Softether client application you may use:

  1. Download the SoftEtherGUI app, a Softether VPN client.
  2. Unzip the file and copy the SoftEtherGUI.app to the Applications folder.
  3. Start SoftEtherGUI from your Launchpad.
  4. Enter your Mac username and password.SoftetherGUI installation - How to set up a Softether VPN on Mac
  5. You may need (for newer macOS versions) to grant running permissions. SoftetherGUI - Grant permissions - How to use Softether Mac
  6. From the Menu bar, click on the SoftEtherGUI icon and Start SoftEtherVPN.
    SoftetherGUI - Start SoftEtherVPN - How to set up
  7. Click Configure Accounts.
  8. Next, add a new configuration click the “+” button.
  9. Type in the following information (you need to know them from the Softether server administrator):
    • Account Name: a name for your VPN connection;
    • Server: the name or the IP address of the VPN server;
    • Port: the communication port (e.g., 443);
    • Hub: VPN;
    • Username: the username provided by the server administrator.
    • Password: the password provided by the server administrator.
    • Check the Radius option (if required).
      SoftetherGUI - Add configuration
  10. Click the Apply button.
  11. Make sure you have the following options checked:
    • Send All Traffic Over VPN.
    • Use Remote DNS, to prevent DNS leaks.
  12. To connect to the VPN: Menu Bar > Softether icon > click on the name of the VPN configuration you just created.SoftetherGUI - Connect to the Softether VPN server

Important! The SoftEtherGUI app is no longer maintained, but it works on macOS Catalina as well. However, you may need to stop and restart it several times until the application is able to properly initialize its settings.

From the comments posted on the SoftetherGUI project page results that Softether might also work on macOS Sierra, High Sierra, and Mojave.

Connect using the L2TP/IPSec protocol

To connect to a Softether server using the L2TP/IPSec protocol you need to create a manual VPN connection using the macOS built-in VPN client:

  1. Click on the Apple icon on the top left corner of your screen.
  2. Open System Preferences. Next, click on Network.
  3. Click on the “+” button from the left panel. Softether VPN Mac - L2TP setup - Add connection
  4. For the Interface, select the VPN option.
  5. Next, select L2TP over IPSec as the VPN Type.
  6. Type-in a Service Name (e.g., “Softether Connect“).
  7. Click on the Create button.
  8. Enter the Sothether VPN server name or IP address to the Server Address textbox.
  9. Enter the VPN user name to the Account Name field (provided by the server administrator).
  10. Further, click the Authentication Settings button and enter your VPN account access password.
  11. Select the type of Machine Authentication: Shared Secret or Certificate (ask the administrator of the server). Click the OK button. Softhether VPN Mac - L2TP setup authentication
  12. The final step: click the Connect button to establish the connection to the Softether server using the L2TP VPN protocol.

To disconnect from the VPN: go to System Preferences > Network > VPN connection name and click on the Disconnect button.

When connecting using the L2TP protocol you may consider disabling IPv6 to prevent IP leaks.

Connect using OpenVPN

Another option to connect to a Softether VPN server from Mac is to use the OpenVPN protocol. In order to be able to do that you need an OpenVPN configuration file (.ovpn) from the server administrator. Download it from your email or from the URL sent by the administrator.

The most popular OpenVPN client application for Mac is Tunnelblick (alternatively you may install Viscosity for Mac). Here is how to proceed:

  • Download and install Tunnelblick.
  • Search the .ovpn on your Mac.
  • Drag and drop it on the Tunnelblick icon in the menu bar or on the list of configurations in the Configurations tab of the VPN Details window. Softether VPN Mac - Tunnelblick setup
  • Click on the Connect button to initiate the encrypted tunnel between your Mac and the VPN server.

Summary

Getting connected to a Softether server on Mac is not as easy as you would expect. However, depending on the available VPN protocols you have several options for connecting Softether VPN on Mac, options that were presented above.

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