How Does a VPN Work - Understanding a VPN

How Does a VPN Work – Understanding a VPN

how does a vpn work

Many of us have used a VPN before or at have at least have an idea of what a VPN does. But how many of us can actually explain how a VPN really works? You may already know that a VPN can unlock Netflix in multiple countries, protect our data, and improve performance by avoiding IP throttling, but do you know how a VPN accomplishes this?

Stick around as we dive into the technical aspects of a VPN and break down how a VPN works. We’ll provide a basic and technical understanding of VPN technology and explain how a VPN accomplishes several of its key features.

VPN Basics

In a nutshell, a VPN routes your internet connection through a special private server. This means that data is transmitted via the private network rather than your ISP. Without getting technical, think of your internet connection as a highway between you and the internet.

Anyone and anything can see you traveling along the highway, observing what you do, and even recording it if they desire. Now think of the VPN as a private tunnel along that same highway. nobody can see you traveling, look at what you’re doing along the highway, but the highway still connects to the same endpoint – the internet.

Technical bits – Tunneling Protocols Explained

Also known as a VPN protocol, a tunneling protocol is a vital piece of software that allows communication between two networks. There are numerous types of protocols and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, IKEv2/IPSec is ideal for gaming as it excels at providing fast internet speeds while OpenVPN is an excellent protocol for security as it is compatible with many encryption ciphers. The best VPNs for security leverage WireGuard for the best of both worlds.

When data travels through one of these tunnels, the data is split into another layer of data known as packets. These are encrypted packets and nobody can see what is inside them. Some of the most popular VPN tunnel protocols include:

  • OpenVPN
  • PPTP
  • Internet Key Exchange Version 2 (IKEv2)
  • Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP)
  • Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)
  • Wireguard

How Does a VPN Work?

Now that you have an understanding of what a VPN does, we’ll walk you through how a VPN works, step-by-step. You’ll never be able to catch this process in real-time as it happens in an instant, allowing seamless internet access while encrypting your traffic.

  1. Download one of the best VPN apps like ExpressVPN. Choose a server. The VPN software will encrypt your traffic through a secure connection. Without specialized technology, only the VPN provider can decrypt this traffic.
  2. The VPN server decrypts the traffic data and your data is sent to the internet.
  3. Once again, this traffic is encrypted and sent back to the user.
  4. The VPN app will now decrypt the data so that the user can read it. All these steps occur at a speed quicker than the blink of an eye.

How a VPN Unlocks Content

A big advantage of a VPN is the ability to unlock content that has been restricted. In most instances, this will be to unlock streaming services that lock content to a certain jurisdiction. But how does a VPN work with geo-locked content?

Since a VPN assigns users with a different IP address that mimics the country in which the server is located, apps and services will act as if you are located in that region. You can use a VPN to unlock Amazon Prime content in another country by pretending to be in that country.

While you may be located in California, your IP address may say you are in Sydney, Australia when connected to an Australian server.

How a VPN Hides Your Location

Every device that connects to the internet has an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Normally, this is assigned to your device by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). An IP address can provide information about your location. It can be as inaccurate as your country or a 100-mile area but might also be as accurate as within one mile of your location.

A VPN hides your IP by creating a private network that re-routes your traffic. You are assigned a different IP address that matches the country in which the server is located. So, for anyone searching for your IP address on the internet, your IP address will differ from your real one. However, your actual IP address doesn’t change – it just can’t be detected by conventional means.


VPN applications are complex pieces of software that let everyday internet users encrypt their data and protect themselves from cyber attacks, identity theft, data collection and selling, and much more. However, while the code might be complex, the technical details of how a VPN works are actually rather easy to understand.