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How to Install DD-WRT Custom Firmware on Your WiFi Router

Each WiFi router comes with its own firmware. It is a proprietary operating system installed by the manufacturer directly at the factory. This is one of the reasons why routers are incredibly difficult to manage and use compared to other devices such as smartphones for example. Also, these vendor router firmwares lack features and are rarely updated with new features and security patches. So, one option you have is to install open source custom router firmware on your router. The older ones include DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato.

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I use DD-WRT in two of my routers; the Net Gear R7000 and D-Link DIR-885L. DD-WRT is incredibly powerful, comes with a number of features, supports a wide range of routers, is frequently updated, and is relatively easy to use. I mainly use DD-WRT to run an OpenVPN client which I use to connect to premium VPN providers such as ExpressVPN, SurfShark and Wind Scribe. With a VPN installed on my router, virtually all of my devices that connect to it are protected. My ISP can’t spy on my browsing habits, and I can also connect devices that don’t usually support VPN apps to a VPN network.

So I want to show you how you can install DD-WRT on your router. Before you start, here are a few things you should know;

  • Not all routers are supported by DD-WRT. You need to know your router model and check with the DD-WRT router database if it is supported.
  • Installing custom firmware like DD-WRT on your router always comes with a risk of tinkering with it. Breaking a router essentially renders it worthless. A bricked router can no longer function as intended by the manufacturer.
  • Installing custom firmware automatically voids your warranty. You are ideally alone. You also cannot get support from your router vendor.

What you will need;

  • A computer running Windows, Mac, or Linux with a web browser installed. It should preferably have an Ethernet port so you can make wired connections to the router instead of using WiFi.
  • A supported WiFi router that can be flashed with DD-WRT firmware. You can check if your router is supported by looking up its model in the router database on the dd-wrt website.
  • The DD-WRT firmware image for your router downloaded from dd-wrt.com.

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DD-WRT web interface running on a D-Link 885L router

DD-WRT is an open source router firmware based on Linux. It is therefore free to download and its source code is available for anyone to inspect and modify. While DD-WRT is primarily used by enthusiasts who use it to replace their router’s stock firmware, the software also comes bundled on some routers offered by Buffalo and Linksys technology. DD-WRT supports a wide range of router brands including Netgear, D-link, Linksys, Asus, Buffalo, TP-Link, Trendnet, and Ubiquiti. Some of the notable features supported by DD-WRT include;

  • Access control
  • Multiple SSIDs
  • WPA/WPA2/WPA3 (personal and enterprise)
  • iptables and IPset (on some models) and SPI firewall
  • Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)
  • Dynamic DNS (DynDNS, easyDNS, FreeDNS, TZO, ZoneEdit)
  • Overclocking
  • SSH remote access
  • Telnet server and client
  • RADIUS support
  • OpenVPN client and server
  • WireGuard VPN Client
  • PPTP VPN Server and Client
  • WDS – Wireless Distribution System
  • VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network)
  • Samba
  • QoS (Quality of Service)
  • Startup and shutdown scripts

Flash your router with DD-WRT firmware

If you’ve decided that it’s worth installing DD-WRT firmware on your router, the process is quite simple, although it doesn’t always go as planned. You might encounter mind-blowing scenarios along the way. I therefore advise against installing it on the only Wi-Fi router you have. It should be installed on a spare router that you are willing to lose or afford to keep offline in case things don’t go as planned.

Router search: The first thing to do is find out if your router model is supported by DD-WRT. Simply visit the DD-WRT router database and search for your model. For example, my D-Link DIR 885L appears in the database.

DD-WRT Router Database

Once you have found your router model, you will be presented with it two files which will allow you to replace the original manufacturer’s router firmware with DD-WRT. The first file is used to flash the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Firmware with DD-WRT. It is usually called factory-to-ddwrt.bin. This file can be downloaded using your original router’s web interface, usually accessible from http://192.168.1.1 Where http://192.168.0.1 from firmware update section. However, some router vendors such as D-Link do not support this method. Instead, you need to do a disaster recovery before downloading the firmware file.

D-Link Router Recovery Mode

The second file is used to update the DD-WRT web interface. It can only be installed when the first file is successfully downloaded and used to flash your router. This file is usually in the format XXX-webflash.bin.This file is usually downloaded from the DD-WRT web interface from Administration > Update Firmware page.

DD-WRT Firmware Update Web GUI

Current step by step process flashing your router with DD-WRT firmware varies from router brand to router brand. You should therefore always follow the installation instructions specific to the make and model of your router. For example, specific instructions for flashing D-Link routers can be found in the D-link forums here. If you own a Netgear R7000, the specific instructions can be found here. So I strongly recommend that you research and find installation instructions specific to your router model and follow them carefully. The DD-WRT forum is a great place to find help when you get stuck. There is also elaborate Documentation and tutorials in the Wiki section of the website.

DD-WRT Forums

In conclusion, flashing your router firmware with DD-WRT is a risky but worthwhile venture. I’ve been using DD-WRT on my Netgear and D-link routers for years with no issues while taking advantage of more advanced features that don’t come with the OEM firmware.

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