Introduction to pfSense-An Open Source Firewall and Router Platform

Updated on January 16, 2018
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Sam works as a Network Analyst for an algorithmic trading firm. He obtained his Bachelors Degree in Information Technology from UMKC.

What is pfSense?

PfSense is a free, customized distribution of FreeBSD that can turn an old computer into a full featured router and firewall.

PfSense was created in 2004 as a fork of the popular m0n0wall project. The main difference between pfSense and m0n0wall is that pfSense is designed mainly to be installed on PC's instead of embedded devices which allows pfSense to offer more flexibility and features.

PfSense is very flexible and can easily be adapted to numerous applications ranging from a home router to a firewall for a large corporate network. PfSense is easy to install and maintain offering a very useful web based user interface. PfSense includes many features that are often only found in expensive commercial routers.

pfSense Dashboard
pfSense Dashboard

Popular uses for pfSense

  • LAN / WAN Router
  • Internet Cafes
  • Wireless Hotspot (Captive Portal)
  • VPN Router
  • Firewall
  • DHCP / DNS Server
  • Wireless Access Point
  • Transparent Squid Proxy Server
  • Multi Wan Router or Load Balancer
  • DNS Blacklist
  • Port Forwarding / NAT (Network Address Translation)

Why use pfSense instead of another router?

PfSense is fast, free, and stable offering tons of great features.

If you have an existing router that doesn't offer the features, or performance you need pfSense is a great choice to replace it with. Offering complete control of the hardware you can customize your pfSense system with the components you want.

If you've ever shopped for routers or firewall's before you probably know that depending on the features you are looking for they can be quite expensive. By using pfSense you can save a ton of money without compromising on features.

Embedded Installation

PfSense can also be installed on several different embedded platforms such as PC-Engines, Soekris, Alix, and others.

Embedded installs are a good option if you are looking to create a small, quiet, low power appliance to run your network. If you are a consultant it's going to look a lot more professional to set up an embedded pfSense device for a customer instead of an old PC.

If you decide to do your install on an embedded device be sure to download the embedded version of pfSense. The embedded release is designed to be installed on hardware that uses compact flash for storage. The embedded platform has special tweaks that will greatly extend the life of the storage media.

Soekris net5501
Soekris net5501 | Source

Getting Started with pfSense

In order to setup your own pfSense router you'll need an old computer with at least two network cards installed. If you don't have a spare computer you can probably find one at a low cost on Craigslist, eBay, or local garage sales. PfSense can also run on a number of embedded devices like the Soekris Net5501.

For a complete walk through of the installation process check out this link, setting up a pfSense router.

Support Options

There are several options for getting support for pfSense. Free support is available through the forums, mailing list, and also on IRC.

BSD perimeter, the company that founded pfSense also offers commercial support which is designed for users running pfSense in an enterprise environment.

A one year support subscription includes 5 hours of support that can be used for configuration questions, network design, migrations to pfSense , as other issues you may encounter.

Commercial support subscribers also gain access to the automatic configuration backup utility which can automatically backup the configuration of your pfSense system. You also get online access to the pfSense book.

Learning more

There is a great community built around pfSense that offers excellent support and
documentation. If your looking to learn more about pfSense or to become an expert I highly
recommend checking out the book pfSense: The Definitive Guide, created by co-founder
Chris Buechler.


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    • profile image

      Roy T. 4 months ago

      As you know, a recent issue of Maximum PC featured pfSense as a project. I got about half way into an install before I got lost in the weeds. Thank you so much for your video. With the ability to pause and repeat sections, I can finally create a custom router for my humble home network. Great work!

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      Kanusha 12 months ago

      thanks for explaining :)

    • skear profile image

      Sam Kear 3 years ago from Kansas City


      A bare bones install only needs about 2GB. As you add various packages the disk space requirements can go way up. In most cases an old 40GB hard drive is plenty of space for a caching proxy.

      The embedded version can fit on a 1GB flash card but does not support package installation.

    • TTGReviews profile image

      TTGReviews 3 years ago

      This is good to know, I will refer back to this later. Do you know how much space does pfSense take up on the HDD?

    • skear profile image

      Sam Kear 6 years ago from Kansas City

      Hey Jsea21,

      There isn't a version of pfSense that runs directly on Windows, pfSense includes it's own operating system (FreeBSD).

      Although, it is possible to run pfSense inside a virtual machine on windows. The networking can get a bit tricky but if you want to experiment with it I've included a link to a guide below.

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      jsea21 6 years ago

      can i use PFsense in windows XP?is there a version for WIndows?

    • profile image

      Azhar KHan 6 years ago

      Great Work,

    • profile image

      aymane 6 years ago

      hey. i'm working on a pfsense l7 filtering project and i wanted to ask you if you have ever tried to deny, not an web page to open, but the videos in it. i tried with the l-7 section in pfsense and the http-video but i couldn't.

      anyhow your web site is very usefull !

    • skear profile image

      Sam Kear 6 years ago from Kansas City

      You're welcome nesrine, thanks for your comment!

    • profile image

      nesrine 6 years ago

      thanks for explaining :)