Choose between speed or reliability with UDP vs TCP internet connections

Can you speed up the internet or make it more reliable? Yes. Just choose between UDP and TCP. Here's how to do it using a VPN, which also increases internet security and privacy

Do you want to run your internet connection at maximum speed, or a bit more slowly, but more reliably? With a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your computer, you have the choice. Which is best?

You are probably wondering if you can have both speed and reliability when connected to the internet. This would certainly be the best scenario, but in reality you can only have one or the other. The speed vs reliability choice is one of protocols.

TCP vs UDP network protocol

Don’t worry, this will not get too technical, but you do need to understand that there are two common protocols for communications over a network and the internet, and these are TCP (Transmission Control Protocol)  and UDP (User Datagram Protocol).

You might imagine that data flows around the internet in streams. You stream music and movies to your computer, phone or tablet, and you download files in a stream.

However, data does not flow like water and it is actually sent in small discrete packets. When a web browser connects to a web server, packets of information are exchanged over th network, and when you view a web page, packets are sent to your computer from the web server.

Packets of data are constantly being sent and received over the network and internet.

TCP and UDP are all about how the packets are made and sent.

TCP  is designed to be reliable and packets of data are sent in a certain order. When they are received they are checked and if everything is OK, a message is sent back reporting this.

If TCP packets do not arrive at the destination correctly, if some go missing or are corrupted for example, a message is sent back to say there was a problem and the missing or corrupt packets are sent again.

This makes TCP reliable and to a certain extent it can recover from problems and glitches in the network because corrupt and missing packets are resent.

  • The advantage of TCP is reliability.
  • The disadvantage is that checking and error correction is slow.

UDP also sends data in tiny packets, but there are differences and a major one is that no checks are made to make sure everything arrives correctly at the destination.

UDP just blasts out the packets of data as fast as it can and doesn’t bother checking whether they all arrive or even if they arrive in the right order. However, if the network connection is reliable, then data packets arrive correctly and speedily.

UDP is therefore fast, but when conditions are not perfect, it can lead to problems. Packets of information might go missing or become corrupted and there is no way to tell the sending computer that or to request that they be sent again.

  • The advantage of UDP is that it is fast when conditions allow.
  • The disadvantage of UDP is that it is sometimes unreliable.

Choose TCP or UDP with a VPN

Normally you are not able to choose whether the computer uses TCP or UDP for network internet communications. You don’t know what is being used and neither do you care, as long as it works.

Some VPNs allow you to choose whether TCP or UDP protocols are used when communicating over the internet. This means that you can choose between reliability with TCP or speed with UDP.

If the network or internet is working reliably, selecting UDP will boost the data bandwidth, resulting in faster upload and download speeds, quicker web browsing and smoother video and audio streaming.

If you find that the connection is unreliable you should switch to TCP, which allows minor network glitches to be overcome.

Select TCP or UDP with NordVPN

Here is a step-by-step guide using NordVPN on an Apple Mac. All VPN software is different, but having seen one, you know what to look for in another.

If you don’t have a VPN, here’s my affiliate link if you want your own secure and private internet - NordVPN

1 Start NordVPN

Go to the Applications folder and start NordVPN. The main window opens. If NordVPN is already running, the main window can be opened from the menu bar icon.

NordVPN adds privacy and security to internet browsing

2 Open the menu

Click the menu button in the top left corner of the window and the sidebar opens. Click Advanced Settings.

NordVPN settings in the sidebar of the main window

3 Choose the protocol

Among the settings is an option to choose TCP or UDP. Try UDP first because it is the fastest way to communicate over the internet. If it is unreliable, return here and select TCP. and your problems should go away.

Choose between TCP and UDP protocols in NordVPN advanced settings

There aren’t huge speed differences between UDP and TCP, but it should be sufficient to make a noticeable the difference. Try each setting and see which works best for you.

Related: Does a VPN slow down the internet connection?

 

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