How to Use VPN Only for Specific Apps and Websites
- VPN split tunneling enables you to route only parts of your Internet traffic through the VPN server while keeping the rest on your regular Internet connection.
- Not all VPNs support split tunneling. Moreover, those that do differ in the extent to which you can use this feature and the devices it’s available on.
- There are different types of split tunneling, so it’s crucial to know which is better for your needs and preferences.
- MacOS users can only use browser extensions, as split tunneling is not supported.
NordVPN is the best VPN with split-tunneling to use a VPN only for specific apps or browsers.
You count on your VPN to keep your online life secure and private. However, with some VPNs, you are stuck with an all-or-nothing solution. Standard VPN connections route all of your traffic through the encrypted tunnel.
But what if you want to use your VPN for only specific apps or specific sites? What if you want some of your traffic to be routed through the VPN and the rest through your standard network connection?
For that, you will need split tunneling. There are many circumstances when you might want to use it. In this detailed guide, I’ll provide you with expert tips and tricks on how to set up a VPN only for specific apps/sites and other valuable advice on using a VPN.
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Here’s how to use a VPN for specific sites and apps:
- Open your VPN client.
- Find the split tunneling setting.
- Add the apps and sites you want to go through the VPN tunnel.
- Select apps you don’t want to run through the Virtual Private Network (if allowed).
- Check if everything is set up right.
- Connect to the VPN server.
- Now only specific selected apps use a VPN connection
Split Tunneling Only For Some Traffic
Split tunneling is a feature of some of the more advanced VPN services that make it easy to use your VPN service only for a part of your connection, specific applications, one program, or even certain sites.
It gives you the control to choose which data you encrypt and send through your VPN and which traffic bypasses it to travel via your direct connection. This can be convenient in many situations.
For example, you need to access LAN devices or local addresses. With this feature, you can obtain VPN protection and global access while still maintaining local access.
There are a few ways this can be implemented. Not all of these features can be found on every VPN, so choose your provider carefully. To go into more detail on how this feature can help you ensure more convenience and privacy online, I’ll cover the most common ways to set up split tunneling.
How to Use a VPN Only for Specific Applications
Some VPNs offer a handy function that allows using it for specific applications. The user can select or “whitelist” which apps should not use the VPN tunnel. All of the rest of the traffic will travel through the VPN tunnel.
This type of split tunneling is especially useful for apps that primarily use the local area network or need access to local IP addresses.
To help you use VPN for certain apps, I’ve prepared a concise step-by-step guide. I used NordVPN to show you how this works:
- Download and install the VPN app on your device. (I used the Windows app in this example).
- Open the app and go to the “Settings” menu in the bottom left corner.
- Navigate to the tab called “Split Tunneling” and click on it.
- Turn on split tunneling and choose the type (You can select between “disable VPN for selected apps” and “enable VPN for selected apps”).
- Click on the “Add apps” button to include the apps you want to be covered with this VPN split tunneling feature.
Using a VPN on Browser Only
To set up a VPN only for browsers, you will need a VPN extension for your browser. When using a VPN through a browser extension, it is critical to realize that it will not impact network usage outside of the particular browser.
Browser extensions are available for both Google Chrome and Firefox. Most of the time they affect all the traffic from your browser, and only very few allow you to select specific websites. To make this setup process more convenient, here’s how to set up a VPN only on your browser:
- Choose a VPN provider and sign up (I recommend NordVPN).
- Download one of the supported browser extensions from the VPN’s site or from the Google Chrome store.
- Go to your browser and click on the extension tab in the top right (I’m using Google Chrome for this step-by-step guide).
- Connect to a server of your choice.
Using VPN for Specific Websites
Most VPNs control access by application, so this feature can not be used to whitelist specific sites.
The only exception to this is Surfshark which can whitelist sites and specific IPs via the VPN software.
Here’s how to set up your VPN connection with Surfshark to bypass encrypting specific sites and IP addresses:
- Subscribe to Surfshark and download the appropriate application for your device. (I’m using the Windows version of Surfshark for this setup)
- Once you install the VPN software, open the VPN app. Go to the “Settings” tab on the left side of the app.
- Choose the “VPN Settings” option.
- Once you’re in the “VPN Settings” tab, scroll to find the “Bypasser” feature and open it.
- In the Bypasser feature, you’ll find a subsection called websites/IPs. Turn this feature on.
- Once you do this, a dropdown tab will appear. Click on it to add sites or IPs that will bypass your VPN connection.
This six-step setup process will help you enable split tunneling for specific sites/IPs in Surfshark. It’s a very convenient feature that enables you to select which websites should bypass the VPN through the settings. This can be particularly useful for sites that use location or IP address as part of security protocols. You may need to access these sites via your open network.
There’s also the Private Internet Access browser extension, which works a little differently. It allows excluding certain websites from using the VPN connection, while all the rest of the browser traffic will be encrypted. This is called inverse split tunneling.
So, you have the option of routing everything but the IP/site through the VPN or routing nothing but the IP/site that you want to access through the VPN. But, this is a more complex process that’s best to avoid if you’re not very tech-savvy.
But, if you want to venture into it, the first thing you’ll need to do is download the OpenVPN client. After you do so, you’ll have to import your VPN provider’s UDP/TCP file into the OpenVPN app.
After that, you can simply connect to the newly-added connection by typing in your credentials when prompted and waiting a few seconds for the connection to establish. Once this is done, you’ll have to edit the file you’ve previously downloaded to adjust which sites you want or don’t want to go through the Virtual Private Network.
Split Tunneling vs. Inverse Split Tunneling
The most common type of split tunneling works by excluding some Internet traffic from passing through the encrypted VPN network. The user can specify a specific application, specific IP address, or other criteria to bypass the VPN.
Inverse split tunneling handles things the opposite way. Instead of defining which particular applications, certain sites, or IP addresses should go through the VPN, you can specify which specific data should pass through your home network or WiFi connection.
So, which split tunneling VPN feature is better for you? The answer is simple. Enable VPN split tunneling if you want to have access to more than one network but still keep the bulk of your traffic originating from your real IP address.
On the other hand, reverse split tunneling is a great option if you’re handling a lot of sensitive data and want your default route to go through your VPN.
Considering this, the choice between the two really comes down to user preference and the amount of traffic the user wishes to redirect.
Split Tunneling for uTorrent
One popular use of split tunneling is for downloading torrent files. Many users that employ a VPN for uTorrent do so because they want to have their torrent downloads encrypted and hidden from prying eyes. At the same time, they want their open network’s speed and convenience for their regular online activities
There is some debate about the safety of this practice. While Internet Service Providers will not be able to see the torrent traffic, the other browsing traffic and the amount of data unaccounted for may make it clear what the user is doing.
For example, visiting torrenting sites but hiding torrent downloads with a VPN service might lead to assumptions. However, these assumptions can not be proved without hard evidence.
Not all VPNs Allow Split Tunneling on All Devices
If split tunneling is a feature you need, whether to use your VPN service only for specific applications or some traffic, be sure to use VPN services that offer it. Just as importantly, be sure it is available for your device.
For instance, using a VPN for only specific applications is not available for iOS. The software behind Apple’s iPhones and iPads does not allow for this capability. In other cases, features may be available for some devices from one provider but not another. Some VPNs have extensions for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, while others lack this feature.
Considering that, Surfshark offers split tunneling by application, domain name, and IP address for Windows and Android devices but not for MacOS.
Conclusion — Using VPN for Specific Apps or Websites
Many basic users will never even need to think about split tunneling. They can keep their VPN on at all times for their Internet connection and only disable it for the rare occasion when an app or website needs to be accessed by an open connection.
But more advanced users, especially gamers, streamers, uTorrent users, and those who rely heavily on local network resources, may want their VPN to have these integrated features.
You will also want to be sure the features offered by your VPN service work on all the devices you use regularly.
FAQs on Using a VPN for Specific Apps and Sites
Can you exclude apps from a VPN Internet Connection?
Yes, some VPN services allow you to exclude sites and apps to bypass a VPN connection. This is the best solution when you want to keep the bigger part of your Internet activity on the VPN network and have just a few applications and websites you want to keep on your real IP address.
How to set up a VPN connection for just one app?
You can use VPN services for one app, but the setup process varies depending on the device you’re using. For example, setting this up on Android is very simple, as you can do it through the OpenVPN app.
That said, if you use Mac or Windows, this process is more complex, as you’ll have to set up a virtual machine as well. A virtual machine is a system within your system. It enables you to install VPN software only on the virtual machine. That way, the VPN works only for apps within this system, not the apps on your real, primary system.
Can I use a free VPN to route specific apps and sites?
Although there are some free VPNs you can set up for specific apps and websites, as a VPN expert, I advise you not to use such services. Many free VPNs might have unreliable and unsafe features. By using them, you would be doing yourself a disservice and potentially putting your private information at risk.
What is the best Android VPN for a specific app setup?
The best VPNs for Android to set up a VPN for a specific app are NordVPN and Surfshark. These two VPN apps enable you to set up a VPN for only one application.
For example, when using Surfshark VPN for specific apps on Android, you can set which apps you want to route via VPN and which to bypass the VPN connection.
Does VPN split tunneling work on routers?
Split tunneling can be configured on routers that support VPN connections. Whether or not this feature works on a specific router depends on the router’s capabilities and configuration options. Not all routers support VPN connections, and even among those that do, not all support split tunneling.
Can I use split tunneling on more than one VPN server at a time?
You can use split tunneling on more than one VPN server at a time. But, it can be challenging to configure multiple split-tunnel VPN connections simultaneously. When using this feature on multiple VPN servers, you’ll need to ensure that each connection is properly configured and the traffic is correctly routed.
Cybersecurity and VPN researcher