Astrill 2.1 brings about 50 new features and improvements. We will review here the most important new features and changes.
OpenVPN Client Improvements
OpenVPN client is significantly improved and brings 4 VPN Modes, new IP Filter, Application Filter and Port Forward. All these features are unique to Astrill and you won’t find them with other VPN providers. Let’s start reviewing settings panels:
From this version it is possible to use alternate ports for OpenVPN client “Connection Port”, thus if some port is blocked by your ISP or network, you can pick up another port. We use the most common ports used on the Internet to provide the best possible compatibility with all ISPs and networks. The default ports are 8292 for UDP mode and 443 for TCP mode. UDP is preferred (fastest) connection mode. If you have a problem connecting to our servers, you can first try to change ports for UDP mode and if this doesn’t help, try to switch to TCP mode.
MSS parameter is relevant only for TCP connections in UDP mode. For optimal performance, the highest value is better, 1500 means no fragmentation of packets will occur. If you experience problems with connection dropping frequently or slowdowns, you can try lower values like 1400 down to 1300. As it is hard to know what’s the best value for every customer, we have used default value of 1400 which should be ok for most ADSL connections.
The major feature in this new version are 4 VPN Modes:
- Full VPN – in this mode all traffic from all applications is tunneled (routed) through Astrill VPN servers. You can use “IP Filter” and “Application Filter” to define exceptions. “IP Filter” let you define sites which you wish to be opened directly (without VPN) while “Application filter” allows you to choose applications which you wish not to use VPN at all. For example, you can use Firefox for VPN and set Internet Explorer to open sites directly which can be useful when you want fast access to domestic sites.
- Bypass my country – this mode will tunnel traffic for domestic sites directly (without VPN) while international sites will be opened through VPN. Thus, this mode is great to unblock international sites and provide fast access to domestic sites. Astrill manages IP ranges for every country and we update the list every month. Even tho, Astrill manages IP lists for you, you can still use “IP Filter” and “Application Filter” for your custom rules.
- Unblock Sites Only – this mode will tunnel only blocked sites through VPN while all other sited will be opened directly. Astrill currently manages the list of blocked sites for China only, however we plan to support other countries, but we will need your help for this. If you can help, please contact our support. Of course, you can use “IP Filter” and “Application Filter” with this mode too to fine tune tunneling for your needs.
- Zero VPN – this mode means that no traffic will be tunneled through VPN. Thus, you need to use “IP Filter” and/or “Application Filter” to define custom rules, otherwise this mode is like you are not using Astrill. Why this mode can be useful ? For example, you wish to use VPN only in Firefox and use direct connection in all other apps. Thus although this mode may seem useless at the first look, some users may actually need something like this.
“IP Filter” is improved in new Astrill for better performance. The meaning of the filter depends on selected “VPN Mode” and can be either “Tunnel IP blocks directly” or “Tunnel IP blocks through VPN”. The meaning of the filter is displayed in the settings window.The filter accepts IP addresses and IP blocks in CIDR format (that means IP/mask where mask is in CIDR format). For example, to put www.whatismyip.com we would first discover IP address of the site. This can be done using nslookup command on all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux) from the terminal (console). The result is:
C:\Users\Administrator>nslookup www.whatismyip.com Server: UnKnown Address: 10.0.0.1 Non-authoritative answer: Name: www.whatismyip.com Addresses: 22.214.171.124 126.96.36.199 188.8.131.52 184.108.40.206
We can see here that the site has total 4 IP addresses and that all belong to one CIDR block: 220.127.116.11/28 (which actually includes a bit more than 4 IP addresses). We can thus put:
in IP Filter. If you wish to specify just a single IP address, you can use for example:
which is equal.
Application Filter let you specify which applications you want to tunnel through VPN or exclude form VPN (tunnel directly). You can reverse the meaning on the filter using “Reverse” checkbox. The filter accepts application executable names, one name per line. For example:
iexplore.exe is Internet Explorer. You can see application executable names easily if Task Manager (press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager and start your application so it will appear in the list “Processes”). Application Filter is available for Windows Vista and Windows 7 only. Due to some routing bugs in Windows XP kernel we were not able to get it working correctly. For Application Filter to work properly, you need to have Astrill Network Redirector component installed (it’s installed by default always unless your antivirus prevents its installation).
Port forwarding is useful for P2P and VOIP applications (for example BitTorrent and Skype). This feature let you forward 3 TCP ports to your computer. The boxes on the right are local ports. You can keep them zero so we will assign default values. Once you are connected to Astrill VPN, you can reopen Port Forwarding panel to see actual ports we have forwarded. Every time you connect to VPN, the assigned ports may change.
OpenWEB Client has a few new features too.
We have decided to hide two extra buttons “Media Recorder” and “Smart Mode” by default as they just confuse new customers. This if you are missing these buttons, you can reenable them using “Show additional buttons” in “User Interface” panel. “Media Recorder” button is used to save streaming media (video and music) from various web sites like Youtube, Vimeo, etc… to your harddisk so you can have them offline. “Smart Mode” is meaningful for China users only thus if you are not in China, this button will be disabled. When “Smart Mode” is enabled, only blocked sites will be opened through Astrill while all others will be opened directly. This significantly improves surfing speed and let you forget you are running Astrill or living in a country which censors Internet.
Advanced Options Panel
We have added two new options here but let’s review all options in case some new customers have missed previous blog posts:
- Enable Redirector – this option when enabled will let Astrill use Network Redirector component to redirect traffic from applications (Web browsers and a few other apps) to Astrill VPN. If this option is disabled, you can still use Astrill in Firefox and Internet Explorer and in other applications you will need to set proxy 127.0.0.1 port 3213 (as HTTP and HTTPS or Web/Secure Web proxy). Other proxies should be left blank. Option “Enable Redirector” is enabled by default.
- Set System Proxy – although we use Network Redirector component and it is not required to set proxy in your browser, sometimes you will want to set system global proxy settings so all other applications, which honor system proxy settings, will use Astrill VPN. This option is disabled by default.
- Keep connection – this is a new option. This option let you keep connection even when you switch to another Astrill server (from drop-down list) or when you turn Astrill OFF (using ON/OFF button). This is especially useful when you are downloading a file and want to switch to another server. Normally Astrill would disconnect all connections thus your download would be aborted. With this new option you can change this behavior.
- Auto Clear Cookies – this option, when checked, will tell Astrill to clear all browser and Flash cookies whenever you switch to another sever or turn Astrill ON or OFF. This is very useful for some web sites which remember you using cookies, so even if you are using VPN, they will know your default location. We have also added an option to the tray/context menu “Clear Cookies” which you can use to manually clear all cookies whenever you wish. This is very convenient too as it clears nasty Flash Cookies which are normally very hard to remove (you would need to go to Adobe web site to do that). When we are at explaining how sites tracking your location by cookies, let’s mention that some sites (like syfy.com) track your timezone as well ! Thus even if you are using VPN, that site will show you are not in USA and will not let you watch any videos. This is very easy to fix – just set your system timezone to let’s say UTC-8 which is California time zone. (you might need to restart browser or refresh the page – Ctrl-F5).
- Stream Flash Directly – this option tries to stream flash videos directly (without VPN). Some sites don’t check location when streaming (Hulu is an exception tho). Thus using this option you can speed up your video streaming but usually our VPN is very fast thus you wont notice any difference.
- Video Accelerator – this option enabled a special component in Astrill which accelerates video streaming thus, in most cases, prevents buffering and provides smooth video watching experience. This option works with Youtube, Vevo, Hulu, Vimeo and so many other video streaming sites. Video Accelerator is especially useful when your ISP throttles single TCP sessions (like most Chinese ISPs do for International connections). We have disabled this option by default as for some users it might not work good.
- Youtube Burst Mode – this is a new option. This option let you stream Youtube in burst mode whenever possible thus avoiding excessive buffering.
Change Password Panel
We have added a convenient way to change your password from Astrill, no need to go to the web site anymore.
As always, we hope you enjoy using Astrill as much as we have enjoyed in making it.