Networking

pfSense Plus vs CE: Complete Comparison

Discover the key differences between pfSense Plus vs CE. Understand features, user scenarios, and choose what suits your needs best

Highlights

  • The long-term vision for pfSense Plus involves a significant re-architecture of the product, going beyond the capabilities of the current pfSense CE.
  • As a closed-source software, developers at Netgate have the flexibility to integrate other open-source components and add features that aren’t present in the open-source code base of pfSense CE.
  • While the pfSense CE has a more community-focused GUI, pfSense Plus comes with an enhanced user interface tailored to commercial use, providing complete information about network status, config details, and more.

Netgate, the company behind pfSense CE, announced pfSense Plus in 2021, a new version of its popular open-source firewall and router software based on FreeBSD. If you want to run pfSense CE on your own hardware, users can now choose Community Edition (CE) or Plus. Let’s look at pfSense Plus vs CE, providing a comprehensive guide to making an informed choice between the two. Let’s delve right in.

pfSense Plus: A New Era

In contrast to the pfSense CE, there’s a productized version known as pfSense Plus. This closed-source software replaces pfSense factory edition and comes with pfSense preinstalled on Netgate appliances. It has key differences in its closed-source nature but also in the features it introduces.

What is pfSense Plus?

pfSense Plus represents a distinct and separate product offering by Netgate, which exists independently from the pfSense Community Edition (CE) – an open-source software project.

The long-term vision for pfSense Plus involves a significant re-architecture of the product, going beyond the capabilities of the current pfSense CE. This shift will enable new features that cater directly to customer needs and provide enhanced value.

Previously, Netgate offered the pfSense Factory Edition (FE), but pfSense Plus is set to replace this. Customers purchasing Netgate appliances will benefit from receiving pfSense Plus at no extra cost.

For users seeking cloud implementations, pfSense Plus is available as an offering through AWS and Azure Cloud Service Provider (CSP) marketplaces.

The roadmap for pfSense Plus also includes plans for commercial availability on non-Netgate hardware, further expanding the software’s reach and accessibility in the near future.

pfSense Plus vs pfSense CE: Key Differences

Let’s discuss the differences between pfSense CE and Plus in detail.

User Interface

One noticeable difference is the user interface (GUI). While the pfSense CE has a more community-focused GUI, pfSense Plus comes with an enhanced user interface tailored to commercial use, providing complete information about network status, config details, and more. On face value, however, they look very similar, at least for now.

pfSense Plus

pfSense Plus interface
pfSense Plus interface

pfSense Community Edition

pfSense Community Edition
pfSense Community Edition

New Features

Besides the GUI, pfSense Plus offers newer features and middleware modules that aren’t available in the pfSense CE. As a closed-source software, developers at Netgate have the flexibility to integrate other open-source components and add features that aren’t present in the open-source code base of pfSense CE.

Bug Fixes and Updates

The rate at which bug fixes and new features are rolled out also varies. In the pfSense Plus, bug fixes and feature upgrades are released more frequently, ensuring that users always have access to the latest improvements.

Hardware Support

One of the main attractions of pfSense Plus is its comprehensive hardware support. From servers to routers, running pfSense on various hardware configurations is more seamless with Plus.

Support and Services

The differences extend to the support services too. Users of pfSense Plus can opt for TAC support, including TAC Lite, TAC Pro, and TAC Enterprise.

Pricing and Licensing

One crucial difference is the pricing and licensing. While the pfSense CE remains free, the Plus edition has an OEM license for commercial use. Many companies value the added features and support that pfSense Plus provides despite the cost.

Learn more details about the licensing here: Pricing – pfSense Plus (netgate.com).

Home Lab license available!

One of the awesome things about the pfSense + license is Netgate allows you to run a free license for your home lab environment. Early on, many had worries that pfSense+ would mean the end of free versions for home. However, it is good to see Netgate embraces the home lab community and provides a pfSense+ license for free.

Open Source vs Closed Source

The main contention between pfSense CE and Plus is the open source vs closed-source debate. pfSense CE, being an open-source project, allows for community contribution and extensive customization. On the other hand, pfSense Plus, a closed-source software, offers more control over the development process, often resulting in more and newer features.

No direct download

One of the things you will notice about pfSense+ is that Netgate does not provide a direct download for pfSense+. You can’t download an ISO or OVA for the pfSense+ distribution. You must upgrade from CE directly or buy an appliance with the already loaded software.

Install pfSense in Proxmox

Take a look at my video here on how to install pfSense CE in Proxmox:

Install pfSense in Proxmox

Upgrade to pfSense Plus from CE

The process of upgrading is two-fold. Part of the process you must do from the Netgate website. On the website, you register for the pfSense plus software.

pfSense Plus software subscription free for home users
pfSense Plus software subscription free for home users

You will go through the process on the website to register for the software. Again, this “check out” process is free if you are running a home lab.

You will receive an activation token from Netgate. You use this on the System > Registration menu as directed by the email.

pfSense Plus activation token from Netgate
pfSense Plus activation token from Netgate

Under the System > Register menu, here is where you enter your token information.

Interface to register your token received via email
Interface to register your token received via email

After entering the token received in email, click Register.

Entering your registration token in your pfSense CE interface
Entering your registration token in your pfSense CE interface

Now, when you navigate to System > Update > System Update, you will see the option to update to pfSense Plus Upgrade.

Choose the pfSense Plus upgrade in the Branch
Choose the pfSense Plus upgrade in the Branch

Confirm the pfSense Plus Upgrade.

Confirm pfSense Plus upgrade
Confirm pfSense Plus upgrade

The System upgrade to pfSense Plus begins.

Upgrade to pfSense Plus begins
Upgrade to pfSense Plus begins

After the upgrade finishes, the appliance will reboot automatically.

Upgrade to pfSense Plus finishes and appliance reboots
Upgrade to pfSense Plus finishes and appliance reboots

After the appliance reboots, you will see the logo has changed to pfSense+.

pfSense Plus displaying on the login screen
pfSense Plus displaying on the login screen

And we arrive at the pfSense+ dashboard!

pfSense Plus interface 1
pfSense Plus interface 1

Who Should Use What?

The decision to use pfSense CE or pfSense Plus ultimately depends on individual needs.

Home users can have the best of both worlds by upgrading their CE installation to pfSense Plus at no cost. Commercial organizations might find pfSense Plus more advantageous due to its enhanced GUI, faster bug fixes, frequent updates, and better hardware support.

Looking Ahead

As we move forward, it’s clear that pfSense, whether CE or Plus, continues to play a pivotal role in network security. While pfSense CE caters to the majority of home users with a free, open-source solution with an easily downloadable installation, pfSense Plus serves businesses with its additional, advanced features and professional support. Keep in mind that home users have the free option to upgrade.

Whether you’re a hobbyist running pfSense CE on your personal network or a company leveraging pfSense Plus on enterprise servers, you can count on this software for robust, reliable, and customizable network security.

Additional Features in Plus

Many businesses are enticed by the advanced features pfSense Plus offers. From IPsec and OpenVPN enhancements to improved load balancing functionality and even features like Captive Portal, the Plus edition is brimming with tools designed for enterprise networks.

Security and pfSense

Both pfSense CE and Plus excel in the realm of network security. Both versions are designed with secure VPN technologies like IPsec and OpenVPN, providing robust security for your internet connection. Additionally, the Plus version benefits from more frequent updates and patches, potentially increasing its security profile.

CE 2.6.0 and Beyond

The recent release of pfSense CE 2.6.0 brought in several updates and bug fixes, further closing the gap between the community and the factory edition. It proves that the developers remain committed to ensuring the free version maintains a high standard of quality and functionality.

The Future of pfSense

Looking ahead, it’s clear that both pfSense CE and Plus have a crucial role in shaping the future of network security. The community will likely continue to thrive, with most users running pfSense CE on their hardware. On the other hand, pfSense Plus will keep pushing the boundaries, offering more and newer features and support services, making it a strong competitor in the commercial sector.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the process of transitioning from pfSense CE to pfSense Plus?

Transitioning from pfSense CE to Plus is typically straightforward due to the shared code base. However, due to Plus’s additional features and middleware modules, reviewing all configurations post-upgrade is crucial.

2. I’m a home user with advanced network requirements. Is pfSense Plus still only recommended for businesses?

Not necessarily. Although pfSense Plus is often associated with commercial use, it can also be advantageous for home users with complex network requirements or those seeking enhanced support and advanced features, and it is a free upgrade for home lab users.

3. How does the frequency of the pfSense Plus update impact my network security?

Frequent updates mean the software gets bug fixes and security patches sooner, protecting your network against the latest known threats.

4. Can I install pfSense Plus on my own hardware, or is it restricted to Netgate appliances?

While it comes pre-installed on Netgate appliances, you can install it on your own hardware, provided it meets the system requirements.

5. How does the open-source nature of pfSense CE contribute to its development and security?

Being open-source means that pfSense CE benefits from the collective contributions of its vast community of developers. This can lead to faster identification of potential issues and innovative feature development.

6. If pfSense Plus replaces the pfSense factory edition, does that mean the factory edition will no longer be available?

Yes, the introduction of pfSense Plus means it replaces the factory edition. However, current users of the factory edition will continue to receive support and updates.

7. What key enhancements does pfSense Plus bring to VPN functionality?

It brings improvements to both IPsec and OpenVPN technologies. The speed, security, and interoperability enhancements make it a robust choice for commercial VPN requirements.

8. How does the enhanced GUI in pfSense Plus contribute to network management?

The enhanced GUI in pfSense Plus is designed to be more intuitive and detailed, making it easier for admins to manage and monitor their networks. It provides complete information about network status, configurations, and more, providing a comprehensive network overview at a glance.

9. Are there any differences in the ZFS support between pfSense Plus vs pfSense CE?

Both pfSense CE and Plus offer support for the ZFS file system. However, pfSense Plus might provide more robust support due to its frequent updates and available professional support options.

10. As an enterprise user, how would TAC Pro or TAC Enterprise support benefit me if I choose pfSense Plus?

TAC Pro and TAC Enterprise provide dedicated professional support, including quicker response times, access to expert engineers, and priority bug fixes. This level of support is crucial for businesses where network downtime can have significant operational impacts.

Wrapping up

Whether it’s pfSense CE vs pfSense Plus, choosing the right version depends on your specific needs and context. If you’re a home user or a hobbyist, you’ll likely find the community edition is more than powerful for your home network, and you CAN upgrade to Plus for free!

However, if you’re a business or an enterprise, the added benefits of pfSense Plus might justify the extra costs for licensing and support. In any case, one thing remains certain: pfSense is a great firewall in all its forms. Comparing pfSense CE vs Plus boils down to individual needs, use cases, and features. Each version has its strengths and serves a distinct audience.

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Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee is the Senior Writer, Engineer and owner at Virtualizationhowto.com and has over two decades of experience in Information Technology. Having worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies as well as in various industries, Brandon has extensive experience in various IT segments and is a strong advocate for open source technologies. Brandon holds many industry certifications, loves the outdoors and spending time with family.

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6 Comments

  1. The only thing missing here are the actual features that differentiate the products in contrast to generic lines like “increases security” and “updates more often”.

    1. Yep. Pointless article without that. ‘Pfsense Plus has new features and middleware’. Uh-huh….continue….

    2. KaraLoop,

      Currently the two are very similar. I think the main difference at this point is well there aren’t many differences currently. I think the branches are in the very early stages of differentiation. So, currently the main things are, plus is on a different release/patch cycle, you can’t download it directly and you must have a license to activate it. As time goes on, we will be able to list out more concrete features and differences.

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