OpenWRT (RPi4): giving up

I’m giving up on OpenWRT on my RPi4. I’ve spent the last few days getting it working and while it’s mostly good, I don’t trust it. I’m about to go out of town for awhile and I can’t leave my partner with a possibly flaky router, so I’m back to the Ubiquiti router. It’s buggy but I understand what the bugs are and can live with them. OpenWRT is very impressive and would probably work for me, but it requires more tinkering than I want to do. It does not spark joy in me.

The main problem with my OpenWRT setup is the mwan3 failover isn’t working for me. I got woken up by my alarm system loudly beeping, the stupid thing it does when there’s no Internet for a few hours. Starlink had gone down again. That’s not OpenWRTs fault, Dishy itself was out. But the mwan3 failover in OpenWRT didn’t work like it should have.

I could probably diagnose or fix this if I wanted to spend the time. The permission denied error in my logs is probably a good place to start. But I just don’t want to bother. (FWIW failover works if I disable one interface entirely. But that may just be Linux routing working, it has both WAN interfaces as routes. mwan3 is pinging interfaces and logging errors but I’ve never seen it actually mark one bad and switch.)

More generally there’s a bunch of rough edges in OpenWRT. The lack of persistent USB device naming is awkward, and potentially a source of a hard to diagnose problem in the future. The way package upgrades work (or don’t work) makes me nervous. I don’t trust that a full system upgrade will work when the time comes. I don’t like that I had to spend 5-10 hours reading docs and tinkering to get the things set up I want. All in all I want a router to just be an appliance, something I don’t spend time thinking about. OpenWRT is more of a firmware for hackers who want to be thinking about their routers.

I’ve said this before, I’d love something with the ease of use of the old Tomato firmware that’s based on OpenWRT. OpenWRT has improved a lot since 2015, LuCI is a very nice UI. Back then I got a comment that Gargoyle might fit the bill; I see that project is still getting updated, so maybe it’s worth a try. Also maybe my expectations are unreasonable. There’s lots of consumer routers out there that do a basic home LAN just fine, Starlink even gives you one. But I want more; I want multi-wan failover, I want VPN tunneling, I want detailed diagnostic data. It’s asking a lot.

Still I’m glad I spent the time with OpenWRT. I’d definitely reach for it again if I had specialist needs or was in a mindset to be more patient with the tinkering required. It’d also make a fantastic foundation for derived products. I think several commercial routers are sold with some variant of OpenWRT pre-loaded. Rumor has it Starlink’s own router is based on OpenWRT.

4 thoughts on “OpenWRT (RPi4): giving up

  1. Or what about the TP-Link ER605 or TP-Link ER7206? Multiple WAN ports and load balancing and VON. Might or might not do failover.

  2. There’s a lot of alternative routers out there! I wonder what those TP-Link routers are using for firmware. I have an Archer C7 I put OpenWRT on and used for awhile last year. MikroTik is the brand I see most mentioned as a prosumer alternative to Ubiquiti, but I’ve never tried one. They have their own “RouterOS” and were doing multi-WAN very early.

    The RouterPi looks like nice hardware. There’s another similar one for sale with a case:

  3. I went through the same process as you did with all of this sort of experimentation…. I ended up on pfSense and its been a winner… there are many x86 hardware options for it from low power and silent, to beefy and high horsepower… and if all hell breaks loose you can pay for support, and there are also fully supported hardware options from netgate… the failover has been working (mostly) fine for me as well. Good luck

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