TechLife Australia

Give your router additional features



WE’VE COVERED OPEN-SOURCE router firmware quite a bit in this column, but previously, we’ve focused almost exclusivel­y on DD-WRT. This month, we thought we’d take a look at the most popular alternativ­e — Tomato (

Tomato is similar to DD-WRT in many ways, which is not surprising given they share a common origin in the original Linksys WRT54G firmware. Tomato, however, is arguably easier to use and has several features that DD-WRT lacks. On this flip side, it is supported on fewer routers, being limited to routers that use Broadcom chips — which mostly translates into routers from Linksys, Netgear and ASUS plus a smattering of products from other vendors.


So if you’re new to this whole router firmware thing, you may have no idea what we’ve been talking about so far. To give you the quick version: the router firmware is the software that runs a router. It’s like the operating system for the router.

Typically, each router manufactur­er has its own firmware that comes built into the router. Linksys has different firmware from ASUS, which is different from TP-Link. That’s why the routers have some different features and the administra­tion interfaces look a little different.

But the thing is, on the hardware side, most routers are made from chips from a small number of chipmakers. Qualcomm Atheros and Broadcom are the biggest by a margin, and there are a few others like Lantiq, Marvell and MediaTek that make chips for routers as well.

Because of this, a number of open-source developers have gone and written their own firmware, usually based on Linux, that run on those chips. This firmware overwrites the ‘factory’ firmware and can drasticall­y change the function of the router.

Why, you may ask? Well, there are a lot of features that router manufactur­ers don’t implement in their products, either saving the features for ‘premium’ products or believing them too niche to bother with. VPN support is the most notable of these, but things like guest Wi-Fi, transmit power tuning, OpenDNS support, 3G/LTE modem support and remote management are just some of the features you’ll find in open-source firmware that you won’t commonly find in factory firmware.


So we come to Tomato, one of the more popular open-source firmware options. It will run on most routers that use Broadcom chips (as mentioned, Linksys, ASUS and Netgear primarily use Broadcom) and will give your router a whole mess of features it probably didn’t have before. Some of these include: Full VPN support, client and server, with unlimited tunnels. Wireless device detection and noise/power auditing, so you can more easily see where your performanc­e problems lie. Advanced USB support, including support for storage and DLNA media services; 3G/LT modems that can be used as a primary or backup internet connection; USB printer sharing and even uninterrup­table power supply monitoring. Direct BitTorrent downloadin­g to an attached hard drive. Virtual LAN support as well as SNMP management for corporate environmen­ts. Bandwidth graphing and usage reporting and well as user-based limiting. Business-style guest Wi-Fi with a web sign in page (such as many hotels have). DNSCrypt support for more secure DNS connection­s. Advanced parental controls, including time and usage based, as well as content filtering through baked-in OpenDNS support. Tor support for all network traffic for the truly paranoid (though setting this up is not for the faint of heart). In terms of user interfaces, Tomato is probably a little more complicate­d that what you’re used to, and there is no easy mobile app to get things up and running. That’s true of most open firmwares, though we’d argue that Tomato is considerab­ly more accessible than DD-WRT or OpenWRT.


As with most open firmware, the real trick is

getting Tomato onto your router. On some routers, it can be easy, on others you have to go through a complex dance to convince your router to accept firmware that’s not from the official vendor.

To start with, we should note that there isn’t just one version of Tomato. Being open source, it has forked a number of times as different developers have taken and modified the base version. The semi-official version can be found at, but that’s not the most popular version of the firmware. The most popular version is Shibby’s build, which can be found at Shibby’s version has a large variety of features not found in the base version.

But that’s not the version we recommend. At the moment, we really like AdvancedTo­mato ( advancedto­, which took Shibby’s version of Tomato and gave it a user interface facelift. It looks and works more like a modern router UI that Shibby’s more archaic look. It’s otherwise identical to Shibby.

To get AdvancedTo­mato onto your router, you should follow these steps.

Before you do anything, you should check if it works with your router. Go to advancedto­mato.

com/downloads, where you’ll see a visual list of the router models it works with. If your router is not there, you’re out of luck for this version. You can try Shibby’s instead and look for the router list there, which includes a number of models not supported by AdvancedTo­mato. If you’re still not supported, you probably don’t have a Broadcom-based router. Your best bet for an open-source firmware, then, is DD-WRT ( which also supports Qualcomm Atheros routers.

Assuming your router is listed, click on the link, then download the latest build for that router. This should download a .bin or .trx file to your computer.

Hopefully, the router also has a flashing guide, with specific instructio­ns for that router model. Click on the Flashing Guide and follow the instructio­ns carefully. If there’s no flashing guide, we’d suggest Googling for a guide on installing Tomato/Shibby on your router model.

In most cases, the process is fairly easy — you first factory reset the router using either the built-in tool or by using the 30/30/30 hard reset (see right). Then you log back in and use the firmware upgrade tool built into the factory firmware and point it at the .bin/.trx file you downloaded.

That said, we strongly recommend always looking up a guide for your router before just assuming this process will work. A lot of routers have quirks; some, for example, might require that you downgrade to an older factory firmware before upgrading.

Once you’ve upgraded, go to in your web browser, which is the default IP address of the Tomato admin interface. Log in using the username and password: admin/ admin. You should (hopefully) now see Tomato before you, ready to be explored. Take your time, and check out the forums and Wiki on the AdvancedTo­mato or Shibby’s site for guides to things you might fund confusing. There’s a lot here, and it may take some getting used to!

 ??  ?? The factory firmware on a Linksys router, which Tomato will replace.
The factory firmware on a Linksys router, which Tomato will replace.
 ??  ?? Tomato commonly supports Linksys, Netgear and ASUS routers.
Tomato commonly supports Linksys, Netgear and ASUS routers.
 ??  ?? Shibby’s Tomato build is the most popular version of the firmware.
Shibby’s Tomato build is the most popular version of the firmware.
 ??  ?? In most cases, the standard firmware update tool works.
In most cases, the standard firmware update tool works.
 ??  ?? One of Tomato’s strongest features is its ability to provide detailed informatio­n on Wi-Fi connection­s and noise levels.
One of Tomato’s strongest features is its ability to provide detailed informatio­n on Wi-Fi connection­s and noise levels.
 ??  ?? AdvancedTo­mato has the same features as Shibby, but a better user interface
AdvancedTo­mato has the same features as Shibby, but a better user interface

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