Difference between Hardware and Software firewall

In this day and age, computer viruses are just the norm and to prevent a system from acquiring them, a firewall is a must. You may not know this but there are two types of firewalls, the software-based or hardware based, and choosing one is actually not that difficult when you know what your system needs.


Hardware vs Software firewall
Juniper SSG5, a hardware-based firewall

Hardware Firewall – When talking about hardware, it pertains to the physical elements that constitute a system. That being said, a hardware-based firewall specializes in securing your local network. It is a stand-alone product that can be purchased and will typically be used on broadband routers. It often provides users better security than software firewalls, but it comes with a higher price.

How a hardware firewall operates

  • A hardware firewall will use packet filtering (network access control by filtering incoming and outgoing messages or packets) to your system from your network.
  • It will examine the header (a unit of information) of a packet to determine the source and where it’s headed.
  • This information will now be compared to a set of rules (pre-defined or user-created) and will then be forwarded through, or dropped.

A hardware firewall can cost from $35 to $500, depending on features and brand.

software firewall
Pre-installed software firewall on Windows Operating System

Software Firewall – Also known as personal firewall, it is the most commonly used firewall and is often run as a program on a computer system. It is customizable, allowing the user to control its functionality and protection features. One thing a software firewall lacks on a network is that it can only secure or protect the system where it was installed, unlike with hardware-based firewalls.

How a software firewall operates

  • A software firewall also uses packet filtering on your system.
  • Can easily distinguish between applications or programs on a system to allow data to one program while blocking another.
  • Can filter outgoing data.

A software firewall can go in price from ‘free’ to $50, depending on the features and brand.

Hardware vs Software Firewall

What’s the difference between a hardware firewall and software firewall? It actually is vast and choice between the two will depend on the firewall’s usage.

A hardware firewall will have the better security, and is preferred by most business users. It is however a little bit more expensive than a software firewall, and settings configuration may require more complex knowledge of system networks for a better and preferred performance. A software firewall on the other hand would cost less and settings configuration is often simpler. It is preferred by most home users.

So to summarize, it all comes down to the user’s judgment on what he/she needs. But don’t get me wrong though; one can acquire a hardware firewall while having a software firewall at the same time. It even provides more security, but also comes with more configurations and is more costly.

Comparison Chart

Hardware Firewall Software Firewall
More Expensive Less Expensive
More Secure Less Secure
Takes time to distinguish programs Easily distinguishes programs
Recommended for Business users Recommended for home users


Here is a refreshing video explaining how hardware and software firewalls work.