Create a Configuration Profile to Simplify VPN Setup on iPhones and iPads

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VPN setup can be complex, especially for less experienced users. It may involve installing various certificate files as well as configuring server settings. Create a configuration profile and this will be as easy as downloading and tapping a file.

This can help you save yourself some time in the future, guide family members through connecting to your VPN, or provide easy VPN setup for employees of small organizations without a mobile-device management server.

Get Apple Configurator

Previously, this was possible using an Apple-created tool known as the iPhone Configuration Utility. This was available for both Windows and Mac OS X. However, as of iOS 8, the iPhone Configuration Utility is deprecated and no longer provided by Apple.

This is still possible with the Apple Configurator utility, which you can get from the Mac App Store. However, there’s no longer an official way to do this on Windows. You could potentially hunt down an old copy of the iPhone Configuration Utility, but it’s no longer officially supported — you’re better off doing this with Apple Configurator on a Mac.

Create a Profile With Your VPN Settings

You can use the Apple Configurator utility to create profiles with a wide variety of settings, but we’re focusing on VPN ones here.

To start creating a profile, select the Prepare section. Under Settings, toggle the Supervision slider to “On.” You’ll see an empty list of profiles appear at the bottom of the window. Click the plus sign and select Create New Profile.

The settings in the General section let you name the profile, enter a name for your organization, provide a description for what the profile does, and choose a consent message that appears when users install the profile.

You must provide a name for the profile — name it something like “VPN Setup” or “VPN Setup for [Organization].” The other fields here aren’t mandatory.

There are many different categories of settings you can configure here, and they’ll enforce different settings on the iPhone or iPad.

For VPN settings, click VPN in the sidebar. Click the Configure button and you’ll be able to set up a VPN like you would on an iOS device, choosing the type of VPN server, name, address, account, password, and other authentication methods.

If users have different usernames and passwords, you can leave those fields blank. Users will be asked for their username and password on their device after they try to connect to the VPN.

If you have multiple VPNs you’d like to set up so users can choose between them on their devices, click the plus sign to add additional VPN server configurations to the profile.

If you need to include certificates for connecting to the VPN server, scroll down in the left pane, select Certificates, and provide a certificate file. Click the plus button to add additional certificates, if you need to provide more than one.

These certificate files will be bundled inside the profile, so they make it much easier to set up a VPN that needs certificates — just install the single profile file.

Export the Profile

Click the Save button and you’ll see your new profile appear in the Profiles box. You could connect devices to your Mac via a USB cable and use this tool to install the profile on them. However, that often isn’t the most convenient option.

Instead, you’ll want to click the Export icon below the Profiles box — that’s the icon to the right of the minus sign. This will turn the profile you created into a profile file.

You now have a profile file with the file extension .mobileconfig. Install this file on an iPhone or iPad to automatically configure your VPN settings.

Install the Profile

You’ll need to make the file available to your iOS devices. If you have a website, you could just host it on your website. iPhone and iPad users could  visit the web page, download the .mobileconfig file by tapping a link, and install it.

Bear in mind that you probably don’t want to host this file on a public-facing website, of course.

You could also just email the .mobileconfig file to people who need to connect to the VPN. They can open the Mail app and tap the .mobileconfig file sent as an email attachment to install the profile on their device.

Users will be prompted to install the profile with a few taps. The process ensures users don’t accidentally install malicious profiles, and it tells them which settings are provided by the profile.

If a user wants to uninstall the profile later, they can open the Settings app, tap the General category, and tap Profile to see a list of installed profiles. If you don’t see the “Profile” option, your device doesn’t have any profiles installed.


You can use this method to provide other settings to your iOS devices, too. They can all be bundled together inside a single profile file.

Image Credit: LWYang on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.