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VNC vs RDP: Which remote access method is better?

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  • 6 min read

Remote access has become an important part of modern computing, enabling users to connect to and control a computer or server from a distant location. Among the various remote access protocols available, Virtual Network Computing (VNC) and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) stand out as two popular options. Both serve the same purpose, but they differ in various terms as well.

This article discusses what are VNC and RDP, a comparison between VNC and RDP with a brief comparison table.

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What is VNC?

Virtual Network Computing (VNC) is a tool for sharing desktops, and it works through a protocol called RFB. When you use VNC, you’re able to control a computer from a distance while the main user observes and interacts with what you’re doing. Unlike some systems, VNC focuses on pixels rather than the detailed graphic structure, which makes it flexible but not as efficient. It’s commonly used in situations like technical support and education.

For instance, if you’re a technical support agent assisting a client with software installation, VNC allows you to connect to their computer. This connection provides you with access to their desktop, enabling you to guide them step-by-step through the installation process as if you were doing it yourself. One notable aspect of VNC is its platform independence, allowing you to use various cross-platform applications like TightVNC and RealVNC to share your desktop across different computers.


What is RDP?

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a technology created by Microsoft that enables users to remotely control and access another computer or server through a graphical interface. While it’s a standard feature in Windows, RDP is versatile and compatible with other operating systems such as Linux and macOS.

RDP stands out as a secure protocol because it employs RC4 (Rivest Cipher 4) encryption and supports smart card authentication while also backing Transport Layer Security. When using RDP, you have the ability to run applications and make changes to files on a remote server or computer, almost as if you were physically present on that device. Additionally, certain RDP clients come equipped with features to minimise bandwidth, enhancing data transfer rates and execution speed even when dealing with slower connections.


Differences between VNC and RDP

Performance

One of the key factors to consider when choosing between VNC and RDP is performance. RDP typically offers better performance, providing a smoother and more responsive user experience. RDP is optimised for Windows environments, making it an excellent choice for users who primarily access Windows-based systems.

VNC, on the other hand, may exhibit slightly lower performance compared to RDP. The performance can vary depending on the implementation and network conditions. However, VNC is platform-independent, making it compatible with a broader range of operating systems.


Platform Compatibility

VNC is known for its cross-platform compatibility. It is not limited to a specific operating system and can be used to connect to machines running Windows, Linux, macOS, and more. This makes VNC a versatile choice for heterogeneous environments where different operating systems coexist.

RDP, while widely supported on Windows platforms, may have limited support on non-Windows systems. However, there are third-party RDP clients available for certain operating systems, expanding its reach to some extent.


Security

Security is a critical aspect of remote access. RDP is generally considered more secure than VNC due to its encryption capabilities. RDP encrypts the entire session, ensuring that data transferred between the local and remote machines is secure. Additionally, it supports Network Level Authentication (NLA), which adds an extra layer of security by requiring user authentication before establishing a connection.

VNC, by default, may lack the same level of encryption and security features as RDP. However, modern implementations of VNC, such as VNC Connect, have introduced encryption and password protection to enhance security.

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Functionality

VNC works by exchanging images over the network, making it slower compared to RDP. However, this pixel-based protocol makes it simpler to share screens across different platforms when comparing VNC and RDP.

On the other hand, RDP deals with the graphic layout, making it more efficient with compressed data. RDP allows you to log into a computer and create a desktop session, enabling the sharing of resources on the same computer among remote users through different profiles.


Use cases

VNC serves as a screen-sharing tool, allowing users to control remote devices. It’s a great choice for remote customer support and educational presentations, as everyone can view and interact with the same screen. Whether troubleshooting technical issues or conducting regular maintenance, VNC proves to be a valuable tool for IT experts. This is a significant improvement from the past, where tech professionals could only guide customers verbally, often resulting in lengthy and less effective processes.

On the other hand, RDP doesn’t function as a screen-sharing platform but rather as a resource-sharing one. When a user connects from one device to another, be it a computer or server, they have an independent connection. For example, if 5 users connect to a remote server through RDP, each operates separately and uses the server’s resources individually. In contrast, with VNC, those 5 users share a single desktop, having simultaneous access to the mouse, keyboard, and screen.


Comparison Table

Here’s a comparison table summarising the key differences between VNC and RDP:

FeatureVNCRDP (Remote Desktop Protocol)
PurposeDesktop sharing and control from a distanceRemote customer support, education, and IT tasks
ProtocolRFB (Remote Frame Buffer)Proprietary RDP protocol
PerformanceGenerally lower performance compared to RDPGenerally offers better performance, optimised for Windows environments
Platform CompatibilityCross-platform (Windows, Linux, macOS, etc.)Primarily associated with Windows, with some support for other operating systems through third-party clients
SecurityMay have varying security levels; modern implementations include encryption and password protectionGenerally considered more secure due to encryption capabilities, supports Network Level Authentication (NLA)
FunctionalityFocuses on pixel-based exchange, allowing cross-platform screen sharingRemote control and access to another computer or server
Use CasesRemote customer support, education and IT tasksRemote administration, accessing applications/files on a remote server or computer
Resource SharingUsers share a single desktop, accessing mouse, keyboard, and screen simultaneouslyUsers have independent connections, using resources on the remote server individually
Deals with graphic layout and compressed data, enabling the creation of desktop sessions with independent connectionsEmphasises flexibility but sacrifices some efficiencyOptimised for Windows environments, providing a smoother and more responsive user experience

Which remote access method is better?

The choice between VNC and RDP depends on specific requirements, preferences, and the context of use. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and the better option can vary based on factors such as performance needs, security considerations, and the operating systems involved.

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Akash Singh

Akash Singh

Akash is a law graduate who likes to go for bike rides on the weekends soul-searching for answers to his many existential questions. You can contact him here: singhakash95@pm.me

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