I bought a new wireless router in January 2017. It is a TP-Link Archer MR200 version 1.
A router is a kind of computer with memory, processor and so on. And software to run it. I have upgraded the software, firmware, on the router to the May 2018 release, provided by TP-Link. It is the latest available software, and most likely the last update they ever will provide.
Router software, like other software, can over time be improved with new features, more user friendly, and with bug fixes as well as security fixes. I have understood that the life time when the manufacturer provides updates of the software is very limited, far shorter than the life time of the hardware. I understand my router is not an exception, it is a rather common situation.
Of course, newer hardware can have better functionalities, other radio frequencies, radio power output, power consumption and so on. But the hardware may also still be good enough for years longer than it is supported by the manufacturer.
Beside the "stock firmware" provided by the manufacturer, many routers can also be driven by other software. One other software is OpenWrt.
OpenWrt is a Linux operating system, a free open source software, for embedded devices like routers. It is not only an option when the stock firmware is outdated for the router, it is actually in my understanding a good software to use also from start.
If a router (be carful with exact version) can use OpenWrt or not can be found in their data base. They also have a separate list listing recommended routers for new purchase.
My router, the TP-Link Archer MR200 version 1, is listed as working and good enough for the latest release of OpenWrt.
Each router model has its own page with its details how the software is swapped from stock firmware to OpenWrt.
I go to the page for my router. In my case, I should swap with help of TFTP; Trivial File Transfer Protocol. Apparently, my router has a built in TFTP server and I need to have a TFTP client on the computer I use to upload the new firmware to the router.
The instruction actually recommend the Tftpd64 software to run on Windows. This software includes both server and client and has a graphical user interface, rather old style like Windows 95 or so. I installed and opened it successfully on Windows 10. But I did not use it as I wanted to use a Linux operating computer.
So, on my laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad T430s) I have Debian 12.1 (Bookworm) operating system installed. I installed the tftp-hpa software, which is a TFTP client. Actually I installed also the tftpd-hpa software, the corresponding TFTP server, which I later understood was not needed. Tftp-hpa is a command line software only, so no graphical interface.
The process for my router (again, specific routines for each router model), is that I turn off my router, connect my laptop to an ethernet port (much preferred to do this firmware swap with cable and not wireless), disconnect everything else, change internet connection to manual and state the specific IP, subnet mask and DNS/Gateway details provided, then start my TFTP client, turn on the router, push the WPS/reset button on the router until it starts to upload and flash the new firmware I have downloaded to my laptop.
But how should the router know where I have stored the file? Despite reading documentation, search the internet, I could not understood where I should store the file to upload. It was also unclear to me if I should need to do a connect command, and a put file command (upload command) or only needed to start the client.
I had to do a couple of trials that failed until I had success.
My conclusion is that I needed to place the file in the folder /srv/tftp/ (this directory was created at installation, not by me). If my connect command (to the IP address) was needed or not, I do not know. Anyway, when I got this working, the firmware swap was fast and no issue.
I could then, after changing internet connection to the ordinary dynamic, connect to the router with the browser (Firefox in my case), in same manner as with the old stock firmware. Now I am ready with the TFTP.
After quick review and setting of this initial OpenWrt software via the web interface, it was time to flash the router with the real and new software. This was done in the more usual way: I downloaded the latest OpenWrt 22.03.05, released 1 May 2023, to my computer and uploaded it to the router via the web interface.
After that I have configured the radio so I can use the wireless WLAN as well. My router is up and running with an updated and secure software!
I still have a lot to explore. I have not configured a guest network. I still have an issue to connect to the router while I am connected upstream to the WAN. But I believe I will find out and learn. By the way, there is also a software provided in the instruction if I ever want to go back to the stock firmware. OpenWrt has an extensive documentation as well as a user forum. When I learn to use OpenWrt, it will also be a learning for future when I have a new router with OpenWrt.
I like that my router is up-to-date with its software! A software that extend the life time of my hardware. A software which also is free and open source, with more features and configuration possibilities than the original stock firmware. On the downside, it has a learning curve.
10 August 2023