17 Differences Between Firewall and WAF

Differences Between Firewall and WAF

If you do not know the differences between Firewall and WAF, it will not be easy to make your final decision. In that case this article will be of great help with all the major differences enlisted in one place.

Moreover, the ā€˜Which is betterā€™ section will help you further in choosing one among a network and an application Firewall. Or, figure out whether or not you should deploy both.


  • A regular Firewall ensures the security of the LAN network by preventing unauthorized access while a Web Application Firewall protects the web apps.
  • There are different types of regular Firewalls available based on hardware, software and cloud but there are three types of WAF available, based on network, host and cloud.
  • Regular Firewall follows transparent and routed mode of operation but WAF follows active and passive inspection mode of operation.

The 17 Differences Between Firewall and WAF

Firewall vs WAF

1. Fundamentals

A regular Firewall will control access to a secured LAN network and prevent unauthorized access.

It will reside on the perimeter of the network and act as a barrier to block non-legit incoming traffic from entering and causing an attack to the network. It will allow only those that pass the preset conditions.

On the other hand, a Web Application Firewall protects the web applications from HTTP/S and other security vulnerabilities based on web apps.

2. OSI Layer Coverage

While the regular Firewall will cover only Layer 3 and Layer 4 of the Operating System Interconnection model, the Web Application Firewall will cover Layer 7 of the model.

3. Types

You will get different types of hardware, software and cloud based regular Firewalls such as Packet Filter or Static Firewall, Stateful Inspection Firewall, Application Layer Firewalls, Next Generation or Intelligent Firewalls, Circuit Level Gateways and more.

On the other hand, you will get three major types of Web Application Firewalls such as network based Web Application Firewalls, host based Web Application Firewalls and cloud based Web Application Firewalls.

4. Modes of Operating

The regular network Firewall will follow the transparent mode and routed mode of operation.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall will follow the active inspection mode as well as passive mode of operation.

5. Distributed Denial of Service Protection

The regular Firewall will offer DDoS protection only at the basic level at the network layer.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall will offer Distributed Denial of Service protection at the application layer and website level.

6. Target Objects Protection

The regular Firewall offers protection to organizational and user IT assets that include servers, applications, and management.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall protects servers based on HTTP or HTTPs as well as from the apps placed within the internet facing zones of the network Firewall.

7. Data Protection

A regular Firewall protects data when it leaves the network, but, in comparison, the Web Application Firewall offers protection for data when it moves through the network.

8. Placement with Respect to the Network

The regular Firewall is placed at the boundary of the network, which generally is the internet zone.

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On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall is placed close to internet or web facing applications or before the application and servers.

9. Web Application Protection

A regular Firewall will offer only minimal protection as far as the web applications are concerned.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall will provide an all-inclusive web app protection along with total coverage of application layers.

10. Access Control

A regular Firewall is designed to provide access control but, in comparison, the Web Application Firewall is not able to provide such controls.

11. Algorithms

The algorithms used by regular Firewall to provide protection to the network include packet filtering, proxy and stateful or stateless inspection.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall uses signature based algorithms, anomaly detection and heuristics for the same.

12. Allied Attacks Protection

A regular Firewall will provide associated attack protection from less secure zones and from the unauthorized users who try to access the private networks.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall will provide protection from SQL injection, DDoS and XSS attacks.

13. Action Determining Parameters

The regular Firewall considers the port numbers and IP addresses as the parameters to decide whether to block or allow the external network traffic.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall takes the contents of communication on the application layer along with the Hypertext Transfer Protocol into account while determining whether or not it should allow the network traffic.

14. Target Traffic

A regular Firewall targets the traffic to the private networks but, on the other hand, the Web Application Firewall targets the app traffic in order to decide whom to block and whom to allow.

15. Working Process

The regular network Firewall works by filtering the network traffic by using the protocol information.

You can also set the rules for determining authentic traffic based on several factors such as IP ranges, ICMP or Internet Control Message Protocol types, ports and others. Based on these parameters the Firewall will monitor the activity of the traffic right from the opening of the connection till it is closed.

On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall works as a reverse proxy. It examines all HTTP requests before they are allowed to reach the web server.

It will also test or block irregular traffic by performing CAPTCHA tests in order to make sure that the traffic or request is from a human and not a robot.

16. Strengths

The Firewall can block unauthorized protocols, IP addresses, and ports and at the same time it can offer VPN or Virtual Private Network support.

On the other hand, the strengths of the Web Application Firewall are that it follows customizable rules and conditional filtering.

It also limits upload sizes and allows integrating Intrusion Protection System or IPS and Intrusion Detection System or IDS. It can also inspect and decrypt SSL or Secure Sockets Layer traffic and offers visibility into packet data.

17. Weaknesses

As for the weaknesses, the Firewall can only follow Accept or Reject Rules and is not able to decrypt traffic. If it has to inspect SSL traffic then things are slowed down considerably.

Also, it is not quite efficient in preventing client-side attacks. Moreover, it allows deploying IDS and IPS separately and can have visibility into the packet headers only which creates vulnerability for SQL injection attacks.

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On the other hand, the Web Application Firewall may provide false positives and false negatives and are not good at preventing zero-day exploits.

Moreover, WAF is also not able to provide adequate protection for the publicly accessed websites and may also cause re-infections due to shared servers.

Which is Better to ImplementĀ  – Firewall or WAF?

Differences Between Firewall and WAF

Ideally, both Firewall and Web Application Firewall are designed with the same goal of protecting a network of computers from unwanted traffic.

However, both come with their significant share of pros and cons which makes choosing one among them quite difficult.

Still, the benefits offered by the Web Application Firewall against its downsides seem to be a bit on the higher side of the scale when compared with the pros and cons ratio of the regular Firewall.

Therefore, before implementing any one among them in your network you should be absolutely sure about your requirements so you choose a security measure that is better for you. And, there lies the problem.

While one school of thought may consider a regular Firewall is better to use than a Web Application Firewall because it may be enough for them to have perimeter security offered by it for a secured traffic flow, others may favor the latter for its ability to protect their network from Layer 7 attacks.

Therefore, you should not only know about the differences as mentioned above but also know a few other facts about a regular Firewall and a Web Application Firewall as mentioned below.

This will make it easy for you to decide yourself which among the two is better for you.

Ideally a Web Application Firewall will offer you a slightly better and wider protection against network attacks, and therefore, can be considered to be better than a regular Firewall.

Typically, a Web Application Firewall will protect against those publicly exposed services such as:

  • The web applications
  • APIs or Application Programming Interfaces and
  • Webhooks.

A Web Application Firewall will also protect your computer network from different attacks such as:

  • SQLi or Structured Query Language injection
  • Broken authentication
  • XSS or Cross site scripting
  • Cross site forgery
  • Directory traversal
  • DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service and
  • Access control attacks.

In comparison, a regular Firewall will protect your computers from specific network attacks by monitoring, managing, inspecting and prohibiting inbound network traffic for malicious attacks.

These attacks include and are not limited to:

  • Unauthorized network access
  • Privilege Escalations
  • Man in the Middle Attacks and
  • DDoS attacks but only at the network level.

However, a regular Firewall may not always be capable of detecting insider threats. In such situations, the Web Application Firewall will be very helpful.

Technically speaking, a Web Application Firewall refers to that particular network security firewall solution which will protect web applications from HTTP/S as well as other web app-based security vulnerabilities.

A Web Application Firewall will inspect all HTTP traffic to find malicious apps between the external users and the apps themselves and prevent them from gaining access.

It will also protect from app layer attacks and non-day threats on mission critical web servers and apps.

And, on the other hand, a regular Firewall refers to the security device that will control access to a protected Local Area Network or LAN so that there is no unauthorized access that can cause an attack.

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Therefore, a regular Firewall is nothing more than just a filter that will block the incoming non-legitimate traffic and separate the secured higher security zone inside the network from a low security zone outside it.

The main purpose of a Firewall is to control inbound and outbound communications between two devices.

Therefore, the Web Application Firewall is becoming more and more important to protect novel digital initiatives that the modern day businesses embark upon which exposes the APIs and web apps to malicious attacks along with their entire network.

The Firewall will protect the internet traffic of the entire organization but the Web Application Firewall will offer protection at a more granular level.

Ideally, you should use a Web Application Firewall if:

  • Protecting web applications is your top priority while the application
  • You are an application developer or write codes for an application and
  • You want better operating modes.

On the other hand, you should use a regular Firewall if:

  • You want to protect individual users or network of individuals in the organizational network
  • You are more concerned about your IT network and Local Area Networks than your applications
  • Your systems run on non-hybrid network and not depend on SaaS
  • You want better access control and
  • You want higher detection accuracy.

However, at this point it is important to remember that the Web Application Firewall will not be able to safeguard against network-layer attacks.

Therefore, it should not be used as a solitary security measure but as a supplement to others instead of using it as a replacement of a regular Firewall.

This will surely not compete with each other but will complement one another to offer the best network protection.

While one will protect against a specific threat the other will offer protection from a wider range of traffic.

Consequently, it is wise to have both in place, especially if the operating systems are all web-based.

And, if you are only using a web server, then installing a Web Application Firewall should be your best option.

Ideally, considering the cyber landscape scenario of today, choosing any one between a regular Firewall and a Web Application Firewall will still leave your network vulnerable to specific attacks.

This is because the modern security threats are more sophisticated and businesses that use public clouds, SaaS solutions, or follow BYOD or Bring Your Own Device policies among its employees will find a Web Application Firewall to be better to use, though both are recommended.


So, through this article, now you surely know that Web Application Firewall and traditional Firewall are akin in definition but differ vitally in the security type offered and also in their overall function.

With this awareness now you know which is the best security solution for a network in any scenario.

About Taylor

AvatarTaylor S. Irwin is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience.

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