AsteriskNOW vs FreePBX vs Asterisk – What are the Differences?

There’s a lot of discussion going on about Asterisk vs AsteriskNOW vs FreePBX software. Most users, especially the amateurs, want to know about their features and differences. 

First of all, all three of them are open source, communications software that is free to download and use. These PBX software tools are widely used across the globe for building communications applications. These are prominent software with millions of downloads and what is common about them is the fact that they are related with PBXs.

asterisknow vs freepbx vs asterisk

So what is the actual difference between AsteriskNOW, FreePBX and Asterisk? Let’s see.



AsteriskNOW is the newest and fastest way to develop and create custom telephonic solutions with the use of Asterisk. It is an open source software toolkit- a customized Linux distribution that comprises Asterisk + Asterisk GUI and a few other software that are useful for Asterisk. The Asterisk GUI provided helps you easily configure your Asterisk system, even if you don’t have extreme technical expertise.

AsteriskNOW is the official Digium distribution with which you can install CentOS + Asterisk in just one step. It is a light distribution which does not need extra installations.

To run AsteriskNOW, you simply need to download the .iso file and burn it to a CD. Place this CD in a DVD or CD drive on the target PC and within a few minutes you will get your hands on a fully functional Asterisk toolkit ready to build custom communications applications.

One of the main downsides is that it does not offer preloaded support for the competitors’ PSTN cards like for Sangoma. You need to install these drivers individually.

AsteriskNOW Pros

  • Officially distribution maintained by Digium
  • Light
  • Solid support available
  • Safe to use

AsteriskNOW Cons

  • Extra installations need to be done manually

Important Note: AsteriskNOW is now FreePBX. Meaning, AsteriskNOW is folded into the existing FreePBX Distro, thus reaping benefits from the resources of both companies. Due to this, users will be able to get their hands on a stable, go-to distribution to build their applications as per their requirements. 

If you do not use distro, FreePBX and Asterisk are available in the form of tarball, so you can install it in your desired distribution. People already using AsteriskNOW can continue to use and upgrade it without any issues.



FreePBX is an open-source, web-based GUI (Graphical User Interface) that you can use to manage and control Asterisk. In short, it is a GUI built upon Asterisk, thus making it easier for users to deploy PBX through Asterisk as a core. If you use FreePBX, you don’t have to manually write Asterisk configuration files and dial plans. If you are a newbie, it is better to run Asterisk with the help of FreePBX rather than alone.

Today, there is also a FreePBX distribution available which you can use to download and install an ISO file. It allows you to install Linux (an advanced version of CentOS) in a single step that includes Apache, MySQL, Asterisk, FreePBX and other useful software.

FreePBX overly simplifies the configuration of Asterisk. For this, it makes use of MySQL and PHP to build a clearly understandable depiction. This helps you set up extensions, users, trunks and other key elements of the Asterisk configuration with ease.

Even people who are not a pro tech whiz can handle administration of Asterisk using FreePBX. FreePBX was originally developed by Schmooze Com, Inc. which was later acquired by the parent organization Sangoma Technologies Corporation in 2015. Sangoma is the current developer of the software now.

You can install FreePBX manually, but most users install it through FreePBX Distro that includes Asterisk + the Linux OS + FreePBX GUI. Now, FreePBX is compatible with most SIP trunking and hardware providers, besides you also have the option of buying the official Sangoma Hardware. This includes the phone systems that support around 350 calls simultaneously, numerous phone lines, Sangoma IP phones and SIPStation SIP trunking that is by default present in the FreePBX UI. If you want, FreePBX is also able to host your system on their server.

While FreePBX is free, adding modules and commercial add-ons will impose charges. Key point is that users get solid support from the wide developers’ community of FreePBX to modify the toolkit in various ways.

FreePBX Pros

  • Today, it has become a standard web-based GUI for Asterisk
  • Solid community support available
  • Speeds up configuration of Asterisk
  • Almost all open-source distributions available today virtually make use of FreePBX
  • High customization level
  • No limitations to trunks and extensions
  • Long-term licensing

FreePBX Cons

  • Full control can only be gained through using the command line eventually
  • Time-consuming installation process
  • No inbuilt CRM and video calling integrations
  • Advanced features are only accessible through modules purchase

Who is FreePBX for?

FreePBX is ideal for businesses seeking cost-effective and highly customizable software. You need to have basic knowledge about coding, SIP trunking, PBX technology and app development to use FreePBX efficiently. It is meticulously built for students, app developers, hackers and systems integrators who want to develop custom Asterisk-based solutions.


asterisk pbx

Asterisk is open source software developed by Mark Spencer, CTO of Digium, Inc. The company sponsors most of Asterisk’s development. This communications toolkit is written in C language and it is not ready-to-use right out of the box. Asterisk comprises various functionalities and a user needs to have enough expertise to create something leveraging it. Now by “something” we mean most commonly PBX, but you can also create other elements such as an automated call distributor, video mail system, voicemail system, contact center software, and so much more. Before making calls, it requires many steps such as downloading, compiling, installation and various configurations to execute tasks. 

Basically, Asterisk acts as a fundamental platform which you can use to build bigger applications of varied nature, and not just telephony. Users can create applications based on integration of data and any other computer system for telephonic interactions. You can even integrate modern IoT technologies to create a unique software telephony solution through Asterisk. 

You can install it on any Linux distribution including CentOS, Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, openSUSE, RedHat and so on. Not just that, you can also install it on MacOS, FreeBSD or on a few ports for Windows. However, it only offers full operational support for Linux distributions. This means that you can use any PC and transform it into an open-source, free telephonic server.

To specialize in Asterisk, Digium offers two exclusive certifications, viz.

  • dCAA (Digium Certified Asterisk Administrator)
  • dCAP (Digium Certified Asterisk Professional)

Digium endorses both the certification programs, thereby accrediting the candidate to possess the essential expertise required to install and configure an Asterisk-based communication server. But, this can be executed only using the command line, which gives user control but also is a bit complex.

Asterisk Pros

  • Flexible and free VoIP solution
  • User gets full control over the toolkit to configure it as per their needs and upgrade at any times
  • SIP configurations are adaptable
  • During compilation, your IP switch will adapt to your computer system’s architecture
  • Graphic interfaces do not enforce any restrictions
  • You get to choose the modules for compiling

Asterisk Cons

  • Every configuration needs to be done manually
  • Programming using only the command line may be difficult for some people
  • User is likely to face various bugs and difficulties to solve
  • Implementation is time-consuming

For most users, configuring the toolkit via the command line feels complex. This is the reason why myriads of companies and communities have created their own versions of simplified Asterisk by developing all-in-one distributions. This makes it easier to download, install, compile and configure an IP switch.

Who is Asterisk for?

Asterisk is ideal for tech experts who like to write long command lines and dial plans by hand and are able to debug issues that may arise.

Wrap Up

Regardless of the distribution, FreePBX, AsteriskNOW and Asterisk have one thing in common and that is Asterisk as their core software. All of the three software use Asterisk as their foundation stone upon which they can build the rest of the user experience. If you ask, which one out of FreePBX, Asterisk and AsteriskNOW is best to use? The answer is it all comes down to your personal preference and basic technical knowledge.

Some software do not need extra add-ons, some ask you if you wish to install the integrations, while others come with inbuilt extra software. You can download the Asterisk and FreePBX and try to use them individually. This will give you an idea of how really flexible and reliable both the software are and which one suits you best. 

If you are a beginner with ample coding and app development knowledge, FreePBX will be a great start! Technical experts often prefer Asterisk and like to configure the toolkit via command line to get full control over the features.

Or, you can build your own software from scratch with tools that you prefer and further create a communications solution tailored as per your needs. The decision is completely yours, depending on your taste!

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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