NordVPN’s Meshnet overview

Meshnet is one of NordVPN’s coolest features. By connecting their devices to Meshnet, NordVPN users can:

  • Share files
  • Browse the internet through another Meshnet device
  • Remotely access another Meshnet device and access its LAN network and resources (such as file servers)

All this is done securely using NordVPN’s NordLynx VPN protocol, based on WireGuard. What’s more, since March 2023, Meshnet is free to all. That’s right: you don’t need a paid subscription to use Meshnet; you can use it for free.

In this post, we’ll provide an overview of what Meshnet is and how it works, as well as provide some troubleshooting tips if you run into issues. Let’s start.

What is NordVPN Meshnet?

Meshnet, as its name implies, is a mesh network. A mesh network is a local area network in which each node (each device participating in the mesh network) can directly and dynamically connect to and communicate with every other node in the network. Mesh networks are different from the traditional hub and spoke networks, in which multiple client devices rely on a single centralized server to manage communication throughout the network. Mesh networks are non-hierarchical, and each member node can freely communicate with any other node without mediation from a server.

NordVPN’s Meshnet is precisely that. The NordVPN team has designed a mesh network service optimized for file-sharing, network routing, and remote access. It’s very easy to set up and use – and it’s completely free.

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Configuring Meshnet

To use NordVPN’s Meshnet, you’ll need at least two devices. Meshnet allows you to connect up to 60 devices as part of a Meshnet network. Ten of those can be your own devices (on the same account), and another 50 external devices can also join your network.

We’ll review the general setup and provide examples for different use cases.

How to set up Meshnet

  1. First, sign up for NordVPN. You only need to create an account. You don’t need an active subscription (paid plan), unless you want access to Nord’s VPN servers. Meshnet works with the VPN on or off. Once downloaded and installed, launch the NordVPN app and sign in. I’ll be doing this on macOS.
  2. Click the Meshnet icon on the left side of the app. The Meshnet page is displayed.NordVPN Meshnet - Access Meshnet
  3. Toggle the Meshnet switch to On.NordVPN Meshnet - Enable Meshnet
  4. Meshnet is now enabled and displays your Meshnet IP address and device name. Either can be used to communicate with your device over the Meshnet.NordVPN Meshnet - Meshnet Connected
  5. We now need to repeat the above steps on a second device. I’ll be using an iPhone.
  6. Once the NordVPN app is installed and launched on your second device, sign in and select the Mesnet icon at the bottom of the UI.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Access Meshnet
  7. The Meshnet page is displayed. Click the TURN ON button.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Turn On Meshnet
  8. If the VPN was active prior to turning Meshnet on, you’ll be prompted to reconnect the VPN. Click Reconnect.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Reconnect VPN
  9. Once the VPN reconnects, Meshnet is active and displays your Meshnet IP address and device name. Click Manage devices to see the other devices that are part of your Meshnet network.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Meshnet Enabled
  10. We can see the macOS computer’s name, IP, and Meshnet settings. Click the arrow on the right for more details and to make changes to the permissions.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Manage Devices
  11. We can see that remote access and file sharing with the macOS computer is allowed, but traffic routing is not. To enable that, we need to do it on the Mac. Traffic cannot be routed through a mobile device (iOS & Android); it can only be routed through a computer (Windows, macOS, Linux). Also, mobile devices cannot allow remote access to their file system or LAN and local resources; only computers can do that.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Mesnet Options
  12. Back on the Mac, we can see the iPhone as part of our mesh network.NordVPN Meshnet - iPhone Added
  13. Click on the three dots to the right to allow the iPhone to route its traffic through the Mac device.NordVPN Meshnet - Allow Traffic Routing
  14. Let’s do the same for local network access so we can provide examples of all three use cases.NordVPN Meshnet - Allow Local Net
  15. We can now see that we’ve granted the iPhone device full permissions to access our Mac over the mesh network.NordVPN Meshnet - macOS - Full Permissions
  16. And those permissions are reflected in the iPhone app.NordVPN Meshnet - iPhone - Full Permissions

We’re all set up now. Let’s look at some use-case examples.

Invitations

You can invite other NordVPN users to join your Meshnet network. Meshnet must be enabled for you to send invites.

  1. From the Meshnet page of the NordVPN app, select the External devices tab and click the Link external device button.NordVPN Meshnet - External Devices
  2. The Link external device prompt is displayed. Enter the user’s email address, select the permissions you wish to grant that user, and click the Send invitation button. Once they accept your invitation and enable Meshnet, they’ll be part of your network.NordVPN Meshnet - External Device Invitation
  3. Your sent and received invitations are displayed in the Invitations tab. Unanswered invitations are automatically deleted after 72 hours.NordVPN Meshnet - Invitations Tab

File sharing

We’ll provide a file-sharing example from the iPhone to the Mac computer.

  1. Go to the Meshnet page in the iOS app and select Share files.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Share Files
  2. You’re prompted to select between Photos and Files. In this example, I’ll be sharing a file. Select Files. The file picker is displayed.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Select Files
  3. Choose the file you wish to share and click Open. You’re prompted to select the device you want to send the file to. Only one device is listed for me, as only two devices are in my network.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - File Picker
  4. Select the device, and a blue checkmark appears to its left. Then, click Send this to 1 devices.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Send
  5. A notification appears in the macOS app informing you of the transfer request. Click Review.NordVPN Meshnet - File Sharing Notification
  6. You’re prompted to Accept or Decline the file transfer. Click Accept.NordVPN Meshnet - Accept Tranfser
  7. The file is downloaded, and a notification is displayed when complete.NordVPN Meshnet - File Transfer Complete
  8. The file can be found in my Downloads folder (transferred files go to the default download location).NordVPN Meshnet - Downloads Foler

Routing traffic

Meshnet’s traffic routing feature enables one or multiple devices participating in the mesh network to browse the internet through another participating device’s connection. Essentially, this turns your laptop into a VPN server. Only computers in the mesh network can route other devices through its internet connections. Mobile devices cannot.

We’ll provide an example where the iPhone accesses the internet through the Mac computer over Meshnet.

  1. Go to the Meshnet page in the iOS app and select Route traffic.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Select Route Traffic
  2. You’re prompted to select the device through which to route your traffic. Again, only one device is listed for me, as only two devices are in my network. Select the device, and a green checkmark appears to its left.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Enable Route Traffic to macOS
  3. You’re all set. The iPhone’s traffic is routed through the macOS computer. Let’s test this to make sure.
  4. From the macOS computer’s browser, access Comparitech’s IP address page to obtain the Mac’s public IP. The iPhone’s public IP should match this one.NordVPN Meshnet - Comparitech IP Check - Desktop
  5. Let’s do the same thing from the iPhone’s browser.NordVPN Meshnet - Comparitech IP Check - Mobile
  6. Success – they match. The iPhone is accessing the internet through the Mac’s internet connection.

Remote access to LAN resources

Through Meshnet, with the appropriate permissions set, you can even access the host device’s LAN resources, such as file servers or the LAN’s router. In this example, we’ll access the LAN router from the remote iPhone over LTE.

  1. Go to the Meshnet page in the iOS app and select Route traffic.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Select Route Traffic
  2. You’re prompted to select the device through which to route your traffic. Only one device is listed for me, as only two devices are in my network. Select the device, and a green checkmark appears to its left.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Enable Route Traffic to macOS
  3. The iPhone’s traffic is now routed through the macOS computer, and we should have access to its LAN resources, as we enabled that permission in a previous step. We’ll now test by accessing the LAN router’s Web UI.
  4. Our Mac’s LAN subnet is 192.168.0.0/24, so the router is accessible from 192.168.0.1. On the iPhone, we launch a web browser and enter 192.168.0.1. We should get to the router’s login page if everything is set up correctly. Your LAN’s subnet may differ, so replace the IP address in this example with yours (ex. 192.168.1.1, 192.168.2.1, etc.).
  5. We have access – it works.NordVPN Meshnet - Mobile - Remote Router Access

Troubleshooting Meshnet

We’ve provided examples for Meshnet’s three prominent use cases (file-sharing, traffic routing, LAN resources access). But what happens if you run into issues? This section provides troubleshooting tips you should follow if things don’t go according to plan.

Restart the app

If you run into issues using Meshnet, you should first try to restart the app. Yes, it’s a “customer service 101” tip, but it really is the first thing to try. Shut down the NordVPN app and restart it. You’d be surprised just how often that clears up issues.

Disable and re-enable Meshnet

If the above tip didn’t resolve your issue, try disabling and re-enabling Meshnet.

  1. From the NordVPN app on your device, access the Meshnet page. In this example, we’re using the Mac computer.NordVPN Meshnet - Access Meshnet
  2. Turn the Mesnet switch off and back on again.NordVPN Meshnet - Disable & Re-enable Meshnet
  3. Meshnet should now be working as expected.

Disable the VPN

In my testing, I noticed that with both the VPN and Meshnet enabled simultaneously, I would sometimes encounter issues where Meshnet would fail to enable. Simply disabling the VPN, enabling Meshnet, and re-enabling the VPN would fix the issue.

  1. From the NordVPN app on your device, access the Meshnet page. In this example, we’re using the Mac computer.NordVPN Meshnet - Access Meshnet
  2. Disable the VPN by clicking the Disconnect button at the top right of the app.NordVPN Meshnet - Disconnect VPN
  3. Turn the Meshnet to the ON position.NordVPN Meshnet - Enable Meshnet with VPN Off
  4. Re-enable the VPN by clicking the Quick Connect button at the top right of the app (or go back to the app’s main page to select a specific server).NordVPN Meshnet - Reconnect VPN
  5. We now have both Meshnet and the VPN connection enabled.NordVPN Meshnet - Meshnet and VPN On

Still can’t connect? Check that MeshNet and NordVPN aren’t blocked by your firewall. You might need to tweak your wi-fi settings to make your device visible to other devices on the network. Make sure all users have the most up-to-date version of NordVPN installed. NordVPN offers 24/7 live chat support if issues persist.

Wrapping up

NordVPN’s Meshnet is a very cool service that allows you to communicate securely with trusted NordVPN users and devices. It’s also completely free, which makes it even cooler.

We provided examples for most of its use cases and outlined some troubleshooting tips to help you if you’re stuck. But in my experience, it all worked very well, aside from the occasional snag. I definitely recommend trying the service out. All you need to do is create a NordVPN account (no paid subscription required) and download the app.

You can find information about Meshnet on NordVPN’s website.

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