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How do mesh networks work?

Mesh networking allows us to have all the advantages of LAN and P2P networks, just in a safer, encrypted, and fast environment. Let's have a look at it in more detail.

Paulius Ilevičius

Paulius Ilevičius

How do mesh networks work?

What is a mesh network?

Mesh networking is a technology that allows all the infrastructure nodes of local area networks to connect and cooperate. Mesh nodes are independent, self-sustainable, efficient, and fault-tolerant. This feature makes your network more stable — it doesn't crash if a single node fails. Moreover, it reduces maintenance costs.

Mesh networks consist of all your network devices connected to a single system. This system's main component is a node, not an access point. All nodes are equal, so no hierarchical structures exist among connected parts.

Mesh technology allows you to conduct activities and perform tasks on the internet that otherwise could only be done on LAN. It enables secure file sharing and smooth communication between connected parties. In some cases, mesh Wi-Fi also ensures faster speeds, better reliability, and greater coverage. Mesh systems extend your Wi-Fi network capabilities and make your network more efficient and flexible.

NordVPN's Meshnet feature

Mesh networking technology allows you to connect to other devices remotely. By using NordVPN’s Meshnet feature, you can access devices via encrypted private tunnels.

Meshnet allows you to securely connect to other devices wherever you are. NordVPN uses the superfast NordLynx protocol for this feature to ensure a fast and secure experience. NordVPN assigns a unique IP address and Nord name to each device so that users can easily locate and connect to it.

You can use Meshnet for:

  • Having LAN parties. Meshnet works like an encrypted LAN so that you can enjoy a fast and secure gaming experience.
  • Accessing files on remote devices. By using Meshnet, you can remotely access files on your computer.
  • Accessing your local server. Meshnet allows you to easily access your local server wherever you are.

How do mesh networks work?

Hub-and-spoke networks

To better understand how mesh networks operate, we should first see how hub-and-spoke networks work. Most VPN-protected networks use hub-and-spoke systems, which rely on a traditional VPN gateway with a static IP address, so clients can quickly discover that gateway. The gateway can accept incoming connections from other nodes with IP addresses. So all the connection requests pass through this gateway, get encrypted, and then are sent to a server.

Today, most internet communications are based on the hub-and-spoke design, with major cloud providers often charging rent for their services. However, the hub-and-spoke's main downside is that users who are far away from the VPN gateway may experience high latency. The server they try to reach may be even further away, and this distance could increase latency even more.

Lightweight protocols such as NordLynx help to reduce the downsides of such distances. However, scaling such networks is a complex process because we must distribute new NordLynx keys to all the servers every time we add a new user. Moreover, hub-and-spoke networks don't allow communication between connected devices (clients).

Mesh networks

Mesh networks enhance hub-and-spoke communication with peer-to-peer capabilities. Basically, it enables nodes to communicate with each other. However, the procedure is complex because nodes need to update constantly due to key and user rotation. Also, they need to find each other and reconnect when the user's IP address changes. Companies should audit traffic between nodes because it no longer travels through centralized servers.

Mesh networks use coordination servers to synchronize keys on all mesh nodes. These servers don't carry traffic. They just exchange a few encryption keys and set policies. Each node can generate private and public keys for itself. After generating them, a node contacts the coordination server and leaves its public key and info on its location. The node also extracts data about other nodes' public keys and addresses from the server. Finally, it configures its NordLynx instance with an appropriate set of public keys.

The private key never leaves the node. Nodes are protected from impersonation, and all connections are end-to-end encrypted. Unencrypted packets are not sent over a wire, and no one can intercept them. Moreover, each node is self-sufficient with its private and public keys, so your connection is safe.

NAT traversal

Unfortunately, not all the nodes have static IP addresses or open ports for incoming traffic, for example, nodes that operate in public places such as hotels or airports. However, Meshnet's advanced technologies enable even such nodes to communicate with each other. So you won't need to manually configure firewalls or open ports if you wish to connect to a remote device. Meshnet will do it for you.

How to set up NordVPN Meshnet

Setting up NordVPN's Meshnet function is pretty easy. Here's how to do it:

  1. Get the NordVPN app and purchase a paid subscription to connect to the NordVPN Services.
  2. Launch the app and select the Meshnet feature in the app. Now you can link the devices you'd like to connect to by enabling Meshnet on your other devices or by sending invitations to other NordVPN users. Check our Meshnet setup instructions for different platforms. You can also use it on Linux.
  3. You can access other devices by using their Nord names or IP addresses.

Our customer support is always ready to help if you face any further issues. Moreover, you can check out this Reddit thread for more specific info.

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Paulius Ilevičius
Paulius Ilevičius Paulius Ilevičius
Paulius Ilevičius is a technology and art enthusiast who is always eager to explore the most up-to-date issues in cybersec and internet freedom. He is always in search for new and unexplored angles to share with his readers.