NordVPN’s free meshnet is cool, but it won’t replace your VPN
NordVPN Meshnet lets you securely share files and route traffic through other devices, no matter where you are in the world. The free feature, released in June 2022, essentially gives you the ability to create your own personal VPN server through your computer without the need for any special equipment, configuration, or advanced networking knowledge. It has received more attention recently because Nord made it free for everyone in March 2023. It was previously only available to the company’s paid VPN subscribers.
NordVPN touts Meshnet as a feature you can use for all sorts of applications, including gaming, P2P file sharing, remote collaboration, and remote device access. With Meshnet active, you can set up a secure local network of up to 60 devices (10 your own and 50 external) remotely from anywhere. You can organize a LAN party with your friends, for example, whether you are all in the same room or in another part of the world.
Meshnet devices are connected via NordVPN’s proprietary WireGuard-based NordLynx protocol, so you can access and share files securely, much like you would on a corporate network. The NordLynx protocol also encrypts the VPN tunnel you create if you or your friends wish to remotely route your traffic through your personal computer and connect to the Internet using its IP address.
All you need for this to work is the NordVPN app on your compatible devices (MacOS, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS). And – as mentioned above – you don’t even need a paid NordVPN subscription anymore, as Meshnet is now free for everyone.
Meshnet has a ton of potential, and you can really do a lot with this tool if you are able to take full advantage of its capabilities. However, the feature is still a bit rough around the edges and has some inherent downsides. It’s worth understanding what Meshnet can and can’t do, and what you can practically use it for.
To use Meshnet, you need to sign up for NordVPN and use that service’s app. However, Meshnet features are available for free – you won’t need to provide credit card information. Learn more:
What Meshnet does
For most people, Meshnet is perhaps best used for transferring files from one device to another. It is also ideal for routing traffic through another device’s IP address and for secure online collaboration between colleagues and friends.
Meshnet offers immense practical value as a way to easily share files between devices. Even in 2023, sometimes it can be cumbersome to send a file from one device to another. Sending files via email is not secure and you must make the effort to compress larger files due to severe limitations set by email providers for file capacity.
Even cloud storage tools like Google Drive or Dropbox and file transfer tools like WeTransfer impose limitations on sending files unless you pay. You can go the wired route, but that will require the devices to be side by side. This will likely also involve various adapters in addition to the wires required. Meshnet lets you send up to 1,000 files of any type and size wirelessly and securely from anywhere in the world in a single transfer – for free.
If you’re someone who regularly transfers lots of photos, videos, or other large files between devices, or if you share files with friends, family, and colleagues, Meshnet is a great solution. NordVPN offers tutorials on how to share files with Meshnet on different platforms, but some of the instructions are incomplete and the file sharing process may take a little time. For example, the iOS File Transfer Tutorial says you’ll be able to “find files shared with you by checking the location of your device’s default downloads folder.” It does not mention that you will have to manually select the file destination on your iOS device. The file will not automatically appear in a default download folder.
If you have friends you play online with across the country or around the world, Meshnet is a great tool for setting up your own private game server to host remote LAN games with them. This feature is particularly interesting for sandbox games like Minecraft or Roblox. Or if you work in a remote team and need real-time and secure collaboration with your colleagues, Meshnet can be of real value. Apps like this may require additional technical know-how, but NordVPN’s tutorials are usually good enough to get you started. (Note, of course, that you’ll want to check the tool with your company’s IT department before installing it or using it for any business project.)
Meshnet is useful, but limited, if you want to route your Internet traffic through your home or work computer remotely. To route your traffic through another computer on Meshnet, simply open the NordVPN app on another device and connect to the host machine directly from the app. However, the functionality is limited because your host machine, wherever it is, must be online, active, and connected to Meshnet. This is a handy solution if you know you will need to use the short-term routing feature and your host machine will be prepared and ready to host the connection.
But if you’re traveling, especially overseas or for more than a few days, you’ll need to be prepared to have the host machine stay on and active the entire time you’re away if you hope to stream content online as if you are at home. Even then, there is no guarantee that the machine will stay connected. In such cases, it is much more convenient to simply use a paid NordVPN account to connect to a server in the region from which you want to access content. Also be aware that the traffic routing feature on MacOS is only available on the side version of the app, which is available to download directly from NordVPN – it doesn’t work if you download it from the App Store.
Don’t confuse Meshnet with a full VPN
Meshnet is a cool feature, and once you get some experience you can get creative with how you use it. But while you can create your own VPN server and connect to it, Meshnet ultimately cannot replace a full-fledged VPN service. Most notably, it’s not a practical solution for geofencing your IP address for international streaming, and secure internet browsing is only possible if your host machine is connected to a VPN server when using the feature of traffic routing (otherwise your traffic is going out of the host machine. ISP assigned IP address).
The functionality still has a lot of room for improvement. I understand this is an innovative new feature for a VPN provider, but I wish it provided a more seamless experience overall. For example, devices that are online and connected to Meshnet may not always appear to other devices as online and available for file sharing or traffic routing. I had to turn Meshnet on and off several times to get our devices to communicate properly with each other.
However, once you get past its little quirks and figure out how to make it work for you, it can be a useful feature. Remember that you must enable the NordLynx protocol on any device you connect to Meshnet.
For security reasons, be sure to allow only trusted people to connect to your Meshnet when sharing files, setting up a local network, or routing traffic through your machine. You are responsible for online activity associated with your IP address, so if someone you don’t know is routing their traffic through your IP address and doing something illegal, you are responsible. If someone you don’t know sends you a file through Meshnet, that file may contain malware. If someone you don’t know is connected to your local network via Meshnet, they will have access to other devices on the LAN.
It’s a good idea to also set permissions for the various functions of Meshnet to ensure that you limit access to the level you are comfortable with.
Also be aware that you will need to provide an email address to NordVPN to create an account and use Meshnet, even though it is available for free. If you’re not comfortable providing your email address, you can theoretically use an email burner to register. And don’t be surprised if you’re periodically prompted to sign up for a paid NordVPN subscription, or at least every time you log into your account. Although Meshnet is free, NordVPN would naturally want to convert as many free Meshnet users to paid users as possible.
If you prefer the paid optionnote that Nord currently offers a variety of two-year (27-month) plans starting at $4 per month ($108 due at sign-up), and the service’s 30-day money-back guarantee allows for a risk-free return to the Meshnet version free, if you prefer.
For more information see our NordVPN Reviews And VPN FAQs.
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