Search
K
Links

How to set up an NGINX web server and remotely access it over Meshnet

Learn how to configure an NGINX web server on Windows, macOS, and Linux and remotely access it using Meshnet.

Introduction

Owning a personal web server is a dream many people have. Self-hosting a website grants you complete control over its configuration during all development stages and enhances data privacy because the information does not leave your infrastructure.
A tool that is widely used for configuring web servers is NGINX. It is free, open-source software that allows you to build and self-host websites. It can also function as a reverse proxy. However, the drawback of such a setup is that, without poking holes in your firewall, the server can only be accessed from the same local area network (LAN). Having a commonly used port exposed to the outside world is dangerous because it can be scanned and probed for vulnerabilities by attackers.
This is where Meshnet comes to your aid. By using Meshnet, you can have a secure and encrypted tunnel from end devices to your web server without any custom configurations. The website can also be accessed by your friends or family, which you have as your Meshnet peers.
Even though the NGINX web server can be run as a Docker container, this guide will focus on the standard setup process. You will learn how to configure a simple HTML web server and remotely access it from other devices using Meshnet.

Configure a web server

In this part of the article, you can find instructions on how to configure the NGINX web server.
Windows
macOS
Linux

Set up NGINX

To start setting up the web server, you will need to install NGINX.
  1. 1.
    Go to the NGINX download page and download the latest mainline version for Windows.
  2. 2.
    Extract the downloaded archive.
  3. 3.
    Move the extracted folder to a convenient location — for example, the desktop.
  4. 4.
    Go inside the NGINX folder, open the conf folder, and locate the nginx.conf file.
    nginx.conf file highlighted in the NGINX folder.
  5. 5.
    Open the nginx.conf file using a text editor, such as Notepad.
  6. 6.
    Locate the listen line and ensure that the number next to it is set to 80.
    Section of the nginx.conf file containing the port number highlighted.
  7. 7.
    Save changes (File > Save) and exit.
Note
If you do not change the port number to port 80, you will be required to specify the port from the nginx.conf file when accessing the website.
For example, if the port is set to 8080, you would need to enter the following in your internet browser: localhost:8080

Control NGINX

You can control NGINX services by using the command line. Commands allow you to start, stop, and restart NGINX.
  1. 1.
    Locate the nginx.exe file in the NGINX folder, right-click it, and choose Properties.
  2. 2.
    Copy its full path, which is displayed next to Location.
    Full path of the NGINX folder highlighted.
  3. 3.
    Open the Windows Command Prompt by pressing the Windows
    key + R on your keyboard, typing in cmd, and pressing Enter.
  4. 4.
    In the Command Prompt window, enter cd and paste in the copied path surrounded by quotation marks. Example
    cd "C:\Users\secretmeerkat\Desktop\nginx-1.23.3\"
    Now, you can control the nginx.exe file using the Command Prompt.
  5. 5.
    Type in nginx.exe and press Enter to start the web server. To check if the web server started, open an internet browser of your choice and enter localhost in the URL bar. If the setup is correct, you will be greeted with the default NGINX landing page.
    NGINX landing page visible after visiting localhost on an internet browser.
Note
You will not be able to run any other commands in the same Command Prompt that was used to start NGINX. To run any new NGINX-related commands, you will need to open a new command prompt window and go to the NGINX directory once again.

Personalize your landing page

You can make adjustments to the landing page in order to customize the website to your preference.
  1. 1.
    In the NGINX folder, open the html folder and locate the index.html file.
  2. 2.
    Open index.html using a text editor, such as Notepad.
  3. 3.
    Make any necessary changes to the file using HTML.
  4. 4.
    Save changes (File > Save) and exit.
  5. 5.
    In the command prompt, run the following command to reload NGINX with the new configuration:
    nginx.exe -s reload
Lastly, visit localhost in your web browser once again to see the newly designed website.
Note
The initial iteration of the web server may still be visible in the browser after reloading the NGINX server. This is because it is saved in the browser’s cache.
To resolve this problem, clear your cache and try accessing the website once more.
Note
Homebrew is compatible with macOS Big Sur (Version 11) or later.
For this configuration, macOS Ventura (Version 13.0.1) with an Intel processor was used.

Install Homebrew

To install NGINX, you can use the Homebrew package manager. Install Homebrew by taking these steps:
  1. 1.
    Open Terminal.
  2. 2.
    Enter the following command:
    /bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/HEAD/install.sh)"
    For additional information about the installation process, refer to Homebrew documentation.
  3. 3.
    Follow the on-screen instructions to finish the installation.
With Homebrew installed, you can proceed with installing NGINX.

Install NGINX

To install NGINX using Homebrew, follow these steps:
  1. 1.
    Open Terminal and run the following command:
    brew install nginx
  2. 2.
    Wait for Homebrew to download and install NGINX with all of the required dependencies.
    Terminal output of the NGINX installation.

Change the configuration file

By default, the NGINX port will be set to 8080. However, you can change it to port 80 to allow easier access to the web server via Meshnet.
Port 8080 highlighted in the NGINX installation output
To change the port number for the NGINX web server, do the following:
  1. 1.
    Open the nginx.conf file using the Nano text editor by running this command in Terminal: For Intel Macs:
    nano /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf
    nano /opt/homebrew/etc/nginx/nginx.conf
  2. 2.
    Locate the listen line and change the number next to it from 8080 to 80.
    nginx.conf file section indicating the port number.
  3. 3.
    Press Control + X, Y, and Return to save changes and exit.
  4. 4.
    Run the following command to restart the NGINX service:
    brew services restart nginx
With the service restarted, open an internet browser of your choice and enter localhost in the URL bar. If the setup is successful, you will be greeted with the default NGINX landing page.
NGINX landing page visible after visiting localhost on an internet browser.
Note
If you do not change the port number to port 80, you will be required to specify the port from the nginx.conf file when accessing the website.
For example, if you leave the default port 8080, you would need to enter the following in your internet browser: localhost:8080

Personalize your landing page

Now you should have the web server up and running. You can make adjustments to the landing page in order to customize the website to your preference.
  1. 1.
    Open Terminal and run the following command: For Intel Macs:
    nano /usr/local/var/www/index.html
    nano /opt/homebrew/var/www/index.html
  2. 2.
    Make any necessary changes to the file using HTML.
  3. 3.
    After modifying the file, press Control + X, Y, and Return to save changes and exit.
  4. 4.
    Run the following command to restart the NGINX service:
    brew services restart nginx
Lastly, visit localhost in your web browser once again to see the newly designed website.
Note
The initial iteration of the web server may still be visible in the browser after reloading the NGINX server. This is because it is saved in the browser’s cache.
To resolve this problem, clear your cache and try accessing the website once more.
Note
For this configuration, Ubuntu 22.04.1 LTS was used.

Set up NGINX

To start setting up the web server, you need to install NGINX.
  1. 1.
    Update all of your repositories and install NGINX by running the following command in Terminal:
    sudo apt update && sudo apt install nginx -y
  2. 2.
    Once the installation finishes, run the following command to open the NGINX configuration file using the Nano text editor.
    sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/default
    For other Linux distributions, use this command:
    sudo nano /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
  3. 3.
    Locate the listen line and ensure that the number next to it is set to 80.
    Section of the default file indicating the port number used by NGINX.
    If you do make any changes, press Ctrl + X, Y, and Enter to save and exit.
Now, open your internet browser and enter localhost into the URL bar. If the setup was correct, you will be greeted with the default NGINX landing page.
NGINX landing page visible after visiting localhost on an internet browser.
Note
If you do not change the port number to port 80, you will be required to specify the port from the /etc/nginx/sites-available/default file when accessing the website.
For example, if the port is set to 8080, you would need to enter the following in your internet browser: localhost:8080

How to fix error 98

The most common error that you can encounter while trying to start NGINX is error 98. It may come with either of the following messages:
nginx: [emerg] bind() to failed (98: Address already in use)
nginx: [emerg] bind() to failed (98: Unknown error)
If you receive this error, you will not be able to finish the configuration without resolving it.
To fix the error, find what service is using the required port (for example, port 80) by running the following command:
sudo netstat -tulpn | grep :80
Note
The net-tools package is required to use the netstat command.
It can be installed by executing the following command:
sudo apt install net-tools
In the output, you will see the name of the process and its process identification number (PID). With that information, you can kill the process by using sudo kill <PID>.
Example
sudo kill 2059
Terminal output showing processes that are using port 80.
Alternatively, you can either change the port of NGINX or the port of the other service.

Personalize your landing page

Now you should have the web server up and running. You can make adjustments to the landing page in order to customize the website to your preference.
  1. 1.
    Open the index.nginx-debian.html file using the Nano text editor by running this command:
    sudo nano /var/www/html/index.nginx-debian.html
    If you do not have the index.nginx-debian.html file, use the following command to find the necessary .html file on your system.
    ls /var/www/html
  2. 2.
    Make any necessary changes to the file using HTML.
  3. 3.
    After modifying the file, press Ctrl + X, Y, and Enter to save changes and exit.
  4. 4.
    If NGINX is still running, run the following command to restart it with the new change:
    sudo nginx -s reload
    Otherwise, you can start NGINX by running the sudo nginx command.
Lastly, visit localhost in your web browser once again to see the newly designed website.
Note
The initial iteration of the web server may still be visible in the browser after reloading the NGINX server. This is because it is saved in the browser’s cache.
To resolve this problem, clear your cache and try accessing the website once more.

Access the web server using Meshnet

Once the web server is up and running, you can reach it remotely via Meshnet from your peer devices.
  1. 1.
    Copy the NGINX server device's Nord name from the NordVPN application.
  2. 2.
    Open your internet browser.
  3. 3.
    Paste the copied Nord name followed by a slash (/) to the URL field and press Enter. Example secret.meerkat-andes.nord/
    Custom NGINX website showing after entering the Nord name to the URL bar.
© 2023 Nord Security. All Rights Reserved.