Improved Security Installation on Ubuntu

The standard installation instructions for Ubuntu and Debian based systems install MeshCentral into a regular user's home folder, and run the server as that user.. This is why we make sure to tell you NOT to run it as root. A more secure option for installing and running MeshCentral on these systems is to install and run MeshCentral as a restricted user account which does not have any permissions to log into the system.

Running MeshCentral in this manner does have at least one trade off aside from the extra bit of work during the installation; Automatic updates, and manual updates initiated from the web interface will not work when this method is used. You will have to connect to the server over SSH or a console connection to perform updates. We will also have to pay attention to some specific folder permissions to allow MeshCentral users to upload files to the server.

The first prerequisite is to ensure NodeJS is installed on the system. We will install the node version manager, activate it, then install an LTS version of NodeJS.

sudo add-apt-repository universe
sudo apt update

Now we install nvm (Node Version Manager) - nvm makes keeping NodeJS up to date very simple. It also allows you to run multiple versions of Nodejs side by side, or to roll back in case there are issues with a new version. If you are installing MeshCentral on Ubuntu 18.04, the version of NodeJS included is very out of date, and does not meet the minimum requirements for MeshCentral. So getting nvm going first will avoid a lot of headaches in the future.

Be sure to check the project's Github page for the latest version and adjust the command below as needed - (I'll also include the usual reminders about piping scripts from the web directly into bash. Take the time to READ the script, ideally you should fully understand what it is doing, and feel confident it isn't doing anything to your system it should not be.)

wget -qO- | bash

You can either close out of your session, then reconnect to start using nvm, or if you are in a hurry, run the commands below to add nvm to the system path, and add nvm to bash completion:

export NVM_DIR="$([ -z "${XDG_CONFIG_HOME-}" ] && printf %s "${HOME}/.nvm" || printf %s "${XDG_CONFIG_HOME}/nvm")"

and now to manually load nvm:

[ -s "$NVM_DIR/" ] && \. "$NVM_DIR/"

One of the best features of nvm is that it allows you to install and run multiple versions of Nodejs. This can be extremely useful when updating to newer versions, for example. MeshCentral currently only requires Nodejs v10 or higher. I personally recommend running the latest Long Term Support version. Let's take a look and see what versions of Nodejs are currently available via nvm:

nvm ls-remote

The command above should return a list similar to the one shown below. It can be a long list, but notice how it identifies LTS versions for you.

       v18.12.0   (LTS: Hydrogen)
       v18.12.1   (LTS: Hydrogen)
       v18.13.0   (LTS: Hydrogen)
       v18.14.0   (Latest LTS: Hydrogen)
        v19.6.0    ...

Looking at the list above, we will install the most recent LTS version: v18.14.0

nvm install v18.14.0

Since nvm allows for multiple versions of Nodejs to be installed side by side, we are going to go ahead and tell it to use the version we just installed as the default:

nvm alias default v18.14.0

Now we will update npm

npm install npm@latest -g

You can verify the versions of NodeJS and NPM just installed with the following commands:

node -v
npm -v

For this inproved Security installation, you must use MondoDB. The built-in NeDB stores its' database files in the meshcentral-data directory, which we will be making read-only once we install MeshCentral. So to install MongoDB, start with the commands below:

sudo apt install mongodb -y

In most distributions this will also configure MongoDB to run as a service and start it running for you. We can start the service manually, and enable the service to start automatically in the future with these commands:

sudo systemctl start mongodb
sudo systemctl enable mongodb

We can verify MongoDB is running by entering the MongDB shell like this:

mongo --host

Then exit the Mongo shell by pressing CTRL-C.

The database and log files will be created in these locations. This info is useful for making backups of the database.


On Linux, as a security feature, ports below 1024 are reserved for processes running as “root” user. In our case, we need MeshCentral to listen/run on ports 80 and 443. To accomplish this, we first need to discover where NodeJS runs from:

whereis node
node: /usr/bin/node /usr/include/node /usr/share/man/man1/node.1.gz

In this case, the result shows NodeJS binaries are found at /usr/bin/node. We will this path in the next command, which will allow NodeJS to utilize ports below 1024. Note that these permissions may sometimes be lost when updating the Linux Kernel and the command may need to be run again. 1)

sudo setcap cap_net_bind_service=+ep /usr/bin/node

Now for our improved security installation, we are going to start by creating a new user called meshcentral:

sudo useradd -r -d /opt/meshcentral -s /sbin/nologin meshcentral

Next we want to create the installation folder, install MeshCentral into that folder and run it once (to allow it to install any missing modules, etc.) Then we will update the permissions for that folder so the meshcentral user has read-only access to it:

sudo mkdir /opt/meshcentral
cd /opt/meshcentral
sudo npm install meshcentral
sudo -u meshcentral node ./node_modules/meshcentral

At this point, MeshCentral should start up for the first time and install any missing prerequisites, create the meschentral-data folders and any other basic setup required. Once it shows MeshCentral is running, press CTRL-C to stop MeshCentral, and we will complete some basic configuration before locking things down

By default, MeshCentral uses NeDB with a database file stored at ~/meshcentral-data/meshcentral.db. While this is great for small servers managing up to around 100 systems, as we indicated earlier, this directory will become read-only in our improved security configuration, so now it is time to tell MeshCentral to use MongoDB instead.

The majority of the configuration options for MeshCentral are stored in a file called config.json, stored in the ~/meshcentral-data directory. We will edit it now to start using MongoDB. We start by opening the file in a text editor:

sudo nano /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-data/config.json

Inside the text editor, we need to make the top section of the file look like this:

  "settings": {
    "MongoDb": "mongodb://",
    "WANonly": true,
    "_Port": 443,
    "_RedirPort": 80,
    "_AllowLoginToken": true,
    "_AllowFraming": true,
    "_WebRTC": false,
    "_ClickOnce": false,
    "_UserAllowedIP" : ",::1,"
  <...more stuff here...>

If you are starting with the default config.json file created by the installation, you will need to remove some of the leading underscore characters “_” and add it to the beginning of some other values. This leading underscore character indicated a commented out value. So to enable a setting the value should not start with this underscore. To disable a setting you need to *add* the underscore. For full details on all of the available options in config.json you can see our config.json reference or the Complete config.json schema on GitHub.

Once you have finished editing the config.json file, save it (CTRL-O in nano) and exit the text editor (CTRL-X in nano) and manually run MeshCentral again:

sudo -u meshcentral node ./node_modules/meshcentral

Now go ahead and create a new account. The first account created becomes the server administrator, so yo don't want to delay creating this account. Once you have created this account and logged in with it successfully you can close MeshCentral again using CTRL-C. Next we will lock things down before we set up MeshCentral to run automatically in the background.

Now we are going to change ownership of the /opt/meshcentral directory and make it read only:

sudo chown -R meshcentral:meshcentral /opt/meshcentral
sudo chmod 755 –R /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-*

MeshCentral allows users to upload and download files stored on the server. These are all stored in the meshcentral-files directory. Since we still want this to work, we need to adjust the permissions on this directory to allow the server to write to it:

sudo chmod 755 –R /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-files

If you will be using the built in Let's Encrypt support for your MeshCentral instance, we will also need to adjust permissions on the letsencrypt directory to allow those periodic updates to work properly:

sudo mkdir /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-data
sudo mkdir /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-data/letsencrypt
sudo chmod 755 –R /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-data/letsencrypt

Since Ubuntu supports systemd, we are going to use that to auto start MeshCentral in the background. Since we created the user account meshcentral earlier, we should already know the user information required. We will also need to know the path where NodeJS binaries are at. to find this enter:

whereis node

Node is usually installed at /usr/bin/node but if your check above shows a different path, make note of it and enter it into the appropriate place in the file we are about to create.

We will need all of this information to create the description file for the MeshCentral service we create. To create this description file, enter:

sudo nano /etc/systemd/system/meshcentral.service

In this new file, enter the following lines:

Description=MeshCentral Server

ExecStart=/usr/bin/node /opt/meshcentral/node_modules/meshcentral
# Restart service after 10 seconds if node service crashes
# Set port permissions capability


Be sure to double check the path to NodeJS in the ExecStart line.

Once we have this file created we can now enable, start, stop and disable MeshCentral:

sudo systemctl enable meshcentral.service
sudo systemctl start meshcentral.service
sudo systemctl stop meshcentral.service
sudo systemctl disable meshcentral.service

Run the first two commands to enable then start MeshCentral. Enabling the service will make MeshCentral start up automatically each time the computer restarts.

Once MeshCentral is started, you can access it via web browser just as we did earlier. You should now refer to the MeshCentral User's Guide or this wiki's configuration guides for information about on how to further configure and use MeshCentral.

As mentioned, with this improved security installation, the automated updates and updates initiated from the web portal will fail. To update MeshCentral, you will need to log into the server over SSH and run the following commands:

cd /opt/meshcentral
sudo systemctl stop meshcentral
sudo npm install meshcentral
sudo -u meshcentral node ./node_modules/meshcentral
sudo chown -R meshcentral:meshcentral /opt/meshcentral
sudo chmod 755 -R /opt/meshcentral/meshcentral-files
sudo systemctl start meshcentral

It should be noted that the “sudo npm install…” command is the portion which installs the latest published version. It can also be used to install a specific version of MeshCentral (We generally stick to the stable releases) by issuing the command sudo npm install meshcentral@x.y.zz where x.y.zz is the specific version to be installed. This is useful if you prefer to only install versions marked as “stable”.

I have personally never encountered this issue, but it has been known to happen
  • howto/installation/manual/ubuntu/moresecure.txt
  • Last modified: 2023/04/28 11:44
  • by jjoelc