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Everything you ever wanted to know about home networking but didn't dare ask
General Comments on Networking
Member Name: tagheur
General Comments on Networking
Date: 26/05/02, updated on 13/06/02 (907 review reads)
Advantages: The whole family can become PC geeks
Disadvantages: The whole family can become PC geeks
This is a bloody long article
Got more than one PC? Lots of people are now well into their second generation of PC's and have loads of old bits lying around. Maybe you want to share printers or connect to the Internet from several PC's. Maybe you want to play games against one another or share files, images and the like.
You need a network mate, that's what you need.
Now, try as I might I can't find a definitive guide to setting one up. You have to work from bits and pieces you find all over the place. So, deep breath, here is Jeff's rough guide to setting up a network. If you do decide to give it a go you will find the whole process of putting a home network together both satisfying and fun.
First though, let's try and give you a bit of background on Networks - (You can skip this bit if you just want to get on and build one)
Up until about 15 years ago there weren't many 'true' networks. The World was made up of IBM Mainframe computers, which by and large didn't talk to anything except themselves (and then only under extreme duress). The way in which we did computing in those dim and distant days was to have a lot of computer terminals hooked into a single large corporate or Government computer. By and large the computers themselves didn't talk to one another. The best you could hope for was to be able to transfer files, usually by physically transporting magnetic tapes around.
One of the few networks that did exist was called DARPANet, however when it began life in 1969 it was shrouded in secrecey... In those far off "cold war" days the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a part of the U.S. DoD, recognized the need for an efficient way to exchange military information between scientists and researchers based in different geographic locations and to ensure that the network could not be easi
ly destroyed by baddies. The big problem with networks (just like phone lines) is that they're pretty bloody useless if you cut the wire. What the USDoD wanted was a network that wouldn't stop if the Russians decided to start flinging shit at it
Now this implies a few things. Firstly, in a fault tolerant network you can't have any places in the network that are more important (to the network itself) than any other places because if you do you create points of potential vulnerability. Secondly, the network (or something in it) has to be intelligent enough to load balance itself and to be able to use alternate routes to the same destination, either for reasons of efficiency or because the network has sustained damage. In other words, if there are several different pathways (or wires if you will) between point A and point B in the network, then the network itself should be capable of figuring that out without any outside intervention. A network where no place is any more important than any other place is called a 'peer-to-peer' network. The word 'peer' indicating that all of the members of the network are equal. A member of the network (which is actually a computer of some description) is called a 'Node'.
DARPA used a technique called 'packet switching' to ensure both resilience and load balancing, all in one elegant mechanism. Messages from one computer to another are split up into 'packets', or chunks, and sent off over the network. A pair of packets from the same message need not take the same physical route over the network and, as a result, may arrive at their destination in a different order from that in which they were sent. However, each packet contains a sequence number, which allows the receiving computer to re-assemble the original message in the correct sequence. Of course, each computer on the network needs to 'understand' how the packets are made up and what informat
ion each contains. The rules that two or more computers use to talk to one another in a network are known as a 'protocol'. There have been many different protocols over the years but the one that DARPA used is called TCP (Transmission Control Protocol - nowadays TCP/IP).
DARPANet originally consisted of just four computers connected together. By 1972 it had grown to thirty-odd and it was renamed ARPANET. ARPA continued to grow until in 1980's it was merged with NSFNet, the US Universities' joint network, and the Internet was born.
The designers of DARPA did a good job. Every day the Internet gets bigger and every day it gets more impossible to break or to control, something that many Governments, including our own, still haven't figured out yet.
Another piece of Jargon for you; every node, or computer, on the Network has to have a unique identifier associated with it before it can send and receive messages. This unique identifier is known as an IP Address and every computer on the Internet has one. An IP Address is made up of 4 bytes, or 4 binary numbers (if you don't know about bits and bytes you might want to read my article entitled 'Hi ho Silver. Who killed the Pony Express?' in 'Software Tips and Advice' on DooYoo).
A typical IP Address looks like this; 126.96.36.199. Each of the four numbers can have a value of between 0 and 255. If you think about it, this implies that the maximum number of computers that there can ever be on the Internet is 256*256*256*256, which comes to about 4.2 billion. Now, while this is a lot, it clearly isn't enough. For example, there are over 9 billion people in the world so we couldn't have all of them simultaneously connected to the Internet because we would run out of addresses. Actually, it isn't quite as bad as it seems. It turns out that you only have to have a unique Internet IP address while you are actually connected.
Most of the time, most computers aren't. So, we can share IP addresses among multiple computers. Here's how it works - Supposing I keep a pool of addresses (assuming that I am your Internet Service Provider) then as long as I have enough addresses to support all of the computers that want to login at peak, I can 'lend' IP Addresses to computers while they are using the Internet and then lend them to someone else later. The jargon for this lending process is known as 'leasing'. Even with leasing, one day we will eventually run out of internet IP addresses, just like we run out of phone numbers from time to time, and then they will have to figure out a new Internet addressing scheme.
OK Maestro, now you know all about networking, lets have a checklist of the things you are going to need to build your Home Network.
1. A network interface card (NIC) for each computer on your network. NICs, or Ethernet cards, come in three flavors. The older cards are known as 10BaseT cards and the newer ones as 100BaseT. The really smart ones are 'switchable' and they can handle both 10BaseT and 100BaseT automatically. The difference between 10BaseT and 100BaseT is the speed of transmission. 10BaseT cards run at 10 Megabits per second while the 100BaseT cards run at, you guessed it, 100 Megabits per second (which is bloody blindin' in anybody's language). Expect to pay anything between £15 and £30 for a NIC depending upon who flogs it you. You want a sore wallet go to PC World, you want a smiley face go to B&Q (seriously - they sell cheap NIC's) or Tandy (or whatever they call themselves these days). Lastly, NIC's come in two 'connector' varieties; the older, slower 'BNC' variety and the 'RJ45' variety. BNC cards connect to coaxial cable (like your telly aerial) while RJ45 cards use the more modern, and faster, 'CAT5' cable. Get 100BaseT cards with RJ45 CAT5 connectors. I u
se NETGEAR FA311 Fast Ethernet Cards in my network. They're no better or worse than any other fast Ethernet card, I just mention them here so that you have a reference point.
2. A roll of CAT5 cable, some RJ45 terminators, an RJ45 'prod' tool and an RJ45 Patch cable for each PC in your network. B&Q do a smashing little starter pack for about thirty quid. A company called Philex makes it and it's called a Network Cabling Starter Kit. It contains everything you need to lay the wiring and terminals for up to eight PC's.
3. A piece of hardware called an Ethernet HUB or Ethernet Switch. It's just a box that connects all your PC's together. They come in 4-way, 8-way and over-the-top-bamboozling-numbers-of-ways varieties. You should note that there is a difference between a hub and a switch. Without going into the details, a switch is cleverer than a hub (although they both look the same) and it runs faster. It also costs about twenty quid more than an equivalent hub. A four-way hub will cost you about fifty dabs (seventy for a switch) and an eight-way about seventy. Make sure that you get an auto-sensing 10/100 unit.
4. A handy piece of software to have is a remote administrator. It will save you hours of running up and down stairs between PC?s. What a remote administrator allows you to do is to take control of another PC on the network so that you see its screen on your screen and your mouse and keyboard connect directly to it. It means you don't have to be sat at the PC to use it. I use RADMIN from www.radmin.com - it only costs a few quid and it's the biz.
5. If you're not confident about laying cable around the house (it's easier than you think), you might want to consider using Wireless Ethernet. It works just like ordinary Ethernet but there are no cables. Each card has a little aerial on it and they all talk to a sort of 'base station' card, which you install on one
of your PC's. If you want to be really flash you can buy a wireless Hub/router. The downside is that wireless is slow compared to conventional Ethernet, it can be a bit finicky to set-up and, at time of writing, it's very expensive. The cheapest cards are about £100 each and a base station is about £150. Also, I have read mixed reports about the performance of the units at the cheaper end of the market.
Additionally, if you are going use Internet sharing on your network you will need the following: -
1. A dial-up, ISDN, ADSL or Cable modem. A dial-up link will struggle to support more than a couple of users. ADSL or Cable (generically referred to as broadband) costs around twenty-five quid a month at time of writing and runs thirty to forty times faster than dial up.
2. A piece of software known as a Firewall. The firewall protects your network from attack by nasty Eastern Block fraudsters trying to get into your system to steal your credit card numbers. Zonealarm from www.zonealarm.com is dead good and, better yet, it's free!
3. A piece of software known as a NAT (Network Address Translator). If you have Windows 98 Second Edition or later on your PC?s then there is a free NAT included in Windows called ICS (Internet Connection Sharing). If you have an older version of Windows then you will need to buy a NAT. The best one I have tried is called SYGATE and it is available from www.sygate.com. It is very easy to set up and use.
4. Alternatively, you can buy a special kind of HUB called a Hub/Router. It will cost between £150 and £250 and it does the job of HUB, Firewall and NAT all in one box. It will also save you the need to have an extra Ethernet card for your Modem and make the whole job of setting up your network simpler. I will explain more in a minute.
OK, I know that this sounds like a lot of stuff but you'll soon get familiar with it all. Now, before you get the Black & Decke
r out, there are a few other things to consider. First of all, decide where your HUB is going to go. Every PC on your network must be connected to the HUB. If you are going to use a HUB/Router then it will need to be reasonably close to your Internet Modem. It's also a good idea to buy a HUB with more ports on it than you have PC?s. For example, you might only have a couple of PC's but you might want to run cable into four or five rooms so that you can connect wherever you are in the house. The neatest way to do this is to have your cable terminate in a neat little connecter box on the wall. Then you need just run a short patch cable from your PC to the connecter box. The connecter boxes look a bit like telephone connecters. This is a great solution if you have a laptop. You can work wherever there is a connecter box.
Decide how you are going to conceal your cable runs and have at it! The CAT5 cable actually has 4 pairs of wires inside it. There is a convention for cabling them up, which is easy enough to follow and the terminations themselves are made to be simple to fit. Basically you use a 'prod' tool to force each wire home into its connecter. It's much easier to do than it is to describe. Trust me, I'm crap at stuff like this and colourblind to boot, but I managed OK.
Once you have completed your cabling its time to fit the NIC's to your PC's. This will involve taking the cover off each PC. Now, DON'T PANIC! PC's are built to be very simple to put together. That's how they keep the price down. Moreover, the circuits inside are only running at a few volts so the risk of electric shock is minimal. The Power Supply Unit is nothing more than a big transformer, just like you used to have on your train set. Don't chuck a glass of water at it and you should be OK. I said DON'T chuck a glass of water at it!
OK, turn the PC off and disconnect it from the mains. Don
e that? Good. Your NIC should have some instructions with it. You need to fit it into any spare PCI slot. PCI slots are usually (not always) made from white plastic and you will find them on the Main Board of the PC. If you are uncomfortable with this (and it really is dead easy) then get a mate who knows what he or she is doing to help you. The PCI slots are keyed so you really can't fit an Ethernet board wrongly.
Put the cover back on your PC and fire it up. As Windows comes up it will clock the new board and ask you to insert the driver floppy. Shove it in, press Return and Windows will do the rest. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
Once your little pile of NIC's has dwindled to none you can connect all of your PC's to the HUB. Now we have to get them to talk to one another. Every node, or computer, on your network has to have a unique identifier associated with it before it can send and receive messages. This unique identifier is known as an IP Address. An IP Address is made up of 4 bytes, or 4 binary numbers and a typical IP Address looks like this; 188.8.131.52.
Your Home Network will be a PRIVATE network, as opposed to the PUBLIC network known as the Internet. However, you still need to use IP addresses so that your computers can find and talk to one another. The clever people who figured out how to allocate IP addresses set up some special ones that never get used on the Internet and you can use these for your home network. The address range that you are going to use is '192.168.0.x' (where 'x' is a sequential number starting from 1). You might want to write it down. There are others you could use but for now just stick with this one.
Here's how you set up each PC.
Do START->SETTINGS->CONTROL PANEL and then choose 'network'. This will display a small panel, which will contain details about your communications devices. Click on the 'identification'
; tab. In the 'computer name' field type a short memorable name that you want this computer to be known as. As an example you might choose a name to reflect its location, for example HOMEOFFICE or STUDY. It doesn't matter what you choose as long as you give each computer on your network a different name. In the Workgroup field you must give every computer on the network the SAME name. As an example I have used WORKGROUP as my workgroup name (inventive huh?). You can put whatever you like in the 'computer description' field.
Next, click on the 'Configuration' tab. This will show you a list of devices and protocols. Your Ethernet card will appear in the list twice, once as a protocol and once as an adapter. You want to click on the protocol; it is distinguished by the fact that it begins TCP/IP -> followed by the name of your card. Once it is highlighted click the 'properties' button. This will display a complex window with seven tabs on it. It should open at the 'IP Address' tab, if it doesn't then click on it.
Click on 'specify an IP Address' and this will reveal the IP address box. Type in 192.168.0.1 if this is the first PC you've done. Successive PC's will be numbered 192.168.0.2, 192.168.0.3 and so on. In the 'subnet mask' field type 255.255.255.0. Unlike the IP Address, the subnet mask is the SAME for every PC. Got that? Good. Oh, and it's a good idea to number the PC nearest to your modem as 192.168.0.1. It is useful for Internet sharing which I will cover later. Once you have entered an IP address and subnet mask click OK and the PC is almost ready to start talking to other PC's. Back on the 'configuration' menu you need to do a couple more things. There is a 'primary network logon' drop down menu. This should be set to 'Client for Microsoft Networks'. Next click on the 'File and Print Sharing' button. T
ick both boxes on the next menu so that your PC will share files and printers. All done. Repeat this process for each PC on your Network.
Now we are going to check whether the PC?s can see each other or not. Start a DOS window. If you don't know how to do this do; START->RUN and type the word 'command' at the prompt. We are going to use one of the most famous computer programs ever written. It is called 'Ping'. Ping will bounce a little message off another PC in the network to see if it is there or not. At the DOS prompt type
Ping will send 4 messages to localhost and time them. 'Localhost' is a special name. It means 'me'. Ping me! If this command doesn?t work you're in the shit! Assuming that Ping localhost worked OK then you can start to get a bit more adventurous. Next one to try is this;
Ping will send messages to the PC in your network that you gave the IP address 192.168.0.2 to. If it works OK, then go through all of your PC's with Ping and make sure that each responds. Finally, Ping should also know the names that you gave to each of your PC's. So you might try this;
Ping will send messages to a PC called 'study', or whatever names you chose. If this works then you are laughing. Your network is up and running!
Leave the DOS window by typing 'exit' at the prompt.
Almost done now. We just want to do a bit of file and printer sharing and the job's a good 'un. Right click on START, then choose 'Explore' and you can decide which files, directories or even whole disks you want to share with other PC's on your net. If you right click on a file or directory name you will see a new choice on the sub-menu called 'share'. Choosing this will allow you to decide how you want to share the resource with other users.
. You will have your printer(s) connected up to one or more PC's on the net. To see a printer that your PC doesn't own, simply do START->SETTINGS->PRINTERS and click on ?Add Printer?. In the dialogue, choose Network Printer and then browse for the printer you want to attach. Easy Peasy.
If you intend to run Internet sharing then you have a few other things to do. The simplest way, from a non-PC-literate person's point of view, is to use a Hub/Router. You will need to buy the correct device for the kind of Internet connection you have and your PC dealer can advise you which one you need. With this option you don?t need to install any NAT or Firewall software. Essentially you just plug your PC's in to it and off you go. You MAY need to change the IP addresses on each PC to 'Obtain an IP Address Automatically' but that's about it. It tends to be different for each manufacturer, so RTFM (old computer geek acronym, it means 'Read The F@!#ing Manual').
If you're feeling a bit adventurous then the other way to share your Internet connection involves running one of your PC's as an Internet Gateway. What I did for my gateway was to build a PC from second-hand bits and pieces picked up at computer fairs and the like. the whole thing cost me about 70 quid. However, you can use any PC in your network to do the job. Once your gateway PC is up and running, if you wish, you can remove the keyboard, mouse and screen and just leave it chugging away in the corner. So what's different about the Gateway PC then? Well it actually connects to two networks; your internal PRIVATE network and the external PUBLIC network, - the big bad Internet.
Connect the Gateway PC to your modem. Done that? Good. Now, you need to install a NAT on your gateway PC. If you have Windows 98 Second Edition (HELP->ABOUT will tell you which release of '98 you have) or later then you can use something called Intern
et Connection Sharing (ICS). If your Windows software is earlier then you should upgrade it you tight bugger. Just joking. Spool up your web-browser and get a copy of SYGATE.
ICS and SYGATE both work in exactly the same way. If you have ICS then you can install it by going into SETTINGS->Add/Remove Programs and clicking on Windows Setup, 'communications' and checking the ICS tick box. This will start the ICS wizard and off you go. Windows will do the rest. You can download SYGATE from the web and you then just click on it to install. With both SYGATE and ICS you only need to install them on the gateway PC (they both have client stubs which you can install on your other PC's if you wish but it isn't necessary). Once your NAT is installed, change all of the other PC's on your network to 'Obtain an IP Address Automatically' in SETTINGS-> Network. Once done you should be able to log on to the Internet from any PC on your network. Cool huh?
Phew! all done. One more thing - Don't call me. Just don't. OK?