Get To Know Your Home Network
Home networking is at the center of so many people’s lives yet so few know anything about it. What would your life be like without your home internet connection? These days our lives revolve around the connection to the world provided by our Internet Service Providers and our home networks. Our social, financial, shopping, school, and work lives depend on having good, strong, reliable Internet connections. In this day and age the more you know about home networking the better off you are.
Computer networking is not some dark art reserved only for weirdos and computer geeks. The engineers who designed computer technology intentionally created it to be user-friendly. A peek behind the curtain reveals a world based on logic and common sense that anyone with average intelligence can understand. Once you get the hang of it it’s actually kind of fun and very empowering.
Americans have always loved their automobiles. Cars have been a source of enjoyment and pride since they were first mass-produced over a hundred years ago. Of course, before you take your family on that week-long road trip it’s best to have a good familiarity with how to operate your car, basic maintenance, and navigation.
The same thing goes for computer networking. If you’re planning on setting up a home network that does more than provide Wi-Fi connections to a few laptops and smartphones it’s best to have a fundamental understanding of how your home network works. Understanding what does what and where to look if something stops working can provide peace of mind and the courage to push the capabilities of your home network to the next level.
Home Networking Basics
The video above helps you understand all the mysterious equipment your Internet Service Provider installed in your home. Unfortunately, if something goes wrong help is an excruciatingly long phone call away. More often than not your ISP will tell you the issue is on your end and many times they’ll be right! Once you have a handle on home networking you’ll be able to troubleshoot, fix and upgrade your home network to your heart’s content with little to no involvement from your ISP.
The Home Networking Basics video is like an introductory course to doing bigger and better things with your home network than surfing, reading emails, and debating politics on Facebook. My Home IT Handbook and subsequent videos will help you with more interesting projects like setting up file sharing, setting up a NAS, setting up VPN access to your home from anywhere, network printing, and setting up IP cameras.
What Makes Your Home Network Tick?
Your home network may look like a confusing mess of wires, boxes, and blinking lights but there is rhyme and reason behind the chaos. A basic understanding of the pieces and parts of your home network and the function of each suddenly makes the thought of taming, controlling, and eventually mastering the technology in your home seem much more realistic.
The Modem – It all starts with the modem provided by you or your Internet Service Provider. The internet connection coming into your home could be in the form of a coaxial cable just like you have with cable tv, a phone-like DSL cable, or a high-speed fiber optic cable. The modem then converts that signal into a digital signal that your wireless router can understand
Wireless Router – Your wireless router is the brains of your home network. It’s actually three devices in one. As a router it allows the computers on your home network to communicate with computers on the internet while keeping the two separate. As an access point, it uses a wireless signal to connect all your wireless devices and allow them all to communicate with each other and the internet. As a switch, it has ethernet ports in the back which allow you to connect your wired devices to communicate with each other and on the Internet.
WAN vs LAN – Your router actually serves as an intermediary between your local network and the internet for that reason it has two connections. One on the WAN side or wide area network side and another one on the LAN or local area network side. The IP address on the internet site is your public IP address. Your public IP address is what all the computers on the internet use to identify your router. It also has a gateway address which is how all the computers in your internal network exit your LAN and get out onto the WAN.
Switches – An easy, inexpensive way to expand the wired side of your home network is with the use of a switch. A switch is a very inexpensive, easy-to-use device however it’s possible to get carried away with them. A lot of people will start daisy chaining them together and run into problems. The electronics in inexpensive “Best Buy” switches are not sophisticated enough to track all the various hops from switch to switch from router to computer etc. They’re just not capable of tracking all those various routes. If you start trying to daisy chain switches you’re liable to end up with a very frustrating, unreliable network.
IP Addresses – Devices on your home network need IP addresses to identify and communicate with each other. People have names. Network devices have IP addresses. If you look closely at the IP addresses on all the computers on your home network and the IP address on the wireless router you’ll notice that they look almost identical.
Wireless Router: 192.168.1.1
Computers, printers, phones etc: 192.168.1.3, 192.168.1.11, 192.168.1.7.
The first three sections or octets (192.168.1.) are identical. This is how computers identify and communicate with other devices on their network. Computers with a different IP scheme cannot communicate on the same network. For example, if you change the 3rd octet on a laptop from a “1” to a “0” (192.168.1.3 to 192.168.0.3) that laptop could not talk to the other computers on the network even though they are physically or wirelessly connected.
DHCP – All the computers and devices on your home network need IP addresses to communicate with each other. One you don’t want to do is spend a lot of time manually configuring all your devices with static IP addresses. One typo can lead to IP address conflicts and all kinds of problems. So the Whizbangs in charge of Computer World invented an amazing protocol called DHCP. DHCP automatically configures all your devices with IP addresses and prevents any conflicts. A more detailed explanation of DHCP can be found in the Home Networking Basics video.
Your Router and NAT – The only way computers can talk to computers on a different network is with the use of a router. That is one of the most important things your wireless router does. It separates your home network from the internet yet allows them to communicate. It does this with a sophisticated protocol called NAT or Network Address Translation. It allows a computer on your home network to talk to computers on the internet without exposing your home computer to the evils of the internet.
DNS – Most people have never even heard of DNS. DNS is the glue that holds the Internet together. Without it, all the computers on the internet are lost. DNS is a worldwide database that matches website domain names that are easy for humans to understand to IP addresses that are easier (And faster) for computers to understand. It’s a lot like the address book on your phone. If you’re hungry and you want to order some pizza you may not even remember the phone number of the pizza delivery place. Simply find the name of your favorite pizza delivery place on your phone, it dials the number and 30 minutes later you have a pizza at your door. DNS works basically the same except a lot faster. Simply type in the address of your favorite website into your browser and DNS delivers the correct website to your computer in milliseconds.
IPCONFIG – Any question that you have about how a computer is set up on a network can be answered with the “ipconfig” command installed on all Windows computers. Once you get the hang of using it troubleshooting computer networking issues can become second nature. The use of the “ipconfig” command is demonstrated in the Home Networking Basics video above.
The Rubber Meets The Road - Change Your Settings
Sooner or later you’re going to have to make minor or major changes to your home network. What are some reasons you might find yourself wanting to make changes to your computer network settings? An obvious reason would be you find there’s an issue on your network and after some troubleshooting, you realize you need to change a few things. Another scenario could be you take a computer off of another network and need to put it onto your network. You’ll have to change the settings on that computer to make it work on your network.
Now you know where to find the network settings on your computer but how do you change them? What we do is we go to the network adapter settings of that computer. That means we go to the same place we went to find “ipconfig” but instead of typing in “cmd” we type in “ethernet” on a hard-wired computer or “wifi” on a computer on the wireless network. From there we go to “Ethernet Settings” and then “Change Adapter Options.”
In the Home Networking Basics video above we demonstrate this process step-by-step to configure a computer in the living room to allow it to be accessed and remotely controlled by other computers in the home. Enjoy the video!