Soooo... in 2006, many homes now have a Windows XP PC, an Internet connection (more and more are broadband) and the time is overdue for people to hang several PCs over the same Internet connection, all this at home. PCs at the office have been networked for yonks, but at home, sneaker net has been doing quite well for file and print sharing. However, sneaker net won't work to share an Internet connection.
You can share a single dial-up connection between multiple PCs. It's not often interesting to do that though. The speed bottleneck through a dialup really hampers the joy of Internet activities for one PC, much less multiple PCs.
Since dial-up Internet is a low cost solution, people seldom look for, and vendors seldom offer a dial-up router. The most common way that dial-up Internet is shared is via Internet Connection Sharing (ICS). There is geek information on making an old PC boot a Linux based firewall, router. Many newbies aren't resourced enough to go down that direction.
With broadband Internet, you have the option of using:
a. a broadband modem appliance and a NAT router appliance
b. a combination broadband modem + router appliance
c. a broadband modem + the first outward facing PC running ICS
d. a broadband modem appliance and an old PC running NAT router software (often Linux based).
If you use a router of any sort, the advantage over ICS is that you don't need the first PC to be "always on" for other PCs to connect because the router is "always on", as is the broad band modem. Over time, that is the main convenience that newbies want. Many serious PC users however, point to the second advantage of a router - it is a separate firewall, it separates the "outside" Internet from the "inside" your own network of one or more PCs. A third advantage is the separation of functions - the router stores you ISP account details and firewall settings separate from your PCs. Routers are now way below AUD 100.
A few words about protecting your PCs from the Internet
This perimeter defence allows you to do things like switch off your software firewalls (Windows firewall, Zone Alarm, Sygate, Norton, McAffee) on your PCs (or not run any software firewalls at all) with fair levels of safety from incursions by hack attacks, worms from the "outside". You can run unpatched Windows XP machines in safety for a while until you get around to applying Windows Updates security patches. This perimeter defence does not however, protect you when you invite virii, malware, spyware, adware "inside" your private network by explicitly going to websites or opening email that delivers that cargo. Additionally, you can infect your machines on your private network by using CDs, floppies, USB storage which contain such malware - "the enemy within".
Many people who use Macs or Linux believe that their platforms are more secure and provide a smaller target to malware. That's another discussion.
Back to Networking
Whether you use ICS or a router, the transmission protocol used by the Internet is TCP/IP. TCP/IP needs each device to have an IP address. The IP address can be given up arbitrarily by a DHCP server (which your NAT router and ICS act as) or statically (you type an address in yourself).
If you are connecting two client PCs in together in isolation from anything else, you have to use static PC. If you are connecting two PCs together in isolation away from the Internet, you can use:
a. crossover network cable (each PC must have a built-in or add-on network card)
b. a straight through network cable with an Ethernet switch
c. a special USB bridge cable (you can't/shouldn't use normal cable)
d. wireless LAN (each PC must have a wireless card)
e. older, non TCP/IP technology (Laplink cables and software etc...)
Wired or Wireless
Some routers are wired only, some are wireless and some are combination units. Typically wired routers have 4 inward ports - they support up to 4 PCs. If you don't want to lay LAN wire through your house, then wireless would be your approach. Wireless connections have the following:
a. No need to lay LAN cable and mobility around the house and garden for the notebook (advantage)
b. Requires a wireless network card in each PC (disadvantage - most desktops don't have such a card built-in)
c. Wireless has a slower network speed and throughput - steady connection may be an issue depending on radio/microwave interference, distance and obstructions, heavy load. (disadvantage)
d. Security concerns - Wireless neighbours may hitch a ride or look at your files - you must implement at least WEP if not WPA-SK. Wired connections only require physical security.
Windows File and Print Sharing
WFPS works like this. Each PC can offer to one or more folders to share to the rest of the PCs on the network. You don't want WFPS to be enabled to the "public" Internet, only to your "private" network. Before a PC can expose a folder as a Windows File Share, two services need to be active - Microsoft Client and File and Printer Sharing.
Note that Windows Shares have permissions related to your Windows accounts.
Once one PC exposes a Windows File Share (and you put some files in the folder), the other PC(s) need to attach to that Share. From the other PC - you use Network Places and browse to the PC offering the Share. Windows XP and modern programs can directly open a file using UNC syntax. Older programs may require you to map a drive to the Windows File Share first.
Hyperlinks to follow....
Last edited by anandasim
on Fri May 16, 2008 9:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.