Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Introduction
Windows XP is without a doubt the easiest operating system in a long list of many from Microsoft for networking - It is much easier than most tend to believe - More specifically home networking, which is what we will be focusing on today in this beginner guide here at TweakTown.While most of the content of this guide is straight forward enough for the average Windows user to figure out, I've published this guide to demonstrate just how easy it is to setup your own network of two or more computers at home and how fun it can be, not to mention cost effective because of features like Internet and Printer Sharing. I'll be mentioning things like suggested hardware for the server PC for example; the guide isn't just limited to software guidance. It's worth noting that because Microsoft did such a good job with XP and it's networking, no third party software is required to execute such services as Internet and Printer Sharing. Just set a couple of DNS and gateway entries and we are home and hosed. I'll be demonstrating just how easy this is shortly!Quick History Lesson- Windows 3.1 and 3.11
Before we get into the tasty stuff, for the first course we'll have a brief history lesson, you all loved history classes at school right... For some, this may be just as boring as ancient Egyptian temples or great Roman empires. Let's start with Windows 3.1 even though it wasn't Microsoft's first "operating system", anything before that I was too young to have anything to deal with or remember for that matter.
Windows 3.1 was a total disaster for networking; network protocols of this operating system were rather inferior by that of today's standards, and often involved third party add ons. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it was released around 10 to 12 years ago, time does indeed fly as technology improves. Microsoft also released Windows 3.11 for Workgroups around the same time but we didn't see anything spectacular here either on the networking front, other than Microsoft beginning to bundle working file sharing protocols with their OS'.- Windows 95
Then we hit the 32-bit world of computing with Windows 95 being released in August of 1995, just after the release of Windows NT 3.51, which was the first real 32-bit version of Windows while 95 was in the least technical terms a mixture between 16 and 32-bit coding. Boy what a time that was to be living in the technological age. Just look what it has done for general computing these days; there'd be no chance in seeing 64-bit operations in the near future if Windows 95 or NT were never conceived, even if they were buggy as hell. While it had dramatic changes and improvements in networking and it's protocols and services, Windows 95 networking still was, by today's standards, not nearly as advanced or simple enough to manage for the home user.- Windows NT 4.0
Almost exactly a year later, Windows NT 4.0 was released, with major patches and service packs following. Windows NT 4.0 had the look and feel of Windows 95. Windows NT contains advanced security features, better multitasking support, user administration and much more with an emphasis on networking for the business user. It was far superior when compared to 95 and 98 in this area, but it wasn't exactly appropriate for home users because of it's complexity. NT is an advanced operating system, but it lacked the driver and gaming support that Windows 95 and Windows 98 possessed.- Windows 98 and Millennium
Next in line is Windows 98 and Millennium, which were released three and two years after Windows 95 respectively. Windows 98, excluding NT, was the first real 32-bit version of Windows with full 32-bit coding and not a mixture of both as with Windows 95, but still had quite a bit of 16-bit coding. While there were small improvements in networking features of 98, it still remained largely similar to 95. To help the cash flow some more (not that would be a problem right?) Microsoft released the "Second Edition" of Windows 98, known as Windows 98 SE or "Sucky Edition" to those who eXPerienced problems. The difference over 98 was marginal; basically SE offered bug fixes in some networking protocols. Nothing was really changed to make the setup of the network easier, compared to 98.- Windows 2000
In February of 2000 Microsoft released Windows 2000. It was based on the Windows NT Kernel and sometimes referred to as Windows NT 5.0. Windows 2000 had very advanced networking options; still it could have been made easier to set up.- Windows XP
Finally we enter the wonderful world of eXPerience, Windows XP that is of course! Windows XP, in both Professional and Home flavors, on the networking side of things, is a beautiful mix of NT and 2000 networking but with a much more desirable and easier to use user interface. Basically this all accumulates to what networking should be, for home and small business networks at least. Microsoft has hit what I consider the sweet spot of home networking perfection. Not only this, they've effectively effectively cured the myth that networking is a tedious task and a difficult one to master - The last few comments may make you believe I'm a Microsoft rep, maybe they'll consider me for employment... Now that we've finished with the history lesson, we are set to move onto the more tasty stuff I promised you earlier.
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Physical Network Setup
For the purpose of simplicity, let's consider we are using a three PC network configuration - Two "clients computers" and one PC acting as the "server".- Network Card Selection
Since we have more than two computers we can't use what is known as crossover cable (this cable is red in color usually), this eliminates the need of a hub or switch by using a direct connect approach from PC to PC. Since we are setting up a network with three PC's on it, you'll need to buy a hub or switch and obviously a PCI Network Interface Card for each system, that is if your motherboard doesn't already have an onboard LAN feature. Depending on what you require, a standard Realtek 10/100 base NIC should suffice for most, the best thing is they only cost around $30 Australian dollars (American dollars is half). Or, you have the option of an Intel based NIC or those from 3COM for example which have many added features and a lower fail rate, but this comes at a cost. You may have to pay up to four times as much for one of these as compared to the Realtek based NIC's. Below is a picture taken from the NETGEAR website of a typical NIC...
When buying a NIC, remember to ask specifically for a 10/100 base NIC. This means it can operate at both 10mbps and 100mbps depending on the particular network environment. Additionally, remember to ask for a NIC with RJ-45 connectors (the current standard), which use CAT5 cabling (this cable is blue in color usually) which is fully capable of 100mbps and fully backwards compatible at 10mbps speeds. A new standard is currently being developed known as "CAT6" (this cable is green in color usually), but the standard still isn't finalized nor approved. Rumors suggest it will be capable of a stunning 300mbps to 1gbps. This means possibly you'll be able to copy files over a network from one PC to another at an astonishing 125 megabytes per second. This is faster than some hard disk drives can copy from each other on the one single system! CAT5-E or Category 5 UTP Enhanced cabling is also backwards compatible with 10, 100 and 1000Mbit Ethernet connections.The RJ-45 option is preferable over that of RJ-58, or more commonly known as BNC. This now outdated connection standard uses slower coaxial cable that is limited to 10mbps, which is what is used for cable TV to give you a better idea. RJ-45 and BCN at 10mbps respectively offer similar ping times. However, the difference in real world terms is slower ping latency in network games of roughly 30ms to 100ms depending on your specifications of your PC compared to RJ-45 at 100mbps.- Hub vs. Switch
You have a couple options when it comes to hubs and switches. You're probably wondering just what exactly the difference between a switch and hubs is - allow me to explain. A hub broadcasts packets (data) to all ports, a switch stores in memory which IP address is connected to which port... so it is faster because it doesn't spray packets everywhere, making it much more efficient and effective. Another advantage to note is a switch can also run different ports at different speeds; a hub will kick down to the slowest speed. This would prove very favorable if say a friend brought his or her laptop to your house with only a slow 10 base NIC which would be hooked up to your network.It goes without saying; I highly recommend a switch over a hub. When it comes to choosing a switch, you'll usually find them with combinations of 5, 8, 16, 24 or 32 ports and the price generally doubles for each jump in port numbers. Since we are setting up a network for our house, we only need a 5 or 8-port switch, unless you intend on hosting LAN (Local Area Network) parties in which case you should opt for the more expensive 16 or 32 port options. As with the choice of a NIC, the same applies for the decision on which switch you'll buy. Do you really need the quality and features of one? This is a decision you'll have to make yourself and the budget you've given yourself for this project.- 802.11a and 802.11b
Look mum, "NO CABLES!" We also have a new wireless networking standard called 802.11a and also 802.11b. This exciting new standard includes terms like wireless access points so you have Internet connectively in every room of the house (Bill Gates nightly wet dream it would seem), but at this, I'd stick with standard switches because this technology is still developing and going through rapid change. I don't mind the idea behind 802.11a; I'm just hesitant and weary at this stage as I haven't played with this type of technology yet.Back to standard switch talk now - As for brand name choices, there are many to choose from. Personally I use an 8-port switch from CNET, but other brands such as Kingmax, Netgear and Dlink are fairly reliable and carry a good name for their quality and are readily available for sale at most stores. I wouldn't have any problems recommending these to anyone. Below is a picture taken from the NETGEAR website of a typical switch...
Now that we've established exactly what we need to hook all the PC's up to each other on the network, we need to work out what specifications would be good for the server PC; the all important PC which will host things like the Internet, printers and games. Whilst the server isn't a requirement for the network to be successful, it's recommended basically so hosting services mentioned above on other PC's on the network have instant access at anytime needed.
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Physical Network Setup Continued- Server Specification Recommendations
If your server isn't being used for gaming and what not (preferable so it maintains it's desired continuous uptime 24 hours a day) there is no need for it to be using the latest Pentium 4 or Athlon XP processor with a lot of RAM and hard disk drive space and latest GeForce 4 graphics card. Hell, mine doesn't even have a monitor, keyboard or mouse connected to it, just the bare minimum for the system to run. The box itself just sits by it's lonely self doing what it does best, serving, 24 hours a day. Since the server will be using Windows XP, the server will require at least 128MB of RAM. Note, the server doesn't have to use Windows XP; we are just using it as an example in this guide, which will ultimately make things easier in the long run.The beauty of the server is you could be using a Pentium 2 or an older Athlon at 500MHz, for example, and it would still operate perfectly in the environment it is intended for. What I'm trying to say is here, you don't need a super expensive or powerful PC to act as your server. It's important to mention we are after a stable system, so overclocking and tweaking it out to the max isn't recommended for obvious reasons either.We are after the most stable environment possible, this may mean slowing down memory settings in the BIOS, as much as that goes against the principles of this site.Now we've proceeded through everything for the physical hardware side of the network, it's time to get the network setup and operating in Windows. Let the fun begin... Click the link for the next page.
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Configuring the Network in Windows XP- IP Addressing
First off we have to assign each PC on the network with an IP (Internet Protocol) address. In terms of the Internet, an IP address is the number your computer is given, as a means of identification when you connect to the Internet, be it "static" or "dynamic". An IP address on computers on your LAN works exactly the same, except your home network is "internal" and you can choose any IP address you like instead of being given one automatically by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). The standard IP range I'm talking about is known as the reserved Class C subnet and this offers IP addresses on the single workgroup of 192.168.0.1 to 192.168.0.254. This means you can have up to 254 computers on each workgroup. Usually the server would have an IP address of 192.168.0.1. When you enable Internet Connection Sharing on your Internet account account your server will automatically be assigned this IP by default.- Server Configuration
NOTE: Under XP and Windows NT based OS' you may need to be logged in with administrative privileges to change these settings.OK - Once your system is setup with the NIC installed correctly, we can setup the IP address of each system and which workgroup it belongs to and so forth. Let's start with the IP address. Click Start -> Settings -> Network Connections now right click on "Local Area Connection" and click Properties. Next highlight Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click Properties. You will then be given a screen like the one pictured below...
For the screenshot above, presume we are changing the IP address for the server. This is all that needs to be changed for the server; the screenshot below shows what needed to be changed for the other computers on the network, the client computers. Below is a screenshot to demonstrate just how your server will act in a graphical sense...- Client PC Configuration
Above we can see that one of the client computers is using an IP address of 192.168.0.5. The subnet mask is set automatically so there is no need to worry about it. You can use any IP address you like, as long as it is in the range mentioned above and as long as no more than one machine on the network and workgroup has that IP - Windows will prompt you with this warning if more than one machine try to share an IP. Again, below is a screenshot to demonstrate just how your client computer will act in a graphical sense...
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Configuring the Network in Windows XP Continued- Internet Connection Sharing
The Default gateway and Preferred DNS server entries are used to tell your computer what computer on the network to use for access to the Internet and other network segments. So with this being the case, in the screenshot above I've told the client PC to look at the server to access the Internet, the server having an IP address of 192.168.0.1. You need to do this for every computer on the network. This is just an example of how advanced and clever Windows XP's Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) really is as I mentioned earlier on in this guide. There are other third party programs such as Win Route that handle ICS instead of Windows, but in the case of Windows XP there is no point in having extra programs running chewing up valuable system resources. Fair enough, if your using Windows 95 or 98 ICS isn't as easy to setup compared to Windows XP nor does it have as good a features, so the use of third party programs is justified in this situation.Now once all the IP addresses have been correctly assigned, click OK. This will bring us back to the original screen we started at. For what we are aiming at doing, no other options have to be tinkered with at this stage. Just as a note, you'll notice under the Advanced tab there is an option to enable Internet Connection Firewall, make sure this is not enabled for any of the computers on the network - If it is, you'll struggle to share files across the network.Now click OK at the main screen, which will apply the new IP address settings - Since Windows XP is clever and advanced, there is no need in rebooting your PC for the settings to take place. If your server is already connected to the Internet with IP addresses all set correctly and ICQ enabled you should have a connection to the Internet already, yeah it's that simple!Open up your browser and type in www.tweaktown.com to give it a test...;) If it doesn't work, never fear, we aren't finished just yet. Read the next few paragraphs for fixes.- Printer Sharing
Now we've setup ICS, it's time to share your printer. If you haven't already, install your printer on your server. Once this is done, click Start -> Settings -> Printers and Faxes. Locate your printer and right click on it and click Sharing and you'll be brought to a screen like the one below...
Simply click "Share this printer" and type in what you'd like it to be known as across the network. Click OK and you're done!
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Configuring the Network in Windows XP Continued- Network Identification Wizard
Now we have to setup the name of your computer and the workgroup in which it belongs to. To do this click Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> System -> and then click the Computer Name tab. Firstly click "Network ID", this will bring up the "Network Identification Wizard". On the first screen simply click Next to proceed. On the next screen we need to choose the first option (This computer is part of a business network, and I use it to connect to other computers at work), on the next screen choose the second option (My company uses a network without a domain), this will bring you to a screen like the one pictured below...
Here we need to choose what the workgroup on all computers on the network will be called, so apply this same process for all computers on the network. Most common names are "MSHOME" and "WORKGROUP" (case sensitive), you can basically call the workgroup whatever you like, in my case I've stuck to the plain "WORKGROUP".It is worth noting some broadband providers use their own separate workgroup, as in the case of Optus down here in Australia, they use their own workgroup called "@HOME". If your in a similar situation, use the same workgroup as your ISP has instructed you do on all client computers.- Enabling Internet Connection Sharing
Chances are if you couldn't bring up TweakTown before your server is yet to be setup to be allowing a connection to the Internet. This is simple enough to change, jump onto your server and click Start -> Settings -> Network Connections now you'll need to select your ISP account. You'll be brought to a new screen, from here click Advanced and you'll be brought to a screen like the one pictured below...
OK - Firstly you'll notice I have the Internet Connection Firewall enabled for the Internet connection. According to Microsoft, a firewall is a security system that acts as a protective boundary between a network and the outside world. Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) is firewall software that is used to set restrictions on what information is communicated from your home or small office network to and from the Internet to your network. I recommend you have this option enabled, while it isn't as powerful as hardware firewalls, it will protect you to a certain degree but not fully.Following on from this we move down to the all-important ICS options. Ensure you have "Allow other network users to connect through this computer's Internet connection and if you want to be able to control various settings of the Internet account from the other client computers, ensure you have "Allow other network users to control or disable the shared Internet connection".The only other option we have left to talk about is "Establish a dial-up connection whenever a computer on my network attempts to access the Internet". Simply this means if a client PC attempts to access the Internet when the server isn't connected to the Internet, it will automatically create a new connection without any user intervention. Now click OK and the settings we have just changed will be applied. Chances are you will have to disconnect your Internet connection and reconnect for the options to become active. Once you've done this, jump back on one of your client computers and try and access the Internet by typing in an address in your Internet browser. With any luck your desired page will have loaded with no problems and you'll have usual Internet access to programs like ICQ without having to change any options in third party programs like this. If your still having problems, I recommend you reboot both server and client computers. If you are still experiencing problems, check to see all your cables are plugged in and that your hub is powered up, always check the simple stuff first before getting all technical. Try going to a dos prompt on a client machine and typing ping 192.168.0.1 - this will check to see if your machine can talk to your internet and print server. If you get no response (Request timed out) then something may be wrong with either your cabling, switch, network cards or settings. If that didn't fix it, what I'm about to tell you should.
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Configuring the Network in Windows XP Continued- Network Setup Wizard
If your still experiencing problems, it's time to run the handy little service called, Network Setup Wizard. If your upgraded to Windows XP from an older operating system or your client PC was formerly used to connect to the Internet itself, chances are this could well be the cause of your problems.To start the Network Setup Wizard go to you're desktop and locate "My Network Places" and then click "set up a home or small office network", this will launch the wizard. Click Next twice for both screens, now for all client computers you will need to select the second option (The computer connects to the Internet through another computer on my network or through a residential gateway) and click Next. The next screen allows us to chance the computer name, but since we've already done this we won't bother, just click Next again, then type in "WORKGROUP" for the next screen if "WORKGROUP" is the workgroup name you ended up choosing. The next screen gives a summary of what changes will be made, click Next and then Windows XP will apply the changes, the next screen asks if you want to create a Network Setup Disk. Since we are only using a small home network, this isn't needed. Simply click Just finish the Wizard and then Finish on the next screen.This should have successfully fixed any problems you were experiencing, if not reboot and try again.- File Sharing and Access
OK, now you may be wondering how you access the other computers on the network, well that is the simple part. Go to your desktop and locate "My Network Places" and click "View workgroup computers" on the right, this will displays all the computers that are a part of your workgroup. The first time you enter this area it may take a few seconds, give it time. Simply double click the computer you wish to access, as pictured in the screenshot below...
Once you've access the network computer, you may not be able to see any of his or her files or folders. To fix this on the network computer go to My Computer and right click on each drive and click Properties then Sharing as shown below...
Anything more need to be said? Do this for all your drives on each computer. Note, if you have enabled "Allow network users to change my files" you are giving them full access to edit these, this includes deleting, you've been warned. For those of you more versed in the ways of Windows 2000 and NT in terms of security options, you can turn off simple mode file sharing via View->Folder Options->[X]Use Simple File Sharing.- Mapping Network Drives
Additionally you can map network drives, in the simplest terms this means adding a particular drive from a network computer to My Computer as you would a normal drive on your PC, it's even assigned it's own drive letter as a normal IDE drive partition would. This can be handy if you want to be accessing another drive on a network computer regularly. To do this locate the drive you wish to map and right click on it and click "Map Network Drive..." and you'll be given a screen as pictured below...
Simply click Finish and the drive and you're done!- Internet Connection Status
As we are coming close to the finish line, I can hardly forget a nice little addition that allows you to monitor the Internet connection status and disconnect and reconnect as desired, as you'd normally have to do from the server if you were using anything less than Windows XP. To access this feature, click Start -> Network Connections, here you will the name of what you've called your ISP on the server, what a lovely feature indeed by the big boys at Microsoft, nice job William.
Beautiful, isn't it? If you've got this far, you can pat your self on the back, you've only got one page to go!
Windows XP Home Networking Guide -Conclusion
See now, what did I tell you...As I said in the introduction of this guide, "It is much easier than most tend to believe". I think I proved this well and truly with everything I've showed you in this guide and how versatile Windows XP really is on the networking side of things.Now you're in the position to share the Internet, share a printer and play games against each other, and of course, transfers files from one computer to another quickly and efficiently. Networking is lovely, there's really no doubt about it and this is only the tip of the iceberg when you realize what other benefits networking can offer for larger organizations and the sheer power and scalability it offers. I hope you enjoyed this guide and find it useful in setting up your own small network with Windows XP. Please do not e-mail me for support (you won't get an answer); I have setup a dedicated thread in the Forums
where we'll answer as many questions as possible. Catch you again soon and thanks for reading!