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Beyond the Simple Stages
If you're feeling adventurous and want to set up an advanced home network, then the following information details things you need to know. There are several technology types as well as terms and acronyms that need to be explained and detailed, before you can jump into advanced home network configuration. While I could provide step-by-step instructions on how to configure certain devices for a specific network configuration, you are better served by having the "tools" of the trade at your disposal so that you can customize a network to meet your individual needs.
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Earlier in this series I very briefly mentioned IP addresses, but I didn't really go into what they are or how they work? The "IP" stands for "Internet Protocol", and while that is a random fact you can throw out at a watercooler gathering for nerds, it goes nowhere in explaining what an IP address really is.
Much like how every home in a neighborhood is assigned an address, every computer connected to the Internet is assigned an address too. In a neighborhood, addresses are used to give a location as well as to determine where mail should be delivered. Much like that, the addresses assigned to computers (called IP addresses), are used to determine where bits of information should be delivered.
When you use your computer to access the Internet you are, in essence, mailing out requests for information. For example, you go to www.google.com and type in "blue chair" and hit enter. When that happens your computer wraps up "blue chair" in a virtual envelope and delivers it to the IP address it knows is associated with www.google.com. Google then processes your request and uses the return IP address on the virtual envelope to send that information back to you - all in the blink of an eye.
What Does an IP Address Look Like?
IP addresses are simply made up of a series of four numbers separated by dots. 188.8.131.52 is one example. 192.168.2.216 is another.
Public and Private IP Addresses
There is a range of IP addresses that are designated "public" and are assigned to Internet subscribers by their service providers. These public addresses are what is used to route information between you and the Internet. There are also ranges of IP addresses that are designated "Private", and are what is assigned to an individual computer by a NAT device (described in a previous article).
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NAT devices, particularly home wireless routers, are automatically configured to use DHCP. DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, but much like "IP", this doesn't give you any insight into the technology. DHCP is useful when you have multiple computers connecting to the Internet through a router. DHCP is the service that assigns each computer its own alias, or private IP address, so that when information comes in, it knows exactly which computer it needs to go to. Even if you only have one computer, leaving DHCP enabled simplifies the setup process.
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Remember in our earlier example how your computer had to lookup the IP address associated with www.google.com? The service that allows it to do that is called DNS. DNS stands for Domain Name Service, and for once the words in the acronym make a little bit of sense. A domain is essentially a home, and on the Internet each of those domains is given a name. Google.com is the domain name given to the virtual home in which all of Google resides. DNS servers are responsible for keeping track of the IP addresses associated with every domain. In a home network, you will never want to change a DNS setting, but knowing what it is can be helpful.
Setting Up a Home Network - Understanding the Technology
Most computer users have heard the term "Home Network" but aren't quite sure what it is, or they are under the false impression that it is a complex technology that they will never be able to grasp, let alone implement. This guide simplifies the technology and makes it possible for anyone to use.