Peer-to-Peer Networking:

Building a home network


One of the most useful things you can do is build a home network.  The ability to share resources such as printers, scanners & internet connections saves time, money & aggravation.  Setting up home network, however, can also be a frustrating experience.  The help files and troubleshooting tools never quite seem to fit whatever problems you are having.  I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of experience with computers, and I have a lot of friends with networking experience.  My experience gave me the confidence to keep pressing forward; my friends gave me that last bit of missing information.  Together we prevailed.

Mixed Operating Systems

In any home networking environment one computer needs to be the host; the rest are clients.  It makes sense for the computer with the Internet connection to be the host machine.  If you are like me, it also makes sense for your desktop to be the host and the laptop to be the client.

Unfortunately, my desktop machine is barely over two years old and already it is two generations of software behind.  The manufacturer installed a proprietary bios, then quit supporting it; my machine cannot be upgraded to Windows XP.  I’m stuck using Windows 98.  I recently purchased a laptop running Windows XP.  I needed to network the two machines so I could share the Internet connection.

If you have only two computers, you can easily network your system by installing a Network Interface Card, (NIC,) in each, then running an Ethernet cable between them.  Ethernet cables come in two types.  The one you will commonly find is a patch cable designed to plug a computer into a network, hub, switch or router.  You don’t want that one.  To connect two computers to each other you need a crossover cable.  Since crossover cables are also used to connect hubs, switches and routers to each other, they are often quite long.  For example, I needed just six feet of cable; the only cable I could find, however, was 45 feet long.

If you go to most computer stores nowadays you will find all manner of home networking kits.  Some use phone lines, some use power lines, and some use wireless.  All really cool, and all really unnecessary; if you use 10/100 NIC cards and a crossover cable, your home network will be faster than all these other solutions.  You will also find a variety of home networking hubs, gateways, switches and routers.  If you only have two computers, these devices are unnecessary.  Two NICS and a crossover cable are all you need.

Suppose you have a broadband connection that plugs into your NIC card.  You can still connect your computers directly by installing a second NIC card in the host machine, but you do have another option.  You can purchase a router with a four port switch and two Ethernet patch cables.  Your total cost for this will be slightly over $100.  The advantage of this configuration is it offloads much of the network processing to the router.  To make this work you plug the broadband modem into the router, then plug each computer into the router.  If you by an off brand router you will have to manually configure the router settings to allow your network computers to see each other, a task that is not for the faint of heart.  If you buy a system from a well known company like NetGear, it should automatically configure itself for your network.  If not, it will ask you a bunch of simple questions to configure the network.  Eventually this is the route I will take, but for now a direct connection between my computers is sufficient.

An Aside on Firewalls

Before we go any further I should tell you that if you are not running firewall software you are a fool.  Your computer is being probed for weaknesses at least hourly.  Firewalls hide your machine, fooling the potential hacker into thinking your machine isn't there and preventing the hacker from gaining control of your machine.  You must install a firewall, and the firewall software should be on the host machine.  If for some reason you don’t have a software firewall, you can download a free version of ZoneAlarm.  Many new computers come with a trial subscription for Norton Internet Security (NIS). NIS is a bit pricey, and my guess is many people let the subscription expire. Should you still be using NIS, it should automatically detect your home network.  Zone Alarm will do this as well. 

Many personal firewall products exist besides the two I've mentioned here. I've not tried them all. From personal experience, I recommend Zone Alarm products. The free version of Zone Alarm does its job very well. Zone Alarm Pro has more feaetures and is more convenient; it is clearly worth the price. Zone Alarm Security Suite also offers anti-virus protection, and it can be cheaper to buy these all together than as separate programs.

Any decent firewall will block both incoming and outgoing traffic unless you specifically authorize it.  Blocking outgoing traffic prevents much of the spyware from doing its dirty work, an added bonus.    If you’ve completed all the steps and your home network still won’t work, disable the firewall software---briefly---and try again.  If that works, try going to your firewall's website and find out how they recommend you set up their software with your network.

Getting Started With a Mixed OS Network

Let’s suppose each machine has a free NIC card and you’ve installed the Ethernet crossover cable.  At this point you need to install Internet Connection Sharing on both machines.  Win 98 does not install this by default.  Go to Start/Settings/Control Panel/”Add/Remove Programs”/Windows Setup/Internet Tools/Internet Connection Sharing.  Make sure the box is checked.  If it wasn’t previously installed, you’ll need your Win98 CD-ROM to complete the installation. 

Win98 will ask you if you want to make a disk to install the client software onto your client.  If your other machines are also Win98, this disk should install the required software.  You will be asked to name each machine on your network as well as providing a name for the workgroup they will all be on.  Make sure each computer name is unique, but make sure you use the same workgroup name on each computer.

In the Win 98 Control Panel you will need to make sure you are using the “Client for Microsoft Networking”.  You should also click the “File and Print Sharing” button and select, at a minimum, to share the printer.  Making these changed will likely require a reboot.  Once you are done,

Getting Started With Windows XP

If you have Windows NT or Windows 2000, I suspect you won’t have to use the Win98 Client Internet Connection disk.  Somewhere on the machine is a way to activate Internet Connection Sharing.  I’d suggest you use the help menu to search for it.  In WinXP it’s easy.  You simply go to the Control Panel, select Network Connections, then select “Set up a home or small office network".  Follow the instructions closely; you’ll need to know whether the WinXP machine is the client or the host.  (The host is the computer with the internet connection.)  Go ahead and make the WinXP Network Setup Disk.  I installed the software on my host machine running Win98.  It can’t hurt, although I’m not sure it helped either.  (I didn’t install the Win98 client software on my laptop---why install old code onto a new machine?)

Now you will need to go to your client machine and open Internet Explorer.  Select Tools/Internet Options/Connections.  Under “Dial-up” select “Never dial a connection”.  You don’t have to do anything with the LAN settings.  Once you’ve gotten your client to stop trying to use a dial-up connection, you should be able to connect to the internet.  If this still doesn’t work, don’t be surprised, though. 

On the client machine you need to ensure you have the default gateway set.  From the Start menu select “Run”, type in ”command”, and at the command prompt type in “ipconfig”.  The default gateway should read “”.  If it doesn’t, you’ll need to manually add it. 

Go to Control Panel/Network and Internet Settings/Network Connections.  Right click on the Local Area Connection, then select Properties.  Click on Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), then on Properties.  Select the Gateway tab and type in the following octet exactly: “”.  Click OK.

You'll also want to check the DNS settings.  These settings control the resolution of the website address to the IP address.  After the preceding step you are back at the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) Properties box.  If this is your client computer, click the "Use the following DNS server addresses" radio button and type in the following octet exactly: “”.  Click OK.  If this is your host computer, you should either input the IP addresses your ISP gave you or click the button to "Obtain DNS server address automatically."

(If you have trouble connecting to the internet or sending emails from your client computer and you've run the Networking and Internet Connection Sharing Troubleshooting Wizards with no results, double check your DNS settings.  Troubleshooting this is easy---you can ping known IP addresses outside your network, but you can't ping by URLs.  This means the problem is with resolving the website names to IP addresses.)

In WinXP go to Start/Control Panel/Network Connections.  Select your network connection; it will likely say "Network Bridge".  In the "Network Tasks" box, at the bottom, click the "Change settings for this connection" link.  A dialogue box for the Network Bridge will pop up.  On the "General" tab under adapters select your Local Area Connection; in the connections box select Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)  then click "Properties".  A dialogue box will pop up entitled "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) Properties."   The default gateway should read; if it doesn't you'll have to click "Advanced", under "Default Gateways" click "Add", and type it in exactly.

Your network should now be operational.  Remember, your host internet connection must be active for your client to be able to log in.  If, after all this, you still can't get your network operational, I'd suggest going to and checking out the Knowledge Base for additional information and troubleshooters.

Happy networking everybody!

Last updated on December 31, 2005