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Networking is Hard

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42 comments on “Networking is Hard”

  1. My solution: A Cloud server.

    I use the paid version of Dropbox (OneDrive and Google Drive are also viable), and every file I create or download is in my Dropbox folder. All of my computers share everything. I have a Boxcryptor folder for sensitive files. When my daughter wanted me to set up a network for her company, I installed Dropbox on her computers. It’s been working well for them for the past 2 1/2 years.

    I suppose personal home cloud servers would also be viable solutions.

    • That’s my solution as well – although I delete the files from these clouds as soon as it’s been transferred, so don’t need the extra space in the paid version.

      • That’s a good solution. But the way I operate is to use Dropbox as my main server. I have 3 computers of which I can go to any one and have access to all of my work. I can share files and folders with anyone I want. It all depends on your requirements.

  2. In my case I solved the problem with a NAS. I drop files, PDF’s, etc. on the NAS then retrieve them with whatever device I need them on. It works but is it better than the old USB drive way of doing it? Yes but not a lot.

  3. A time-honored solution to the Network Problem:

    “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.”—Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Computer Networks, 4th ed., p. 91.

    sneakernet n. Term used (generally with ironic intent) for transfer of electronic information by physically carrying tape, disks, or some other media from one machine to another. “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon filled with magtape, or a 747 filled with CD-ROMs.” Also called ‘Tennis-Net’, ‘Armpit-Net’, ‘Floppy-Net’, or ‘Shoenet’.

    [1] E. S. Raymond, Ed., The New Hacker’s Dictionary, 3rd ed. , Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. I have only Windows machines and there are problems even there. To my mind networking is at the Model T Ford stage: better than a horse (=tapes, floppies, etc) but definitely not very “drivable”. Networkong should be like modern cars, just get in and drive.

  5. For the novice, TeamViewer free cannot be beat for accessing any platform from anywhere. It works great.

    A second option is to install your own cloud. I have three WdMy Cloud boxes a WdMy Cloud, a WdMy Cloud EX4 and a WdMy Cloud Mirror. I back up all my Macs and PC to my own Cloud. Then I can on any device or on the web open any of my files and copy and paste.

    • Agreed I use the same solution It also allowed me to use smaller SDD (250GB) drives in all my macs and PC’s without worrying about storage space. One side note I did install a 1 TB SDD drive in one of my NAS boxes to test for speed improvement and found that it was a waste of time. Also besides making it easier to transfer between different platforms I find a big advantage is being able to retrieve my files as and when I need them no matter where I am even music and movie files I can stream from anywhere there is an internet connection.

  6. I use PCs and my friends use Macs. We transfer data freely between us with large USB 3 thumb drives. No problems as all have been encountered.

    To transfer over long distances, OneDrive is put to use. Again, no problems.

  7. I’m glad to hear it isn’t just me. I gave up on networking. I wasted a couple of days trying to learn enough to solve the puzzle. I could spend some money having a tech do it, but the benefit wouldn’t be worth the money. We get by using the flash drive method. I’m learning about OneDrive. That should be a good enough solution. Thanks for the article, it makes me feel less ignorant.

  8. Not the fastest but I find the quickest way to a working solution is to use an FTP client and server. If you know the IP address of the “other” machine you can normally get an FTP connection going quickly even if you can’t see the other machine when you browse the network. As someone else pointed out, “sneakernet” is always an option. It’s not pretty but it works.

  9. I manage a small office network (14 PCs). We have a Windows Server domain and ever since we moved from XP to Win7, I deal with ‘Network Discovery’ switching off. It happens on random PC’s at random times for unknown reasons. Like any IT situation, if you can’t reproduce the problem, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to fix it. I’ve tried so much experimenting that I don’t even know what may or may not have worked. I wrote up a “quick and easy” procedure with screenshots for everyone to fix it on their own when it occurs. We’re just living with it until I can get us all upgraded to Win10 and (crosses-fingers) hope the problem just goes away. For the record, 3 or 4 PCs have never had the problem … but I can’t reproduce that on the other PC’s. Like Leo says, it shouldn’t be this hard.

    • Gabe,
      When I read Leo’s phrase “it shouldn’t be this hard” I said to myself “I’m gonna add that to my TAGLINE File and give Leo credit for saying that.

      “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard” – Leo Notenboom

      How about that Leo?

  10. We gave up on our “home network” a long time ago, and just sneakernet everything. We have lots of external drives, and lots of flash drives………….

    We seem to be able to print from the Windows 7 machine that has no printer to the Windows 7 machine that has a printer (IFF both are awake and running when the print job is sent), so there is some communication that is possible between them over the network, but we just don’t bother trying to do anything else.

  11. I am pleased to hear others have problems networking as well. I have 4 Windows 10 and an old Windows 7 machine and sometimes I can have all five networking and sometimes only two. There always seems to be a problem, be it a permission some or something else. At least the fallback of a portable HD always seems to work

  12. Hello everyone, about 22 years ago I followed a three-week course to become a network admin. Networking is still hard 22 years later. In the course I found out that the networking model is based on two layers of hardware, and five layers of software. The top layer is the actual program trying to send something to another computer. The file has to travel down to the bottom hardware layer, be sent through the wire (or wifi) and then back up again at the receiving end. The number of protocols, the variety of drivers, the differing capabilities, this all amounts to “anything can break at any layer” and rain on your day. At this stage, my home network works pretty well, consisting of various platforms (two Linux boxes, one with Windows 7, one macbook, couple of idevices, ancient PS3, apple tv) and at this point, I’m like Leo: everything works ok, except my Windows machines can’t access the macbook. The reverse works (the mac can copy or read files to and from the PCs). I have enough white hair at this point that I decided it was “good enough” and to use it as is. Yep, it should not be that hard. However, Macs compete with Windows PCs and Linux computers, so usually it means war (pretty much). That’s probably why it’s not pretty…

  13. Thanx to Leo, I was introduced to Dropbox a number of years ago. As my devices multiplied and I began to operate my own very small non-profit, having a common, easily usable site to update and store my data became essential. It was very easy to make the decision because I have never seen a network that truly worked. Dropox fills the bill.

  14. Hi Leo, Great topic on networking. We have (1) Windows 10 laptop; (2) Windows 7 desktops; (1) Vista desktop; (1) Windows 7 Smart TV box; (1) XP laptop; (1) Windows 7 laptop; (1) Windows 10 tablet and finally a new (used) Windows 8.1 Surface. They all come together with a WD 2TB NAS box plugged directly into our router. I have also intermittently had an iPod Touch and Blackberry plus a Ubuntu box in the mix. The NAS server acts as a nice, fast traffic cop for all file transfers and doubles as a media file source for a WD media player on our TV. My biggest headache with Windows networking is usually in the file and printer sharing and the password protected networking in the Control Panel network settings. The second part of this process is actively sharing each drive or folder with “everyone” eg. literally type everyone into the sharing dialog box. Apparently, turning on printer and file sharing only applies to the public folders, I don’t know why…

    • Actually advanced sharing allows Public or Guest, Private, and All Network options to allow you to limit how your printers get shared.

  15. Thanks, Leo great article as usual, However I tend to disagree about the virtues of dropbox I look after around 200 PC’s for different clients and one of the biggest problems I come across is deleted files or missing files and usually these are important files like accounts etc. All due to dropbox or more specifically the misuse of dropbox. I tell my clients time and time again dropbox is NOT A BACKUP System. especially if they use the free version. I could write a book on the problems with dropbox and their pathetic support (unless you use the pro version and even then ?

    • My brother-in-law lost all his photos. His phone was backing up the photos to DropBox. But when he needed his backup, DropBox deleted his photos.

      I use OneDrive, but only as a convenient way to transfer files (which are stored elsewhere on my computer) from my computer to the church computer and vice-versa.

  16. I have a small issue between my computers. With my old Mac, I bought the software for Microsoft Office in order to work with Word. My new Mac, however, does not have a disc drive in it for me to install the software. I have been using Pages on my newer Mac – which is great – however, fewer people have Pages, therefore transferring documents becomes difficult since some people can’t open it. I still have one more Office available to me in the software package so I don’t really want to buy another one online and download it. I know I can also purchase some kind of disc driver that attaches to the new laptop – but again, that’s another expense and I would only need it that one time. Also my old Mac has a few issues with the keyboard so I don’t really want to do any writing projects on it. It’s not a huge deal but I thought I would bring it up since I’ve noticed more and more laptops no longer have the disc driver, so maybe this is an issue other people might also be dealing with as well. Thank you.

  17. For me, networking is a fun challenge and started out as a fun learning curve. When it comes to networking, my challenge is firewall exceptions. Now, I don’t mess with stuff that is “supposed to be easy” like file sharing: I do a little more technical stuff. The programs I’ve played with I directly connect to by entering IP addresses (or a domain name, but I don’t use domain names, IPs have worked well for me for 6 years). This software includes:
    Minecraft Dedicated Server (I don’t play Minecraft, but my brothers and friends do: setting it up at first was a technical challenge for fun. Now whenever I host it, it’s a favor I’m proud to do)
    Remote Desktop Connection: really convenient software to use for a variety of reasons.
    Team Fortress 2 Dedicated Server
    Now, I don’t just run this stuff locally: I opened this up to the entire world. What’s interesting about this was that I kind of knew what I had to do: but, in the beginning, I didn’t know what port forwarding was: for a while I thought that port forwarding was a thing where you used a service to let computers on the internet communicate with a computer, kind of like a proxy, when, really, it meant opening exceptions in the router firewall for specific software on a machine. I thought “I don’t need port forwarding, I can just adjust my router’s firewall”.
    Anyway. the first one was easy: Just create a custom rule with a name and the range TCP 25565-25565. Second one even easier, at least at first: the router had a pre-made option called “XP remote desktop” that conveniently had the TCP 3389 rule, although, in the end, I had to set up a custom remote desktop rule anyway as I used remote desktop on multiple machines, and two machines on the same IP meant I had to use different ports.
    The third one was a bit tricker: the default ports are 27015 TCP and 27015 UDP. Now, when I referred to the wiki it said:
    The ports SRCDS officially requires are:
    27015 TCP/UDP (game transmission, pings and RCON)
    The problem was I didn’t know what TCP or UDP meant. In the router, I thought I simply had to create a rule for 27015. That failed. Then eventually I noticed in the “start server” dialog box that one of the text fields was labeled “UDP port”. Now that I knew that TCP 27015 and UDP 27015 were two different ports, I deleted said rule and created a rule for “UDP 27015”. Still didn’t work. I must have opened the wiki at least 20 times before I realized I was reading it wrong: 27015 TCP and UDP. Once I figured out my error, I went in and created a new rule, but with two “definitions”: TCP 27015-27015 and UDP 27015-27015. The thing finally worked.

    Now, not everyone should be trying to host public things like these. With the way routers vary, it’s hard enough to do things like change the default password and set up WPA2. On top of that, people try to host this stuff knowing less than I knew in the beginning. Occasionally I will see some forum post or something saying that someone is hosting a server for whatever reason, be it a custom map or a 24/7 gamemode, on an IP like 192.168.1.x. Nope, not going to happen, no matter that the firewall is configured correctly. Although to be fair, I think that doing certain searches actually results in bad advice, such as using the IPconfig command, which isn’t really helpful on a machine behind a router.

  18. At home, I just got a wireless router with a USB port and hung a formatted hard drive on it.

    Then I mapped the drive to a drive letter on each PC, and everyone can access it.

    You can also map sub-folders to a drive letter, so that, for instance, on Ron’s PC the “R” drive maps to the “Ron” folder on the network hard drive, and on Tom’s PC the “T” drive maps to the “Tom” folder on the networked hard drive. (But everyone’s PC also has a “S” drive that maps to a “Shared” folder on that drive.)

    If there is a alphabetical clash because people have names that start with the same first letter, you may have to rename some family members.

  19. Our home network has 4 Windows PCs and we have been networking with all the usual problems since Windows 2000 days. It makes me livid that Microsoft has continually added features which nobody wanted to Windows releases but failed abysmally to sort out the networking mess.
    Our network has worked well enough for us to get by but the more recent need to connect to Android devices too has pretty much hit the buffers. I managed it for a while with one tablet but it soon died and now seems beyond hope of resuscitation.
    Nobody has mentioned the software apps that claim to assist with solving network problems. I tried a couple a while back without much success. In theory such an app could be ideal and would work both by analysing the situation programmatically from the machine(s) on which it is installed and by offering a step-by-step flow chart trouble-shooter (forget the Windows one – its a joke). Has anyone had any luck with programs of this type and can offer recommendations?

    • Way back when XP was the current OS, I used a utility that worked great 12 years ago. I think it was Network Magic. I see it still exists and has goo reviews on PCMag. If anyone has any experience with that or other options, they would be appreciated here.

  20. Networking Hard! And it keeps getting more so. I have and old XP tower I use to host my external back-up tertiary drives as well as a print server. With the print server being the most difficult to use from my Win-10 64-bit laptops that host an Acurite Weather Station, my husbands e-mail, my primary Win-10 64-bit tower, a VAIO laptop for HDMI based BR-DVD access to the smart TV, etc, etc. I also have an iPad, there’s my husbands Android smart phone, the Sharp Android based smart-TV, an Amazon Fire stick – also Android. Plus every manufacturer seems to have adopted slightly different iterations of Android. Then there’s the wireless Canon photo printer as well as several USB based Canon photo printers that serve as plain paper printers, a USB high-res photo pos/neg capable Canon scanner, all of which support up to 19″x13″ poster photographic printing.
    I’ve gone back to the “old” tried and true manual IP based networking using workgroups, static IP addresses for most, very limited DHCP for the TV, sound system, and Fire Stick only. (The DHCP pool is just 3 addresses). With the TV, sound system, weather station, all but one PC being over a wired ethernet network with a bit of power-line networking thrown in to get data from my dining room/living room systems back to my router in the far back corner of my brick house. Brick isn’t the best of mediums to get wireless from one end of the house to the other, especially with the steel I-beams in between.
    Yes, networking is hard but worth the effort to be able to allow my husband to “just turn it on” to get to his e-mail! While limiting the Grandkids access. If their parents want to allow them to do gaming, then they can purchase a cellular data plan for them. We don’t do Internet gaming, period. However, we do a lot of Internet Streaming for TV, Movies, and News content. Content I can physically restrict easily since I’m the only one who controls security, passwords, and encryption.

  21. For the external drive-to-Windows box leg of the sneakernet, I’d recommend a freeware/donationware program called ‘Roadkil’s Unstoppable Copier’ (Roadkil with 1 ‘l’). It’s good for copying the entire contents of a directory and all its subdirectories and the only files I’ve ever seen it fail to copy are corrupt ones and in the situation where the pathname/filename on the destination drive exceeds the Windows length restrictions.

    I don’t do Mac, so I don’t know if there’s anything like it for that platform. Though I imagine there is.

  22. All of this just shows that there is not “one” solution to networking implementations and problems. My home network has grown and progressed from the days of Windows 98 to Windows 10 today. I had three adult children and a wife using their own computers all running off a Windows 98 that I used as a server and interface to the Internet. Back then routers were expensive, so I had to make do. About all the server did was to provide a firewall and to route traffic to individual computers and to the Internet. As new Windows OSs were introduced, I usually managed to acquire the latest every few years. All this time my wife used a Mac. It was not until Windows XP that we could do some file sharing that worked most of the time until something changed. It was that era when I began using Dropbox. As one of your readers pointed out, DropBox is not specifically a backup system, but after several years of using it I have not had any problems with it. The data that I share with my wife is substantial. Adding the system files, the image is on the order of 140GB. Obviously DropBox will not be instrumental in system backup, although it handles the data backup and sharing just fine among all of my computers (two Macs, some W7s, and three W10s).

    I am using a NAS device hanging on the LAN primarily for weekly backup of my main computer and occasional video streaming. I have used it for backup of some others without a problem, except the slow speed. The speed does not look bad when I back up my own computer. When backing up another I use TeamViewer to access the particular computer and to run the backup. That may be what is introducing the delay, although I have not yet tested that.

    As for plugging an external drive into the router so that all computers can see it, well, not all routers are capable of the physical and the software handling of that. Networking may be problematic, but I see it as an interesting challenge. Sharing data via DropBox is easy and fun. With latest printers the printer is accessible from any computer as long as the software was installed.

  23. As I’ve commented previously I use a NAS on my Mac/Windows network. I’ve set uy a folder in the NAS called Local Dropbox and connect to it from any machine. I can even get to it from my iPad.

  24. Well, Leo, your topic this week just reinforces what many of us have been telling our clients for years – Stay away from Apple products unless you are absolutely sure you can use Apple products for your every electronic device need. Their corporate philosophy is to maintain an Apple only infrastructure. Their products are designed not to work well or play well with products manufactured by other companies. Oh, sure, you can “make” them work if you want to spend enough time doing it and if you are a big enough geek. But why put yourself through that? Stay with Windows of Linux and you will be able to share information easily between your smart devices, laptops, desktops etc. And while I’m still ranting…if you are still running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s analogous to heading out onto I95 in a Model T Ford.

    • This isn’t just an apple problem. The same is true for Windows. It can be incredibly frustrating to get Windows machines to network with Linux boxes for example, or even with Windows boxes running different versions of Windows.

    • Considering how well the internet works with TCP/IP, you’d think someone would have come up with a cross platform protocol which works equally well on local area networks.

  25. I use static IP addresses on the theory that simplest is best. My NAS has a static IP as does my network printer.

    Leo: no Chromebook?

  26. It seems like with every version of Windows, Microsoft has made “simple” networking harder. Yes it is absolutely neccessary to have highly secure password protected sharing and nice to have domains to manage everything in a big network, but in a home or small business environment, it just is not (or should not) be necessary.

    I recently spent many hours trying to get a group of Windows 10 computers to do “simple” file sharing. Some showed up in Network, some didn’t. Some showed up but “access denied.” Some showed up but asked for username and password even though password protected sharing was turned off. What a nightmare. And I’ve been setting up network sharing on Windows machines for the last 20 years.

    The control panel says “To give other people access, turn off password protected sharing.” This seems explicit, but it isn’t quite that simple.

    Computers/shared items may or may not show up in the Network (places, neighborhood, or whatever it is on your version of Windows), they may be accessible by ip but not name, they may show up be pingable but “access denied”, etc.

    Turning off password protected sharing is necessary but not always sufficient to give people access. You MAY have to go in the permissions settings and add the people, or “everybody” or “guests” as well. Why not let users do “simple” file sharing by simply turning password protected sharing off?

    Sharing a drive is more problematic than a folder. Why? I can understand concerns about sharing the root of the system drive, but sharing a data drive is no different than a folder. Windows knows which is the system drive. it would be easy enough to protect it but let users easily share data drives.

    If you want to browse by computer name, you may have to wait a long time until the master browser service figures out who the computers are. Best I can tell, there is no replacement for the ‘browstat’ command to let you easily determine which computer is the master browser. I found a nice script to do it at https://scottiestech.info/downloads/

    After 20+ years of ‘modern’ Windows, It just should not be this hard.

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