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How To Remote Control Your Home Computer From Anywhere With VNC

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VNC allows you to remotely access a computer and use its desktop, either over the Internet or from another room in your house. Windows includes a Remote Desktop feature, but it’s only available in Professional editions of Windows.

Some people may prefer TeamViewer or another service instead, but VNC allows you to install and manage your own server without using a centralized service. VNC clients and servers are available for all platforms, but we’ll be covering Windows here.

Image Credit: photosteve101 on Flickr

Install a VNC Server

First, you’ll need to install a VNC server on the computer you want to access remotely. We’ll be using TightVNC here, but there are other VNC servers you can also use, such as UltraVNC.

TightVNC installs itself as a system service by default, so it will always be running in the background as long as your computer is on. (Of course, you can always disable the service manually.) It also automatically allows itself in the Windows firewall – if you use a different firewall, ensure that the firewall isn’t blocking TightVNC or you won’t be able to connect.

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Be sure to secure your VNC with a strong password, especially if you’re exposing your VNC server to the Internet!

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After the quick installation process, TightVNC will now be running on your computer. You can use the TightVNC Service – Control Interface option in your Start menu to configure your server.

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One important setting you’ll want to change is the ports TightVNC uses. The default port used for VNC is 5900 – you can increase your security by changing it to another port. People scanning for open VNC servers will try t o connect at port 5900, ut generally won’t notice VNC servers running on other random ports, such as 34153.

You may also want to change the Web Access port for the same reason — or disable web access entirely.

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Forward Ports & Set Up Dynamic DNS

Your computer is now running a VNC server, so you’ll be able to connect to it from other computers on your local network. If you want to connect to it from the Internet, you’ll have to do a few more things.

First, you’ll need to forward the VNC server’s port on your router. This process is different on every router, but you’ll have to use your router’s web interface to forward ports.

You may also want to set up a dynamic DNS hostname for your home network. Internet service providers often change the IP address assigned to home networks, which means that you may be unable to connect to your home computer if your home IP address changes.

Connect to Your Computer

With a VNC server running on the remote computer, you can use a VNC client on another computer to connect. TightVNC includes a VNC client – you can install TightVNC on another computer and deselect the server option in the install process to only install the viewer. Once it’s installed, you’ll find the TightVNC Viewer in your Start menu.

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Enter the address of your home computer to connect. You can use several different types of addresses:

  • Use the computer’s local IP address if you’re on the same local network as the computer.
  • Use your home network’s IP address if you’re accessing the computer over the Internet.
  • Use your dynamic DNS hostname if you set up dynamic DNS and are accessing your computer over the Internet.

For more information about determining the local or remote IP addresses your computer is using, read: How to Find Your Computer’s Private & Public IP Addresses

If you’re using a different port for your VNC server (as you probably should be), append the port number after two colons.

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After connecting, you’ll see the remote computer’s desktop in a window on your screen.

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For more ways to get Professional features on Home versions of Windows, read: How to Get Pro Features in Windows Home Versions with Third Party Tools

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 09/20/12

Comments (27)

  1. Cambo

    Wow, HTG. I’m quite shocked. You’re actually suggesting using VNC over the Internet.

    Never, ever follow this guide for the open Internet – without using some sort of tunneling protocol (SSH even).

    VNC is unencrypted by nature. Hence the reason it isn’t used over the internet.

    PLEASE HTG, don’t be advising people to do this over the internet without a secure tunneling protocol.

  2. Vista7

    Wow. Cool!
    Is this possible to connect with a smartphone?

  3. Cambo

    @Vista7

    I have done it over a LAN with a smart-phone, however scrolling a full desktop on a tiny 4″ screen gets old, fast.

    Tablets are much easier.

  4. Vista7
  5. Tim S

    ffs just use http://www.teamviewer.com – far more secure and deals with tunnelling through firewalls..

  6. The Bull

    Combo is right, there should be some level of encryption before establishing a remote session from the internet. asymmetric encryption preferred…

  7. The Bull

    **Cambo** sorry misspelled name..

  8. Mathew

    I’d reccomend TeamViewer as a much better solution. There’s a portable apps client you can carry on a USB key, the data being transferred is encrypted using 256-bit encryption, and there’s no messing about with firewalls or port forwarding. You can also set it up as a service like TightVNC.

  9. TimG

    I have to “double-down on the opening and closing remarks addressing the open-dangers and the need for a secure tunneling access rather than leaving everything exposed. You folks offer much valuable – and needed – advice for many; but omitting “that one” was pretty surprising!

  10. Steve H

    Combine this with Hamachi to add security

  11. Screwtape

    I’ve used Teamviewer for a while now and love it. However, VNC over the same connection seems “snappier.”

    Any suggestions to make Teamviewer more fluid over a typical cable connection?

  12. Woodseaves

    Bit of a flop then?

  13. Goldenbarstewart

    Quite involved and complicated – I agree with Mathew above – it’s Teamviewer all the way for me. I have had only success using it and it is so-o-o-o simple to use.

  14. jsaddison

    Couldn’t you do this with a little more security for Windows 7 or better with RDP?

  15. Tim S

    With RDP you’re still left exposing ports – with a negotiated tunneling approach like hamachi or teamviewer (which is essentially hamachi + VNC rolled into one) it’s far more secure as no ports have to be left open for it to function.

  16. Dimandio

    I’ve been using Windows Live Mesh for quite some time now, if you have windows 7 professional and above just use this feature, it’s encrypted, and easy to setup. No third-party software required.

  17. hprdesign

    UltraVNC allows for AES encryption using a DSMPlugin. I use the AESV2 dsm plugin which has a key length of 128 regardless of OS. It does slow down a connection slightly. Easy to install.

  18. BonaGens

    I really liked TeamViewer until I came accross LogMeIn. It’s really fast, secure, and best of all, free. :)

  19. TheFu

    I’m with Cambo.
    Most remote desktops do not have sufficient levels of encryption included to be considered security without a VPN/tunner too and the most popular VPNs have significant weaknesses and should be avoided too – specifically PPTP, but others have issues too.

    Real security is usually competing with “convenience”. Most security usually means less convenience and vice versa. Each of us need to determine what level of security is really needed for out environments. However, if the wrong choice is made, leaning more towards convenience, all is lost.

    * Use an IPSec or OpenVPN-based VPN or
    * Use an ssh based tunnel or
    * Use any NX-based remote desktop client / server or
    * Learn to love the CLI and use ssh between bash and powershell,
    controlling a PC is pretty easy provided your programs aren’t limited to GUI tools.

    Just by running on an alternate port doesn’t increase real security at all, though it will reduce the most common cracker attempts, it wouldn’t slow down anyone serious.

    I need to check out the DSMPlugin. Interesting. OTOH, I don’t really use VNC since finding freeNX. NX is amazing, very network efficient and uses ssh tunnels, so if you’ve already got an ssh port forwarded, you are golden.

  20. r

    TeamViewer Pro for quick client connection. I use Visionapp ASG-Remote Desktop for managing multiple servers, Sans & all related backup & security for them. Been using it quite a long time & this works all very well for me.

  21. Steven Shaffer

    I personally use TightVNC (the best of the vnc proggy’s imho) to control my htpc/home server while at home. It’s snappier as someone else said and you can save the login info by clicking on the screens taskbar after you connect for the first time. Then I can save that shortcut on my rocketdock bar and simply login easily without retyping the login name and pass everytime I want to access my htpc while at home.
    Now when I’m trying to access a family members pc to help them I always use Teamviewer as it’s so much easier to use with people that have little to no tech knowledge. Plus it has the included security for doing anything over the internet.

  22. Steven Shaffer

    BTW SOmeone said about Teamviewer having a portable version. There’s also a portable version of TightVNC just server, just viewer, or both.

  23. SoL

    TightVNC encrypts VNC passwords, but the rest of the traffic is sent unencrypted.
    So using it over the net raises many potential risks, too many for me.

  24. atm

    i’m use freenx instead

  25. wheeee

    @Cambo
    I think TightVNC supports some security plugins. Not 100% sure on that.

    @Vista7
    Yes. I can connect over 3G/4G just fine.
    Running TightVNC on PC.
    android-vnc-viewer on phone (free version)
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=android.androidVNC

  26. Dark Reality

    This stuff is all well and good if you’re single and you leave your computer logged in at home. But I’m married and have roommates, so I lock my account when I get up. Win+L as I’m standing. It’s habit by now. With Windows locked, or another user logged in, none of this stuff works… AFAIK. If you leave your account logged in, you can use the computer remotely, but nobody else can.

    Twice — once with a Nintendo DS and again with a smartphone, I set up something like VNC on my *wife’s* account, and hid it well… Took control without her knowing. I didn’t really care what she was doing, but I’d throw the cursor every now and then. Many lulz were had when she came crying to me that the computer was broken. It was especially funny with the DS because she had no idea (what amounts to) a Gameboy could do that. (By itself it can’t, but mine was modded.) Now it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. Now if I could somehow hijack her smartphone with mine, I could run the gag again. Better if I do it when she lets her sister use her phone for something, get both of them. Bonus points if I can have the front-facing camera streaming their reactions to me.

  27. Seff22

    @ Dark Reality : So what you’re saying is that you have no respect for other people’s privacy & you get off on causing confusion & stress to others cuz it gives you a cheap.

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