Whether you’re hosting a web page or running a Minecraft server, it’s a pain to keep track of IP addresses. Using a free dynamic DNS, you can turn 188.8.131.52 into mygeekydns.dyndns.org and be free from changing IPs.
Dynamic Domain Name System services can be found in many places online for varying costs, but they all work more or less the same way. We’ve talked about DNS before – mainly when mentioning OpenDNS, Google’s Public DNS, and NameBench – but, essentially, DNS servers are like address books which convert IP addresses into host names. As you can imagine, this makes the web much easier to work with.
Getting your hands on a .com can be tough and expensive, but if you have your own server you can sign up with a dynamic DNS service. Signing up will get you a simple hostname, and by configuring your router, your ISP-assigned ever-changing IP will be updated automatically. No more looking up and writing down IPs!
There are a few different DDNS services out there, but we’re going to focus our article on DynDNS. Why? Well, it’s one of the more popular services, they have really great uptime and support, and I’ve never had to mess with it in the 6 years that I’ve been using it. They all more or less work the same, though, so if you decide to go with another provider, you should still be able to follow along or figure things out.
Signing Up WIth DynDNS
Head over to DynDNS.com and sign up for an account. Update: they don’t appear to have a free service anymore, but it’s only a few bucks a month, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the money.
Click on Services & Pricing.
You’ll see a more detailed group of options appear.
Click on DynDNS Free, since we want a free account. You’ll see a page come up that asks you to pick a hostname. You’ll also see a list of possible suffixes for your free hostname.
Be sure to click “Your current location’s IP address” or manually enter the IP address of your home’s router in the appropriate box. If you have a mail server configured with a different name and need to add an MX record, be sure to check the box. If you have no idea what that means, you’re safe to skip it. Click “Add To Cart” when you’re done. On the next page, you’ll have to create an account.
Check and make sure your hostname is the correct one. Fill out the details for a new account, check the “I Agree” item, and uncheck the “Subscribe to DynDNS.com newsletter” item. When you’re all set, click “Create Account” and you’ll see a confirmation page come up.
Click on the link in the email to confirm everything. You should then be able to log in to DynDNS.com.
Under My Services, you’ll see a link for “Add Host Services.” That’s the one we want, so click it and you’ll see a host services list come up.
The hostname you previously chose should be listed, so just click the “Checkout to Activate” link.
You’ll see one more step where DynDNS advertises their pro package and where you can remove your hostname if you want to change it. Click the “Proceed to checkout” button. Note that the price here is still $0.00.
And, you’ll see yet another confirmation screen. Luckily for us, this is the last one, so just click the “Activate Services” button, and you’re all set!
You can log out of DynDNS.com, and you really won’t have to log back in. Any important notifications like account expiration will be emailed to you.
Configuring Your Router
DynDNS’s free account requires at least one IP update a month, otherwise your hostname will expire automatically. Since your IP is changing anyway, this really shouldn’t be a problem. Most routers have a built-in method of updating to popular DDNS services, ours included, so the next step is logging into your router’s admin page.
Depending on your router’s software, look under either Advanced, Tools, or Setup. You’re looking for an entry like “DDNS,” or “Dynamic DNS.”
Click the above image to view it full size.
The Server Address field should be your provider’s main site. Again, most routers will have pre-configured entries for DynDNS and other popular services. The hostname should match what you chose earlier, and then enter your DDNS account’s username and password.
Depending on your router, you may see a “Timeout” or “Force Update Interval” option. If your IP has not changed, your router will update the IP anyway after this interval of time. Since DynDNS requires an update at least once a month, you can enter 29 days (or 696 hours). Save your changes, wait for your router to reboot, and you’re done!
If you have port 80 forwarded to a web server, pop in your DDNS address in a browser and you should see your web page. If you see the login page of your router, you may want to try it from an outside source, or you may have to check your router’s “remote administration” settings.
Using a Client
The vast majority of routers have built-in support for DDNS, especially because it’s becoming increasingly popular for home users. However, if yours doesn’t, you can run a DDNS updating client on a computer in your network. It’s best to have it running all the time, or at least often enough that it catches any IP changes on your router and updates properly. There are hosts of clients for all operating systems. Check out DynDNS’s Supported Clients page to see what software they support and how to configure everything properly. If that’s not enough, FreeDNS has a prodigiously populated list of more clients.
What Can I Use This With?
Now that you have access to your computer from anywhere, let’s take a look at some of the awesome things you do from outside of your network now!
- Access your Linux computer via SSH
- Use SSH remotely in Windows with Cygwin
- Enable Remote Desktop in Windows 7 and Vista, and VNC in Ubuntu
- Remotely control your PC with Android or your iOS device (great when you’re out of range of Wi-Fi)
- Wirelessly sync/share your music collection with iOS/Android
- Turn your Ubuntu PC into a web server
- Steam video to iOS with Airvideo, to Android with VLC, or to both with Plex.
- Start your own Minecraft server
There are plenty more we haven’t listed, but anything that offers functionality over your network is now accessible from outside of it easily! Just make sure you set up Port Forwarding in your router so that you get access to the right computer.
Have some ideas of your own? Want to share you own setup? Prefer a different DDNS service? Share your thoughts in the comments!