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How To Plan, Organize, and Map Out Your Home Network

2242950723_7509fa6373_b karindalziel

Whether you’re setting up a new home network or overhauling the one you’ve got, planning and mapping out your devices and intended uses can save you a lot of headaches.

(Banner image credit: karindalziel)

Count Your Devices and Plan

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(Image credit: Docklandsboy)

When setting up your home network, take a tally of what kinds of devices will be on your network. I’ve got two desktops, three laptops, five phones/PMPs, a printer, an XBOX 360, and a Wii to keep track of. Of course, when we have guests over, I want to make their setup as painless as possible. I also use a repeater to expand my wireless range. Things can get pretty complicated, but knowing what you have and anticipating special cases makes it significantly easier to map out your network. It also helps you decide what kind of networking equipment you need.

Consider Your Router

Let’s start at the top, and work our way down. Your router is arguably the most important device in your home network. Your router’s job is three-fold:

  1. Joining your network to the internet.
  2. Managing your network’s traffic.
  3. Providing basic security.

router and equip

(Image credit: Horrortaxi)

Whether you’ve got DSL, cable, or satellite, your broadband really only hooks up to one device. If you make that device a router, then any number of other devices can connect and disconnect as they come and go. This allows you to share you internet connection over a wide area.

Now, since you’ve got a bunch of devices that are thirsty for the internet-juice, they need a way to connect. Not only that, but they need their traffic properly directed. Streaming a movie to your gigantic TV only to have it show up on your phone doesn’t work. Your router handles everything appropriately by assigning devices an IP address and forwarding ports and so on.

Lastly, if you’re worried about people stealing your personal information – and you SHOULD be – then you’ll have some sort of security in place. If you’re wireless, then this means requiring a password to connect. In addition, you can enable blocking of ActiveX scripts and other things in your router’s settings. This acts as a basic firewall.

You can see why your routers are an integral component of any home network. Consider turning yours into a Super-Powered Router with DD-WRT.

Wired Devices

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(Image credit: orcmid)

How many wired devices do you have? If you have more than four, then you’ll exceed what most routers are equipped with. That means you’ll need to buy a switch so you can plug in more ethernet cables.

Where are your devices and where is your router? Will you need to run ethernet wires across your house to make sure everything gets online? Could you  move the router so it’s closer to your devices?

Wireless Devices

Where will your wireless devices see the most activity? If your router is on one side of the house but your bedroom is on the other, then you’ll likely have trouble getting decent speeds when browsing in bed. Can you move your router to a more central location? If you really need a range boost, consider buying a wireless access point. This can be set up to repeat your main router’s signal, and as a bonus you can tether other devices via ethernet, too. If you have an old router lying around, you can put DD-WRT on it and turn it into a repeater for free.

Map It Out

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(Image credit: willspot)

Draw a map of your home and try to fit everything. Consider where things should be placed for best range, fastest speeds, and so on. Physically doing a tour and drawing as you go can really make the difference up-front. Believe me, there’s little worse than having everything configured and wired only to find that you forgot your HTPC in the living room. Wireless streaming 1080P from across the house didn’t cut it for me, and I had to redo a good portion of my network.

Connecting Devices

Plugging in wired devices is easy enough, but what about wireless devices? Before we can connect, we need to consider how IP addresses will be assigned to your devices.

Dynamic and Static IPs

DHCP – Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol – is easy. You set up parameters on your router – how many IPs can be given out, what range these addresses should be in, etc. – and your devices will automagically connect and work. The downside? Your computer can have one IP address, but after a restart (or after power-cycling the router), it can be totally different. This makes it difficult to route traffic from outside of the web. If you use Subsonic or Plex while out and about to stream your home music and video, you’ll have to reconfigure your port forwarding settings.

DHCP

Static IP routing is really tedious on your devices. You basically tell every device which IP it should use, what gateway to go through (HINT: it’s your router’s IP), and what subnet mask to use (again, look at your router’s configuration). This is a time-consuming hassle, but you won’t have worry about shifting IPs.

So which is better? Well, in my experience, it’s both. Yes, that’s right, you can use both simultaneously. What I do is set up DHCP for everything, but manually configure the IP of the two computers that stream or need to be accessed from outside of the network. Odds are, these are going to be devices that are connected to your router via ethernet – the speed of wireless for stuff like this can be ridiculously slow. I also use static IPs with printers, just in case using the printer-name or searching for it over the network takes too long or gets wonky. These manually assigned IPs can be outside of the DHCP’s range of IPs. Devices in my “server” list usually start at 192.168.1.200.

Your laptops and phones will connect as they need and work without hassle. My DHCP range of IPs is between 192.168.1.100-150. The router, itself, is 192.168.1.1, and my repeaters are 192.168.1.10 and 20. My printer is manually assigned 192.168.1.254 – the last available IP (.255 is the network broadcast address) because printing is the last thing I want to do, and it’s pretty easy to remember.3038356114_5e9e3c807d_b k0a1adotnet

DD-WRT, as well as newer router firmwares, can actually do “Static DHCP” or “DHCP reserving,” negating the need to go through this tedious process. What this means is that you can assign devices (based on their MAC addresses) to certain IPs in your router, without worry of changes. All of your devices can connect via DHCP, but their IPs won’t change because the router knows which devices are connecting. Definitely look into this and take the time to set it up.

An Address Book

Draw a table of all of your devices, splitting them up into one of two categories: clients and servers.

If something is going to be sending information – like your desktop packed with 2 TB hard drives full of movie and music – then stick it in the “server” column. Everything else goes in the “client” column. The one exception to this is wireless printers. They can finicky, so it’s best to treat them as a server, at least when assigning IPs.

Now consider which of you computers you may want to access from outside of the house. If you’ve got a web server or a Linux computer that you remotely control, then make note of it. In the end, write up an address book of all of your devices and which IPs they’ll use (or if they’ll use DHCP) and what ports you need to forward. It’s also a good idea to list each device’s MAC address, in case you need it during configuration or when checking your router’s logs.

(Above image credit: k0a1a.net)

Wireless Security

What kind of security should you use for your home network? I get asked this question a lot, and I almost always say WPA2.

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(Image credit: k0a1a.net)

It only takes a matter of minutes to crack a WEP-secured wireless network. Now, while the odds of someone doing this to get access to your network are low – especially if your neighbor’s is wide open – WEP is also more restrictive to what passcodes you can use. Most people I know use their home telephone number – it’s 10 digits, which fits the length and hexadecimal requirement, and is easy to remember. If you don’t know the person’s phone number, odds are you shouldn’t be on their network anyway.

WPA is also fairly easy to crack, but as not all devices are compatible yet with WPA2 (I’m looking at you, old gaming consoles!), WPA can work. You can create long alpha-numeric passwords to make it difficult for others to guess and get in, though it doesn’t help against those who may crack your network.

security

One of my favorite things to do is name my wireless network something specific, so it’s a clue to my password. Inside jokes work the best, but you may decide to use a geeky reference instead. For example, my wireless SSID could be “AnswerToLifeUniverseAndEverything” and the password would be “fortytwo.” If someone gets the reference, then they get to be on my network, but that’s just out of my benevolence. Just remember, security risks, no matter how minor, are still risks.

For more information, check out Debunking Myths: Is Hiding Your Wireless SSID Really More Secure?

Naming Schemes and File Sharing

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(Image credit: tlgjaymz)

Speaking of naming things, a lot of geeks come up with clever schemes to name the computers and devices on their network. At a previous job, all of the office workstations were named after sci-fi AI: Hal, Skynet, WOPR, etc. One friend of mine names his network devices after Greek gods, another after language families. Coming up with a scheme and fitting computers to it is not only fun, but practical. By naming my devices based on their characteristics, I know exactly which computer I’m connecting to. When I see “sarasvati,” I know that’s the computer that has my eBook and music collections. When I connect to “indra,” I know it’s my quad-core rig. When I need to add a new ringtone to my iPhone, I can SSH into “narad”. It’s as much a mnemonic device as it is geek pride.

Lastly, consider what operating systems you have in your home. If all of them run one OS, you probably don’t need to worry about anything. If you’re mixing and matching, however, you’ll have to think of how to share files properly. If you’re using Linux to download and serve files, this means using NFS or Samba. Windows 7 has the new Homegroup setup as well, and Macs can work with Samba as well as their own native AFP.

EDIT: As several commenters have pointed out, this article originally mentioned my printer being on 192.168.1.255 – the network broadcast address. Problems can ensue if a device is leasing this IP, so the mistake has been corrected above.


Planning and putting together a network is big project. Planning and mapping things out in advance can help make it easier to avoid gaffes, and using geeky references can make working the details a lot less tedious.

How many devices are in your home network? What’s your favorite naming scheme? Share your home networking experience and your geekiness with us in the comments!

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 06/28/11

Comments (36)

  1. Fiery

    [quote] My printer is manually assigned 192.168.1.255 – the last available IP because printing is the last thing I want to do, and it’s easy to remember.[/quote]
    Dude, you’re using the network’s broadcast adress for your printer….not a good idea ;)

  2. Cambo

    What I’ve done to extend my wireless network is to use Powerline Networking. The adapters have come a LONG way and are very stable for streaming.

    Put an adapter at your base router location (e.g. Basement). Use another adapter on the second floor and connect it to either a proper Access Point, or an old router that you’ve transformed into an Access Point (there are articles on HTG for this). On this AP, create a new Wireless network for the clients upstairs. Configure your clients to connect to this “upstairs wireless”. Then they just aggregate over Powerline Networking back to your router in the basement.

    Wireless Netflix streaming works wonderfully with a stronger, closer AP.

  3. Cambo

    Of course, make sure they’re all on the same subnet ;)

  4. Nathan

    Your article was a great read, thanks :)!

    Will you be doing home network setups too? (like back to basics style) ^_^?

    Yeah its easy enough to google, but if you guys did one, I know it would be a source I could completely trust, and know is up to date. Not to mention the literacy meets a huge audience for people with different levels of geekness.

  5. Chronno S. Trigger

    2x routers (A FiOs router that’s required and a Netscreen that’s secure)
    2x gigabit switches
    1x Wireless N access point (OK, another router, but I don’t use it as one)
    2x servers (File server and domain controller)
    3x Media Centers (All running XBMC)
    2x Laptops
    2x tablets
    3x consoles
    3x hand held gaming devices
    2x Nooks
    1x Phone
    1x Google TV

    The Domain is called “Empire”
    The File server is called “Deathstar”
    The Domain controller is a VMware slice on Deathstar called “Darthsidious” (Was called Darthvader, but I wanted to upgrade to a 2008 DC and didn’t want to rebuild the entire domain)
    The one media center that has a name is “Luke” (The others are modified Xboxes)
    My laptop is called “AT-AT” (Was called Chubaka but I wasn’t sure of the spelling at the time of reload)
    My Roommate’s laptop is called “Jabba”
    One tablet is called R2D2 (the other is an Android tablet, I don’t think it has a name)
    The wireless is called “TheForce”

  6. v10

    “My printer is manually assigned 192.168.1.255″

    Shouldn’t that be the reserved broadcast address for the network?

  7. John

    Just got a my highspeed internet 2 weeks ago, anyway my verizon router firewall is off by default and it say “if Off is selected in the “Firewall” screen, firewall filtering is based on the basic NAT firewall”. Activating the firewall is optional. When the firewall is activated, security is enhanced, but some network functionality will be lost.

    I activate the firewall and test the firewall at Gibson’s Shieldup and stealth failed.
    so i uncheck the “incoming” box for http: 80, FTP 20/21, IMAPV3 220, SMTP 25, POP3 110, NNTP 119, HTTPS 443, IMAP 143 except for DNS 53, IPSEC IKE 500, IPSEC ESP esp. Everything is stealth now, but is it ok to also uncheck incoming box for the DNS 53, IPSEC IKE 500, IPSEC.

    In the wifi password it says enter at least eight (8) alphanumeric characters in the text box above. Can I use symbols too?

  8. Cambo

    Agree with v10. .255 should never be assigned to a device as it will mess up your broadcast.

    Assign it .254 instead.

  9. DB

    This article is pathetic (& unecessary?). Love the 1999 Visio graphics and those Linksys boxes look like they should be in a Lego museum. And using those silly names on a home network, you should be out there Mordoring over some poor schmuck’s business network (well, ok you’re probably doing that already).

  10. wrussf

    What would happen if you tried to ping the printer assigned to the broadcast address?

  11. Lothar

    So do you have something to say or not, DB?

  12. DB

    @Lothar apart from those points I love the article. I wish there were more articles along these lines e.g. how to setup you home washer/dryer/laundry basket installations, hamster cage installations (complete with miniature heart rate monitors etc) etc.

  13. TheDude

    @DB
    Obvious troll is obvious

  14. Cambo

    Gotta love those people that complain about content- yet don’t pay a dime for it.

    If you don’t like it, it obviously wasn’t meant for YOU.

  15. IT-FishGuy

    It’s a good start and well worth telling people to map it out ahead of time. I’ve consulted at a lot of enterprises and am always up for a good naming scheme. Had movie themes, gun themes, printers named after trees, book themes so that’s always fun. I like the idea of the wireless router being the force. I use 40k references at home. The virtual networks I’ve created and saved have different themes.
    Those of you that complain about the content should find something else to do.

  16. cosmo

    I’ve consulted over 9000 enterprises and am always sick of those fancy naming schemes. Name it after its purpose.

  17. Electron

    @Cosmo: 9000 eh? That’s a new company everyday for 25 years non-stop. Likely. Not.

  18. drbmac

    .255 is the broadcast and naming schemes is kind of a security by making hackers work a little harder to find things versus naming the function of the device.

    actiontec vdsl router
    Cisco 3550 layer 3, 24 port switch
    Linksys WAP2000 wireless access point.
    Cisco 2620 XM voice router

    i know there are only 2 gig ports and no N wireless network utilized, but it is fine for except for the time it takes to transfer large files, but I have Vlans.

  19. Cambo

    The article was meant for the Home network- not corporate. Corporate yes, name it after it’s purpose. Home Network- pfft. Whatever you want.

  20. Cerebrate

    Corporate – no, don’t name it after its purpose. Because if you do that, some poor consultant is going to come in after a few design changes and discover that while DC2 is the domain controller, DC is the web server, DATABASE is now reconditioned to host file shares, MAINSTORE only does backups for one department, and WWW is an antique shoved up in the drop ceiling pretending to be a router.

    And having to find a polite way to phrase “You’re a bunch of schmucks who shouldn’t be allowed to administer anything” is really not how I want to spend my day.

  21. Adam aragon

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to name your computer, den, office, bedroom, john laptop, mary iphone etc? Who the hell wants to remember what the hell Dionysus is on their network as opposed to Apollo?

  22. Technomancer

    @Cerebrate if you can do that politely and often enough, you can make money at it. :) I worked on a network where the student machines had STU-serial number as there machine names. And I won’t even try to list all the routers names as they seem to have made those up on a per campus basis.

  23. Foozer

    .255 doesn’t always mean it is the broadcast address. If the network address is 192.168.1.0/24 then 192.168.1.255 would be the broadcast address but if it was 192.168.1.0/23 then 192.168.2.255 would be the broadcast address.

    However, most home routers will be using a /24 network range so in this instance I would guess that 192.168.1.255 could well be the broadcast address of the network.

    Cheers

    Foozer

  24. MrFr33zE

    Good article. I think I enjoy tinkering with my home network as much as I do with any of my client’s network. (Probably even more so)

    I have a VMWare ESXi 4.1 Update 1 Server that is currently running 8VM’s (Named Arkham)
    Batman – Server 2008 R2 Domain controller
    Joker – Ubuntu 11 just for my personal homepage
    Penguin – Another 2008 R2 that I’m using to test Citrix XenDesktop Express
    Poison Ivy – A 2003 R2 server that isn’t doing anything right now.
    Riddler – A windows 7 VM that is a Citrix XenDesktop (to demo to clients)
    Robin – A 2008 Server that acts as my RDP, Citrix Secure Gateway, Air Video Server
    Scarecrow – A windows XP Vm that is a Citrix XenDesktop (to demo to clients)
    Twoface – A Mac OSX Server 10.6.8 VM (not doing anything… just more to do it, and yes, it was a pain)

    DD-WRT Router is Gordon
    24 Port Gigabit HP 1810G Switch is WayneCentral
    Synology 1511+ is Alfred, doing file shares, photostation, uPNP server this is also doing offiste backup to another Synology (DS209) called BatCave, for backup purposes
    HP Laserjet P1505n is BatSignal
    My Desktop is MrFreeze
    My Wife’s Laptop is Catwoman
    My Laptop is called Nightwing
    My smartphone is called “Batphone”
    and the WDTV Live is “Bat TV” (yeah wasn’t too original on this one)

  25. JL

    At work I manage a small cluster of linux boxes (7 so far) we use to chew and crunch data for a lot of bussiness intelligence applications

    It’s not actually geeky, but we still managed to come up with a tongue-in-cheek naming convention: We use names of well-known hookers and high-end escorts from our country (they tend to get pretty well-known via gossip tabloids because they are often seen with celebrities).

    so it’s fun to say that “Heidi” did a lot of work last night, or that “Lulu” spent all the afternoon “swallowing” what my boss had gave “her”…. the girls at work don’t find it as funny as the guys (don’t know why, hehehe)

    We are planning to have a new room to move all the boxes to. We expect to have 10 boxes in the cluster by then, so we already decided the room will be called “The brothel”…

  26. Chipper

    x.x.x.255 is a broadcast only on a /24 network.

  27. james

    My devices are all named after chemical elements.

    Main PC: Platinum
    Laptops: Tungsten (ultraportable), Lithium (long battery life), Aluminium, Nickel (cheap ones)
    WD TV: Krypton
    Wireless SSID: Nitrogen (a gas)

  28. YatriTrivedi

    Thanks to everyone who mentioned the broadcast cast gaffe of mine. I’m embarassed! The mistake was corrected, and thanks again to you all.

    Awesome naming schemes so far, I hope to see more!

  29. criostage

    For the printer you can just reserve one IP Address to the printer MAC Address from your DHCP Server

  30. Jane

    @JL Wow, so you use the names of your linux boxes to create a hostile work environment for female employees! Yeah, sounds “fun.”

  31. Corrupted

    I have always named my home computers and devices after sexually transmitted diseases (Gonorrhea, Syphilis, ect)……Every time I see them or someone else does while they are visiting gets a laugh….

  32. jouster

    Back in the stone age when I was first doing networking we used Token-Ring topology. Naturally I named servers Gandalph, Frodo, Bilbo, etc.

  33. Eryn

    Norse mythology. The main server is Bifrost, the wireless is Rainbow Bridge. I have two desktops, a laptop, and an iphone named for the goddesses and Valkaries (sp?) and my husband has one desktop, three laptops, and a smart phone (HTC something) named after the gods.

  34. LO

    Why everyone always use DHCP and 192.168.0.0/24 network. I had some hacking issues and change my network to static. Every machine nowadays has address from 172.16.0.0/24 network and after the change I haven’t had any hackingproblems.

  35. Psybernoid

    @LO Probably because the 192 range is what’s set as default on most routers.
    I personally use 10.0.0.0/24

    And seeing as everyone is mentioning their naming conventions. I use rocks.
    Router is henge, main linux server is menhir, nslu2 running a reverse proxy is pebble, windows server is blarney, printer is chisel, and I have two backup destination servers of monolith & tarpeian.

  36. LO

    @Psybernoid That’s true but why use default as it is most likely scanned first as was in my case. After I changed my addressschema to current one I keeped some bogus machines in 192-network some time and surprise surprise these wannabe hackers almoust stumbled to each other when they tried to take over them. After a while someone manage to take one of those in his/hers control and I’l have to shut them down.

    It was fun to look when these “masterminds” try to use various bugs to enter these machines. I learned a lot by watching what they tried and nowadays anyone who tries to access to my network using these exploitmechanics are immediately reported to their ISP.

    And to this naming conventions I don’t plan to give any information about my servers to public because it may end up to these wannabehackers.

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