How to Set Up Minecraft So Your Kids Can Play Online with Friends

By Jason Fitzpatrick on February 15th, 2017

Your kids love Minecraft, their friends love Minecraft, and they want to play it together when they can’t be in the same physical place—and they’re begging you to make that happen. Don’t worry, you don’t have to figure it out on your own: we’re here to help.

Setting up a private server for your children and their friends to play Minecraft is a great way to create a safe place for them to enjoy the wildly popular game. Unlike public servers, a private server will only have players you know (your child and the friends and family members you explicitly allow to join). In addition the problems that plague big and poorly moderated servers like swearing, inappropriate content and behavior, or griefing (where players antagonize another player, typically by destroying the things they’ve built or stealing their stuff), will either be non-existent on a private server or, if they crop up, you know who the culprit is and can have a chat with their parent.

There are four ways to do this. In the following sections, you’ll see all four arranged by ease of use—from easiest to most difficult.

If you’re looking for more information in general about Minecraft, the game your kid and all their friends are obsessed with, we’d highly recommend checking out our parent’s guide to Minecraft if you want a solid overview of the game with parental concerns in mind and, for a more in-depth look, check out our extended series on the game here. With your basic questions about the game answered via these articles, we can focus on the big question: how to safely get your child online so they can play with their friends.

Option One: Purchase a Minecraft Realm for Dead Simple Shared Play

  • Pros: Dead simple. Hosted by the company behind Minecraft.
  • Cons: Only supports 10 players. No advanced features. (Relatively) expensive.
  • Best for: Anyone who wants an online server right this second with no fuss.

The absolute simplest solution, hands down, is to purchase a Minecraft Realms subscription. Minecraft Realms is the only officially hosted Minecraft server platform in the world, as it is directly hosted and maintained by Mojang, Minecraft’s parent company.

For $7.99 a month (the first month is free so you can try it out), you get an easily accessible and always up-to-date Minecraft server with three world slots (so your kids can rotate out which Minecraft worlds they play on) as well as a bunch of mini-game templates if they want to play mini-games with their friends.

The Realms servers are strictly whitelist only, which means players have to be manually approved to gain access to the server—a random person can never join the server with your kids. They can support up to 10 players.

If your kids just want to play Minecraft with friends, don’t have any interest in playing with Minecraft game mods or server plugins (advanced tools that expand the functionality of Minecraft), and they only need space for 10 players or less, then getting a Minecraft Realms account is a no-brainer.

We have a step-by-step guide to setting up a Realms account, which you can do from right within your child’s copy of Minecraft. Better yet, we even have a guide to locating local Minecraft worlds and uploading them to Minecraft Realms so your can take the world your kid and friends have been working on at your house and make it their Realms world so the building projects can continue without a hiccup.

Option Two: Third Party Hosts Are Flexible But More Hands On

  • Pros: Best value-to-dollar ratio. Host more players for less. Supports plugins and advanced features.
  • Cons: Requires more hands-on-configuration and parental involvement.
  • Best for: Parents comfortable with Minecraft and doing some manual configuration (or older children who can do it themselves).

If you’re willing to invest a little more energy into the project (or you have a very tech-savvy child who can), then you might consider purchasing a third party Minecraft host.

There are a multitude of benefits that come with a third party host over a Realms server. First and foremost, you’ll get more for your dollar: the $8 a month you spend on a Realms server will get you a third party host that supports many more players (typically 20 or more in that price range).

Furthermore, most hosts will include support for plugins that enhance Minecraft with cool features, a subdomain so your kid’s server will have a memorable name like “coolkidsbuilding.someMChost.com”, and a good host will even have a web-based control panel where you can control the server (like managing the whitelist and toggling plugins on and off).

On the downside, while you’re getting more bang-for-your-buck than buying a Realms account, you’re also getting more work: it’s up to you to make sure the whitelist is turned on, for example, and you’ll be in charge of managing all the whiz-bang extras you get with a more advanced host.

It’s absolutely more work than just buy a Realms server subscription, but it’s also way more flexible. If you’re willing to be more hands on or have a child that is mature enough to be their own server administrator, picking up an inexpensive hosting plan from a reputable third party hosting service like BeastNode or MCProHosting. Need help comparing and contrasting features to make an informed purchase? Check out our guide to selecting a remote Minecraft host.

Option Three: Host It at Home—Your Hardware, Your Hassle

  • Pros: Your only expense is electricity. You have total control over everything.
  • Cons: You have to install and configure everything. You supply the hardware. There’s no quick start or friendly dashboard.
  • Best for: Parents very comfortable with Minecraft and computers in general (or for older children who want to get very hands on).

If you consider yourself the geeky type, and you’re not afraid to manage every aspect of running a Minecraft server for your kids (or you have kids that can handle all this by themselves), then you can run a Minecraft server right out of your house.

On the upside: you have total control over the entire process, you can choose whatever server software you want, the files are stored right at home, and all the game play takes place right at home too. We have guides for setting up the vanilla Minecraft server platform available from Mojang or a third party server platform like Spigot that supports plugins.

On the downside: if you want the server up 24/7, you have to leave a computer on 24/7 (which will run you as much in electricity costs per month as buying a cheap Minecraft host). You need good enough hardware to run the server smoothly in the first place. You’ll need to fiddle with setting up port forwarding rules to allow external access to the server (so your kid’s friends can join), and while you’re at it, you’ll likely need to set up a Dynamic DNS address so their friends can easily find the server even if your home IP address changes.

Running a custom server from home is exactly how we do things in my household (and I have a ton of fun with it), but not everyone has a home server they’re already leaving on 24/7 anyway, nor the desire to fiddle with and maintain said server.

Option Four: Share a LAN Game, Where Huge Headaches Await

  • Pros: Requires no server software or any knowledge about the game or server settings. Free.
  • Cons: Requires you to change a router setting every time your child plays.
  • Best for: Kids who share a game with a friend once in a blue moon (but really, it’s not best for anybody).

We’re nothing if not thorough, and we’re including this last entry not as much as a how-to tip but a probably-don’t tip. Your child might have suggested that all you need to do to get them and their friends playing together is to figure out how to get the local play feature connected to the internet—we’re here to tell you it’s not worth it.

When two people are playing Minecraft on the same network (e.g. your child and their friend are playing Minecraft on two laptops at your house), one of them can easily use the “Open to LAN” feature to locally share the game so their friend can join and they can play together. The hoops you have to jump through in order to make this work across the internet, however, are extremely annoying and way too hands on: every single time your child starts up a Minecraft game and uses the “Open to LAN” feature, it will require that you dig into the settings of your home router and change them (because every LAN game has a random port number that requires an updated port forwarding rule).

We’ve detailed the process here, step-by-step, so feel free to read over it, shake your head, and say “Yeah… no deal. I’m just going to get a Realms account for them.” You’ll be glad you did.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/15/17
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