It’s common to just take it out of the box, hook it into your network, and never touch it again. Remember that routers are miniature computers too! If you have the right hardware and a bit of spare time, you can make these little boxes do more than just share your Internet connection.
Some common uses include:
- increase signal strength above factory settings
- managing your network from the Internet
- synchronizing a dynaminc dns address
- additional layer of firewall protection and parental control
- turn on your computers remotely
- using it to access a wireless network/increase its range
Interested? There are countless other uses as well. But how are these features possible, and why aren’t they all available when you buy your router?
These features can be made possible by the hard work of several groups of developers who have written custom firmware (a sort-of operating system) for routers. Instead of using the default factory firmware used out-of-the-box, you put in place a copy of their firmware. They have spent more time than the manufacturer to provide you all these neat features. In a sense, this is to routers as “jailbreaking” is to the iPhone/iPod touch.
The most popular firmware developer groups are:
- DD-WRT – powerful, available in micro, mini, full packages depending on available router memory
- OpenWRT – customizable for adding/removing functionality modules
- Tomato – basic, lightweight, simple GUI
So how do start? First of all, you will need to make sure your router is supported. Perhaps the most commonly used router is the Linksys WRT 54G , but most Broadcom-based devices will work. Follow the links above to determine if your router is compatable, and how to install the firmware.
I have DD-WRT v24 micro SP1 installed. Here’s are a couple of features I found useful:
You can refer to my previous post about Dynamic DNS , and instead of running a software client to keep your IP synchronized, you can use your router.
This is a good time to point out that you may also permit the router to authenticate you into the admin panel from the Internet – which means you can configure your router (or trigger wake-on LAN signals) anywhere. Since Dynamic DNS maps your IP, you can use it to access the router or any configured client connected to it. It’s up to you to set up which computers will be accessible and on which ports by port forwarding.
Example:connect to an SSH server (port 22) on computer A (internal IP 192.168.1.1). Forward from port 22 (externally) to port 22 (internally) and access it from an SSH client using your dynamic DNS address on port 22.
You can set up a number of policies to control how and when computers connected to the router can access the Internet connection. Seen here is the most useful configuration I’ve done, called “radio silence” which blocks Internet access between 9:30 to 11 pm Mon-Thurs for all clients. It gives me a distraction-free textbook study period. There are also options to schedule the wireless radio on and off.
More of a novelty, these graphs update in real-time in your browser. They monitor LAN (Intranet), WAN (Internet) and WWAN (wireless Intranet) usage. There’s also a graph which will display your daily upload/download usage.
This is a neat one – Wake-on LAN (WOL) technology. If your computer is connected by ethernet cable and the technology is enabled (turned on from within the BIOS), it can be powered on from a completely powered-down state. Combine this with a remote desktop client like VNC and you have a personal on-demand server.
The examples I gave above is just the tip of the iceberg – there are settings to configure wireless range, use another wired/wireless router’s Internet connection, or set up user-based authentication via a RADIUS server.