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Connecting to the Internet

Preface

Now that you have your own network, you may be interested in connecting to the world's largest network, the Internet. As long as your network communicates using TCP/IP, you can give the entire network internet access through a single Mac. A network that functions using TCP/IP is called an intranet (for additional info, see the What is an Intranet? page). Of course, you need some sort of connection to the internet from at least one Mac on the network, whether through a dial-up modem connection, a direct connection, or whatever.

So what's that router thing and what does it do?

Naturally, when you pass information from your network to the internet, you need to be able to send information both directions. The device that passes (or routes) the information along is called a router. A router may sound like something that you'd find in Sears along with a bunch of extra widget attachments, but it's actually just something that acts as a glorified traffic cop between your network and the internet. This kind of information routing ability isn't built-in to the MacOS, however; you need a piece of hardware or software to do the work for you. Software routers are cheaper than hardware routers, but require you to use a "host" Mac to handle the routing.

The trouble with IP addresses

Every Mac on your network has an IP address that identifies it to the rest of the network. So does every computer on the internet. However, each connection, network and internet, requires a unique IP address; how does one do this a single Mac? The answer is a technique called multihoming, which allows a single computer to support multiple IP addresses. This technology is fairly new, especially in a low-cost form available to people like you and me. Some people prefer this method over programs like Internet Gateway, since it uses the internet's native TCP/IP protocols to pass data around, but they both work about the same (that is to say, they work). For a list of hardware and software bridges, see the Network your modem page.

Any problems to watch out for?

Although sharing an internet connection across a whole network may seem like a really great thing, there are always gotchas to watch out for (isn't life like that?).
  • The total speed of data transfer won't be any faster than the internet connection itself. If you've got a single 33.6 modem as your connection, all of the networked Macs have to share it, so information will move slowly (depending on how many people are using it at once).
  • If something happens to the Mac running the router, the whole network loses its connection. Not good.
  • Since software routers use the processor of the Mac they run on, performance can suffer noticably when the Mac is doing a lot of work.

Final conclusions?

If you want to get a number of network users on the internet, but don't want to spend much money doing it, a software router like those mentioned above is a good way to go about it. Make sure to balance the speed of your internet connection with the number of people who'll be using it, or you'll be browsing at a snail's pace. Both programs offer a try-before-you-buy demo, so you can get an idea of how well they work; make sure to take advantage of it.

Having problems making the connection work?

Problem still not solved? Questions linger? If so, please send mail and I'll do my best to help out. I try to answer all mail with 24 hours, although it can take longer if the answer requires some research.

Contents of Three Macs & a Printer are ©1996-1999 Matthew Glidden (except for the bits that aren't).

Questions or feedback? Feel free to send mail.

[This page was last updated on 3/7/99; 12:47:59 PM.]



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