There’s some really cool server apps you can install on your home network.
You’d love to set up Plex so that you can stream your movie collection to anywhere you are — or even allow friends to stream from it. A Minecraft server that’s just for you and your friends. A Remote Desktop app so you can control your PC from your phone when you’re out and about. A surveillance server that allows you to check in on your IP cams when you need to.
But there’s a problem: you have no way to reliably locate your home server. Your ISP dynamically assigns you an IP address, and with a constantly changing IP address, it’s like trying to dial home with a phone number that changes randomly.
The solution you’re looking for is dynamic DNS. Dynamic DNS means that your home network will always be associated with a specific domain name. This month, we’ll walk you through how to set one up.
Why would I do that, again?
So let’s start talking about what DNS does. The Domain Name Service is actually pretty simple in concept — it’s a directory that maps internet IP addresses to names more memorable to actual people. The domain techlife.net points to IP address 126.96.36.199, for example.
The thing is, our home networks generally cannot be so mapped. That’s because most consumer internet accounts in Australia use dynamic IP. You get randomly assigned an IP address by your ISP when you connect. Reconnect, and you get a different IP. That means that trying to call your home server by IP address is impossible.
With some ISPs, you can get a static IP, but that will generally cost you extra. A better solution is dynamic DNS (DDNS). DDNS constantly updates the association between a domain and an IP address. When you get a new IP address, your DDNS address will be updated to reflect that.
The upshot of this is that you can set up your home server and have a URL that points to it permanently, regardless of your IP address.
You can always access your Plex server at this address, or check in on your webcams remotely, for example.
So how do I get one of these?
Getting your own dynamic DNS domain name is actually pretty simple, and home users can get it for free from a number of services. We’ll use No-IP in the step by step guide below, but there are other addresses you can try as well.
Nope, still not working
Unfortunately, for some apps (including Minecraft) setting up DDNS is simply the first phase of the process. You still have to navigate the maze of security protocols that protect your home network from outside attack. Your router doesn’t really know the difference between a hacker and someone trying to connect to your Minecraft server.
Many apps, like Plex, will automatically configure your router to direct traffic to the server and should just work, no need to change router settings. If your app doesn’t “just work,” however, typically what needs to be done is set up port forwarding on your router so that it knows to direct incoming traffic to the PC with the server application running.
We don’t have the space to provide a full guide here, but a good place to start is portforward.com, which provides guides on setting it up for various routers.
Set up a DDNS
1. Create an account and a domain
Head to noip.com and sign up. You’ll be asked to provide a username, a password, an email address and a URL you’d like to be your permanent DDNS address.
On the free account, the URL will be myname.ddns.net. Make a note of your username and password — we’ll need them again in a minute.
After you click on the confirmation email, that’s pretty much it — you’ve created your own private web address.
2. Install the app
The next step is to set up your home network. A device on your home network needs to stay in contact with no-ip.com and update it on your current IP address. That way, whenever your IP address changes, no-ip.com can re-associate your web address with your IP address.
No-IP provides a Dynamic DNS Update Client you can install on your PC that will do this for you. Install and run the app. You’ll be asked to enter the username and password you used when signing up.
3. Associate it with a domain
Click on ‘Edit Hosts’. A list of domains associated with your account will appear. Since you signed up with the free account, there will be just the one. Check the box next to it, then click Save. You should now have ticks in all your boxes, and the URL should now point at your home network.
You can click on the close button on the No-IP app window. It will minimise to your task bar, but you need to keep it running at all times.
4. Test it out
If you’re handy with a command prompt, you can now try pinging the address associated with your network to see if matches your current IP address. We’ll assume you aren’t so, we’ll use a couple of web sites instead.
First, go to myipaddress.com. The main page of this web site will tell you what your current IP address is.
Now head to ip-lookup.net. In the domain lookup field (right), type in the web address that No-IP gave you (username.ddns.net), then press enter. It will tell you the IP address associated with that name.
It should match the address given to you by myipaddress.com. If it does, now everything is working.
5. Set up your apps
Now if you have an app that you need to point at your home network, like the Plex or Minecraft clients, for example, you just need to enter the No-IP domain name in the server address field and it should point to your home network.