If you ever feel the need to access files and folders on your home PCs while travelling, configuring simple, secure access can be a complicated task. It’s not just about configuring static IPs on your devices and setting up port forwarding on your router – you also need to ensure you can route access to your home via your Internet connection.
If you wish to access your PC remotely, you’ll first need to check whether your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can allocates you a Static IP address. Most ISPs, by default, will allocate Dynamic IP addresses to its customers – each time your router connects to the ISP, it may be given a different IP address. Obviously, that’s a problem – you may set up a service (like an FTP server) which allows you to log-in remotely to your PC. You’ve set a static IP address for your PC, so we know that will never change. However, if your router’s WAN IP address keeps changing, then we won’t be able to connect through the router to the PC.
The easiest way to address this is to ask your ISP to allocate you a static IP address, that never changes. Many ISPs will do this for a small fee – if you think you will regularly access your server remotely, it’s worth the money. Once set, it’s easy to link a remote service to your home via its IP address (or via a domain name, which I’ll cover shortly).
However, not every ISP is able – or willing – to allocate static IP addresses. In this scenario, if you wish to access your home server remotely, you’ll need to use something called a Dynamic DNS service (DDNS).
Configure a Dynamic DNS Service
The thinking behind a Dynamic DNS service is quite straightforward. If you can’t purchase a static IP address for your Internet connection, your router’s WAN IP address is going to keep changing – there’s nothing we can do about that. But what if we use a third-party service to keep track of those changes, so the new IP address is logged each time there’s a change? That way, we can point any remote applications to that third-party service, and it will relay any data to the router’s current IP address. That’s Dynamic DNS in a nutshell.
As with most online services nowadays, you’ll find that there is a plethora of Dynamic DNS operators out there offering both free and subscription-based services. The free services are limited and basic, the subscription services have more features and work more efficiently. It’s entirely up to you who you choose and whether you opt to pay for a service or not. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to try out a provider with their free service and upgrade to a subscription if you think it’s worth the money.
In terms of provider selection, it may be worth you checking your router manual to see if it has integrated Dynamic DNS support on board. Many modern routers now include DDNS settings in the management console that support several large Dynamic DNS service providers like noip.com, dyndns.com or others.
Some router manufacturers, like ASUS, offer their own Dynamic DNS service alongside support for third-party providers.
If your router doesn’t include integrated Dynamic DNS support, then most providers offer an app that runs on your PC. It keeps an eye on your router, and when a WAN IP address change is detected, it updates your Dynamic DNS service accordingly.
Let’s walk through a couple of ways of configuring Dynamic DNS.
Configure Dynamic DNS on Your Router
As my router has integrated Dynamic DNS support onboard, I’ll first discuss configuring a service through the router’s management console. As I mentioned, ASUS offers its own Dynamic DNS service, so I’ll show you how that is configured before moving on to a third-party offering.
If your router supports Dynamic DNS management, you should find the relevant settings in the WAN/Internet area of the device’s management console. On this ASUS RT-AC87U model, there’s a tab called DDNS nestling in the WAN menu.
Enable the Dynamic DNS feature using the radio button next to Enable the DDNS Client and a list of compatible services is displayed. ASUS’ own Dynamic DNS service is listed first.
Dynamic DNS services work by providing you with a unique domain name (or subdomain name) that you can use to access your PC. Commercial services may allow you to select and register your own domain name (like mylovelyserver.com) whereas free services will use their own domain – requiring you to configure a subdomain. As you can see above, for the ASUS Dynamic DNS service the domain asuscomm.com is used. That can’t be changed, but I am free to configure a personalized subdomain.
So, the next step is to think up a unique sub-domain and enter it in the Host Name field. I’ll use win10server.
Click Apply and the subdomain will be registered with ASUS. Your Dynamic DNS service is now live, and the router will automatically keep the external ASUS server notified of any changes to its WAN IP address, issued by your Internet Service Provider.
Before we move on to the next step, let’s take a look at a second example – this time using a popular third-party Dynamic DNS Service called No-IP (http://www.noip.com). I’ve picked this service at random from the plethora of commercial services available, so please don’t take my selection as a recommendation or endorsement! Check out No-IP and their competitors before choosing the service that’s right for you.
As I mentioned earlier, commercial Dynamic DNS service providers usually offer free and subscription service plans. No-IP is no different – they have a free service that offers up to three hostnames on a limited set of domains. The main limitation of the free service is that hostnames expire after 30 days unless confirmed each month – logging into the website and modifying the hostname manually counts as an update and will reset the 30 day counter.
A yearly subscription of $24.95 gets you No-IP’s Enhanced service, removing the confirmation requirement and greatly increasing the list of domain options. You’ll also be able to use 25+ hostnames with this service.
At the top of the tree, you can spend $34.95 a year for No-IP’s Plus Managed DNS service. This includes registration of your own domain (yes, mylovelyserver.com could be yours!), the use of over 50 hostnames with the domain (so you could use ftp.mylovelyserver.com for remote FTP access, vpn.mylovelyserver.com for VPN access and so on). You’ll also benefit from phone support, which is included in the top tier should you encounter a problem.
Having previously walked through a free Dynamic DNS option with my ASUS router, this time, I’ll opt for registering my own domain. I’m not going to register mylovelyserver.com (I wouldn’t want to take it away from you) but having your own domain certainly looks more professional if you want to configure your setup perfectly.