Share your Internet connection One of the biggest benefits of a network is the ability to share an Internet connection, whether it's dialup or broadband. Nick Peers reveals the different options available and how to use them There are an increasing number of homes with two or more PCs in them, and networking is a great way to share resources like files and printers. However, one of the most popular uses of a network is to share an Internet connection across your entire household. Whether it's a dial-up or broadband connection, you can stop people queuing up to use the main computer and instead give everyone on your network access to the Internet. Level: Beginner What you'll learn: Share a Net connection through one PC; Discover how to use a proxy server; Find out the best way to share your connection What you'll need: Network More information: Troubleshoot Internet Connection Sharing The easiest solution is a hardware one, known as a router (see the box below for details). This might seem like overkill if you only have a small network of two or three PCs. If they're connected via a direct cable connection, hub or wireless access point, you can opt for a free solution instead. The Windows solution Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) is built into Windows, and enables you to share your computer's Net connection with everyone else on your network simply and painlessly. The best time to configure this is when you're setting up your network for the first time. The ICS configuration is part of the Network Setup Wizard, which is accessible from the Control Panel. Once your PCs are all physically connected, click Start > Control Panel on your computer with the Internet connection. Select Network and Internet Connections and click the Network Setup Wizard icon. Follow the wizard through to its end: when you reach the "Select a connection method" screen, make sure the first option - This computer connects directly to the Internet is selected before clicking Next. Once the wizard is complete, you should then run the wizard again on the other PCs in your network (create the network setup floppy disk when prompted if any aren't running Windows XP), this time choosing This computer connects to the Internet through a residential gateway or through another computer on my network at the appropriate screen. If your network is already set up, just follow the walkthrough at the bottom of this page to see how to share your Internet connection with the rest of your network. Unfortunately, there are restrictions that might force you to try another approach to sharing your Internet connection. For example, not all Internet Service Providers support Internet Connection Sharing (AOL is one example), so check with yours first. Second, some programs won't work properly with ICS installed, including Microsoft's own NetMeeting software. A third reason is that Internet Connection Sharing may alter your network settings. If you're having problems manually setting it up, you should remember that ICS assigns the IP address 192.168.0.1 to the computer hosting your Internet connection, which may not fit in with your own network settings. Because of this, you may need to abandon attempts at manually configuring ICS and run the Network Setup Wizard on each PC instead. The hardware solution The most convenient way to share your Net connection is with a router If you'd like to be able to share your Internet connection directly with all of the PCs on your network then you need a router. A router sits between your Internet connection and the rest of your network, so you don't have to channel your connection through a single PC. As a result, the other computers on your network aren't relying on that computer to be switched on in order to connect. Modern routers replace any existing hubs or switches in your network - if you opt for a wireless model they'll replace your wireless access point too. 99 per cent of routers support broadband (cable or ADSL) connections only, and cost as little as £40 depending on the model you pick. If you have an ISDN or 56K dial-up modem then there's only one practical solution, and that's Netgear's FWG114P at £123 from here (try searching for a better price). It supports all three forms of Internet access (enabling you to upgrade your Internet connection later without having to replace the router), plus also boasts a built-in USB print server and wi-fi access point too. Proxy servers An alternative to Internet Connection Sharing is to use a proxy server. The PC with the Internet connection is the server, and all the other PCs are clients. Proxy servers work in a similar way to ICS, but can be awkward to set up. Thankfully, there is a free tool called FreeProxy that makes this complicated task as straightforward as possible. You'll find it here. Before you begin, you need to know your server's name - get this by clicking Start, right-clicking My Computer, selecting Properties and switching to the Computer Name tab - it's under "Full computer name Next, install FreeProxy on to the server PC only. Once done, launch FreeProxy Control Centre from the Start > All Programs > FreeProxy menu. To get it up and running, click the Start/Stop button and then choose Start FreeProxy as a Service followed by OK. If you have a firewall installed, you'll be prompted about FreeProxy attempting to access the Internet - click Allow and the basic configuration is done. First, let's set up your client PCs to access the Web - FreeProxy has already been set up for this, so all you need to do is launch Internet Explorer on each client in turn and select Tools > Internet Options > Connections tab. Click the LAN Settings... button and tick the Use a proxy server... box. Enter your server's network name under "Address:" and 8080 under "Port". Click OK and that PC should now have Web access using any Web browser. Access your email Configuring email is more complicated and involves tweaking both FreeProxy and each client PC in turn. When you edit FreeProxy's settings, your changes won't come into effect until you stop and restart the FreeProxy service, so click Start/Stop again and this time select Stop and Remove FreeProxy Service. Click OK. Next, click the Ports button. Select POP Proxy from the Protocol drop-down menu and type the name of your Internet Service Provider's POP server into the appropriate box. Type "Incoming" or something equally suitable into the Name box and click OK. At this point you'll be warned about security and told to bind the connection to your PC. In layman's terms this simply means that you're restricting email access to those PCs on your network, so select your network adapter from the Local binding drop-down menu and click Done again. Click Ports again, but this time select SMTP Proxy from the Protocol drop-down menu. Configure it accordingly, this time using your ISP's outgoing mail server details. Once complete, restart the FreeProxy service via the Start/Stop button. Now launch your email program on each client PC in turn and set up your email accounts in the usual way. Instead of entering your ISP's details into the Incoming and Outgoing mail boxes, though, type your server's network name into both boxes. Once complete, test your account by sending an email to yourself. If you run into problems, check the program's extensive help file (select Help > FreeProxy Help), or visit its home page at www.handcraftedsoftware.org. You'll also find out how to add support for other Internet protocols like newsgroups and FTP here too. Sharing your Internet connection is a key reason for setting up a network. If your budget stretches to it - particularly if you have a broadband connection - we recommend investing in a router, but even if this isn't the case, you'll find both ICS and FreeProxy offer useful alternatives, enabling you to let everyone browse the Net without queuing up on your main PC to do so. Share your Internet connection 1. Access the Internet Connection Sharing dialog Open the Network Connections Control Panel 2. Enable Internet Connection Sharing Tick the box marked Allow other network users (click View network connections from the My Network Places window), right-click your Internet to connect through this computer's Internet connection. If your username and password details connection and choose Properties, then switch to aren't saved by default, you'll be warned that others the Advanced tab. can only use the Internet when you're connected. Q&A I've got two email addresses with different ISPs - how do I configure FreeProxy to support multiple mail servers? The trick is to configure different ports for different ISPs. Set up your first ISP as instructed, and then click Ports, select POP Proxy and fill in the details for your second ISP. Before clicking Done, change the Client Port from 110 to 111. Repeat for the SMTP proxy, changing its Client Port to 26. Make sure that the number next to the POP or SMTP server remains at 110 and 25 respectively, though. Switch to your networked PC and set up your separate email accounts. In Outlook 3. Advanced options Express, select Tools > Accounts, pick your To let people dial up through your computer when second account and click Properties > not connected, tick the Establish a dial-up Advanced tab. Change the port numbers to connection box; unless you're happy for others to 26 and 111 respectively and click OK. disconnect when you might be browsing, don't tick Allow other network users to control or disable the shared Internet connection. Click OK when done.