Run a Web Site from Your Basement

Did you know that it is fairly easy to run a Web site from your basement? Provided you have a broadband Internet provider that will let you. If you have an extra PC that can run Windows XP, you can have a Web site!

Let’s assume you have a broadband Internet provider such as Road Runner. You may already have an Internet router to share that connection. If not, they are available cheaply at your local Best Buy or CompUSA. Heck, they even have them at Wal-Mart. Most people just think of an Internet router as a way to share their Internet connection with several PC’s in their home, but there is a lot more power in that little box.

First, set up a PC with Windows XP and have it so it can stay on 24 hours a day. You can use your regular workstation for this but I would recommend that the PC get only limited use so that the Web site runs without interference. The first thing you’ll need to do is add “Internet Information Services (IIS)” to your installation. This is a free Web server that comes with XP and it’s on any XP disk! Just go to CONTROL PANEL and select ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS, then ADD/REMOVE WINDOWS COMPONENTS. You’ll see a check box for Internet Information Services. Check the box and install the component by clicking NEXT. It will ask for your original XP disk, so have that handy.

Once installed, it should turn itself on automatically and you should have a rudimentary Web site running on the machine. Test this by bringing up Internet Explorer or your favorite browser and typing in http://localhost as the URL.. What this URL does is point a browser to the same machine it is running on to see if there is any Web site answering from the machine. At this point you should see a little page indicating that there is a Web site waiting to be built. If you get “page cannot be displayed” there is some issue with the IIS installation.

At this point you’ll need an HTML editor. You may already have Microsoft Front Page if you have Microsoft Office installed. It comes with some of the flavors of that package. If you don’t have the software, I recommend it. It is about the easiest HTML editor to use for creating and modifying Web pages.

Open up Front Page and use one of their Wizards to get some sort of content or introduction page put in place of the standard message that’s there. Save this page as DEFAULT.HTM which is the page you viewed when you tested your site. You want to overwrite the DEFAULT.HTM that is there.

I won’t get into HTML here. My goal is to tell you how to get your site “on the net” technically.

When you type a URL into a browser, the browser is assuming several things. Say you type in www.yahoo.com. The first thing a browser will do is assume you mean http://www.yahoo.com and what this means is that you are searching for content from the Yahoo servers on port 80. The “http” indicates to the browser that you are looking HTML content (a Web page) at port 80 on the machine located at www.yahoo.com. When you typed in http://localhost it was telling the browser to look for HTML code (a Web page) on port 80 of the local machine, the one you are on. Our job now is to allow users on the Internet to find your content on port 80 on your machine. If you have a router in your home, it is being assigned a unique IP address out on the Internet. In order to share this one address with several PC’s in the house, you most likely bought a router. What the router does is act as a traffic cop allowing each Internet request that comes and goes to arrive at the right location. So, when a user out on the net types in http://your-Internet-IP-address, they are asking for HTML code (Web content) on port 80 at your router. The problem is that your router doesn’t know where to send that request. You have to tell it.

The fist thing we must do is set what is called a “static” IP address on the machine you have designated as your Web server. Routers hand out addresses to the PC’s in your home automatically as soon as they see them. This is a process known as DHCP. What you need to do is find a way to tell the router that you want to reserve some of these addresses and set them aside. It is likely that if you type this into browserâÂ?¦ http://192.168.1.1 you will see a Web page that is generated by your router so that you can configure it. Some brands use a different address such as Netgear routers which use http://192.168.0.1 See the router owners manual for the details on how to get to the configuration page from your browser. Once there, look around for something that says DHCP. You should see a range of addresses that the router is handing out automatically to the PC’s connected to it. Some brands such as Linksys start this range at 192.168.1.100 and you don’t need to do anything to change that. Other brands such as Netgear start the range at 192.168.1.2 and in this case you need to raise the starting address to open up space for an address to be used with your Web server. Change the settings for DHCP to start the automatic addresses at 192.168.1.100 freeing up 192.168.1.2-192.168.1.99 for “static” addresses on your network..

Now back at your Web PC. Click the START button and then CONTROL PANEL. If you are in the “category view” mode, choose the “classic view” mode in the upper left hand corner of the control panel. Then double click on NETWORK CONNECTIONS. Right click on LOCAL AREA CONNECTION and then left click on PROPERTIES. In the resulting list of items, scroll down to Internet Protocol (TCP/IP.) Highlight it and select PROPERTIES. Check “Use the following IP address.” Enter an address such as 192.168.1.10 (for use with most routers) or if you have a Netgear or another brand that uses the 192.168.0.x set of addresses, you’ll use 192.168.0.10. Then set the SUBNET MASK to 255.255.255.0. The DEFAULT GATEWAY should be set to 192.168.1.1 (or 0.1 for the router brands that use that set.) Then obtain the PRIMARY and SECONDARY DNS addresses from your ISP and enter them in those boxes below. You can usually get these by going back to your router’s configuration page again and looking for the DNS addresses it obtained from your ISP. Just copy those into the DNS entries. Click OK and close all the open windows.

Back in your router’s configuration page (192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1 in your browser) look for PORT FORWARDING. What you’ll need to do is forward port 80 (TCP) to 192.168.1.10 or 192.168.0.10 depending on which you used on your web server.

If you completed all these steps properly you should be able to go to any web browser and type in http://Internet-IP-address-of-your-router and your Web page should come up.

If you want to experiment with giving you site a meaningful name go to www.dyndns.org and sign up for a free account. They can give you something like myweb.dyndns.org and let you point it to the more complex IP address notation.

If you are left baffled by all of this, think of it this way. Your home network is like a business phone system. Think of your “real” ISP assigned IP address as a single phone number and your home’s PC’s as phone extensions. You can reach the network by dialing the main number (IP address) available to the world but then your router has to send the call onto the proper “extension” that is needed to answer the request. This is where “ports” come into play. The addresses of your home’s PC’s are not “real” addresses but rather local to your home only as in phone extensions in a business.

Once you start playing with this technology, it becomes clearer how it all works.

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