Home networks are everywhere

Home networks are everywhere

[Free]BSD has networking in its roots. It’s one of the things
it does very well. Why else would the BSD TCP/IP stack be used
in so many other operating systems if it wasn’t the best around?

Most people who use FreeBSD will also have a home network. Whatever
the size of your network, it has grown as time passed. It evolved. It
might not have been planned out from the start, so the physical environment
may not be exactly what you need given the growth. So that is why moving
to a new location gives such a great opportunity to create what you need.
Even if that need soon changes as your network further evolves.

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I have recently finished setting up my old network in a new location.
I now have network connections available at 5 locations throughout my
new home. Using the same type of rack as I had before, I was able to
improve the layout and tidy things up by using some new tools. In
addition, I’ve added a Wireless Access Point (WAP) to my network and
bought two new PCMCIA NICs for the laptops in the house.

This article will provide some tips which will help you when setting
up your network, designing the rack, running the cable, and configuring
your WAP. The photographs below will allow you to judge for yourself how
tidy and workable the rack and cabling is. And you’ll learn about some
nifty little tricks which will make things just that little bit better.

Start with the rack

The rack is where all your equipment will go. Ideally, it will have easy access, both front and back.
That’s why my rack has the side towards the wall, which the opposite to how a bookshelf is aligned.

Here’s a checklist of items for siting and creating your rack:

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    Choose the rack location. The first decision is where can you put the rack. An unused corner of the
    basement or a closet might be a good location.

  • Room to work in front and behind the rack. You’ll need room, both front and back, to work on the rack.
    Make sure you can access the bottom shelves easily. Squat down and make sure there’s room to work.

  • Power. The equipment needs power. Don’t run an extension cord. Install proper power points.

  • Are water or waste pipes overhead? My rack is in the basement, and there are no water pipes
    above it. Pipe breaks are pretty rare, but I choose to locate elsewhere.

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    Level, plumb, and anchor. Make sure the shelves are level, more or less, and that the unit is straight
    up and down (i.e. plumb). Anchor the unit to the wall so it cannot topple over.

  • Choose your jack locations. If you are going to run network cables around the house, can you route the
    cables back to the rack? I put Post-it notes at each location which indicated the number and type of
    connections which would go there.

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    Work light for rack. Ensure there is sufficient lighting around your rack.
    Avoid fumbling with a flashlight and install a good overhead light which
    illuminates the work area. I have a 150 watt halogen work light on
    one side of the rack and existing lighting was sufficient for the other side.

  • Rack monitor. Go down to a local computer recycling or used equipment location and buy a
    cheap and nasty VGA monitor. It doesn’t have to do color. A black and white
    version will do. Just make sure it’s small. Put it on the rack in a corner. It’ll be handy
    when you need to work on a stubborn box.

  • Keyboard drawer. I found that Staples Business Depot has
    one very cheap version, which works well for what I need. I want the keyboard out of the way
    but easily accessible when needed.
    click for larger image

  • Attach power strips to rack. Most power strips can be securely attached to the rack. I used wood screws
    and then mounted the power strips directly to the rack. This makes it easier to adjust the power cords.

  • Remember to put the switch/hub, DSL modem, etc on the UPS. When you are
    setting it up, be sure to unplug the power strips from time to time to
    ensure you’ve not missed anything in the setup.
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  • Fire extinguisher. Buy one. Keep it near the rack, but where you can reach it easily at any time.

  • Tie cords away. Keep the cables, cords, and other wires out of the way. Make liberal use of cable ties
    and cable tie anchors. The easier it is to work, the less likely you are to accidentally unplug your

  • Consider having a traditional phone modem as backup in case the DSL dies. Over the past two years, there
    have been a few occasions when my DSL has offline for a few hours. During those times, I just used the
    modem to get online. This means you’ll need a phone jack near the rack.

  • All computers on the rack gives a nice, quiet office. I don’t have any computers in my office; they are
    all on the rack. It makes for a much quieter office. I run cables from the rack to the desk, through the
    wall. When buying the cable extensions, tell them what you are using them for so you get
    the right genders on each end of the cables.

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    Don’t cut your cables short. If the switch needs to be moved somewhere else in the rack, it can’t be done
    if the cable is too short. Leave enough excess to reach the ground and allow for tidy placement within the
    rack. Roll up the
    excess cable and stow it neatly out of the way. You may need it later. It is going to be a lot less bother
    than running new cables!

Creating your own cables

I was quite fortunate to have the help of a commercial cable installer for my network.
He ran the cables from the rack to the outlying locations. I added the plugs and jacks
to the cables. That is easier than it sounds, but you will make mistakes. I also did the
tying up of the cable clusters and anchor them to the joists and studs. This was made
easy by the use of cable tie anchors.

Cable tie anchors

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The actual name on the package is mount pad
but I’ll describe them. They are about an inch square, with an adhesive backing, four
holes for screws, and a hole through which a cable tie can be passed. This allows you
to secure the cables so they form a nice neat bundle. See the photos for how these
were used.

When cutting those cable ties, be sure to cut the excess off completely. Do not leave
a sharp protruding edge which can be razor sharp. Invest in some side cutters, easily available
from Radio Shack.

Wiring is pretty easy

I had never before wired up network cables. And my helper wasn’t going to do it for me.
Luckily this is easily mastered and there is abundant documentation for this. A quick
search on Google
provided me with the information I needed. I found these references to be helpful:
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  1. Communication Wiring Color Codes
  2. Wiring Standards at UVI
  3. CATx Stripping and Terminating
  4. How To Terminate & Assemble Keystone Jacks
  5. Tech Info – Cable and Wiring FAQ

The first link is good in that it shows both the T-568A and T-568B layouts. It also shows the orientation
of the plug with respect to the cables. The fourth link has quite good photos and diagrams. Note to self:
you generally use T-568B.

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It might not be that important, but I think you should know that RJ45 is not a type of connector. It is a
wiring standard. That connector is actually called an 8 position modular connector. But common usage does
not always follow standards.

As mentioned in the fifth link, you can run two RJ45 jacks or one jack and one or two phones from a single
CAT5 cable. The choice is yours but read the last two FAQ from that link before you decide. For what it’s
worth, I have hooked up a phone line to one of my cat5 cables.

One thing to note: you don’t have to strip each CAT5 wire. Yes, you have to remove the cable housing (also known as the jacket or protective housing) to
reveal the wires inside, but you don’t have to strip those wires. That applies whether you are attaching the
cable to a jack or to a plug. The crimping tool or punch down tool is designed to work with non-stripped

Home Depot has it all!

Did I say Home Depot? Yes, I did. Home Depot has CAT5 cable,
phone cable, electrical cable, face places, jacks, connectors, utility boxes, cable ties, and cable
tie anchors. It even has crimping
tools. At least my local Home Depot has it. Mind you, I’m living in Silicon Valley North (otherwise
known as Ottawa). Does your local Home Depot have this stuff? I don’t know. But I think it’d make
a nice thread in the user comments for this article. Give them a call. Ask them if they have CAT5 cable.

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For what it’s worth, I bought most of the gear for my new network at Home Depot. The one thing I bought
elsewhere was the 250′ of CAT5 cable, that I got from The Trailing Edge.
They were a smaller company, and were selling it for $0.15 a foot as compared to the $0.52 a meter from Home Depot.
But as for the rest of the gear, it was all cheaper at Home Depot.

Consider a cable tester

For this project, I bought a LinkMaster cable tester.
With a cable tester, you can instantly prove whether or not
a given cable is good or miswired. My cable tester is two small boxes, each with a jack for an RJ45 plug.
One has lights, one doesn’t (that’s the remote unit). You plug one end of the cable into each jack, press
a button, and the lights tell you whether or not the cable is good.

I used this unit to test all my existing cables, and I found a few which were broken. So I cut off the plug
which was faulty, put on a new plug, and I had a working cable!

I also used this to test every one of my new lines throughout the house. I’d plug a known good cable into
the remote unit and plug the other end of the cable in the jack. Then I’d take the main testing unit to the
rack and plug that end of the cable into the main testing unit. The first cable I tested failed the test.
It took me a while to figure out why…. That was the cable I’d run to both a jack and a phone jack… DOH!

My opinion: buy a tester. It’s well worth it.

The demarcation point

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What’s a demarcation point? It’s the point where the phone company’s equipment finishes, and your
equipment starts. It usually contains a test point. If you plug your phone into that point, and
it works, then any problem you are having is within your own wiring. If the phone doesn’t work,
then your phone company needs to fix something.

At my demarcation point, I split the phone line into two parts. One went to my rack, the other went through
a filter and then to the rest of the house. The filter is necessary in order to keep the DSL signal away
from the house phones. Doing it this way keeps things simple. Of course, if you have only one phone,
put the filter into that jack, and plug your phone into the filter. Very simple.

The Wireless Access Point (WAP)

I’ve had my wireless cards for at least two years.
I had them long before I got a laptop. But I’ve always used them in ad hoc mode with
my dual XEON acting as a gateway. Given that I had two cards,
and the new household had two laptops, I thought it would be a good idea to take the
plunge and buy an access point.

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Eric Rosenquist suggested that I buy a WAP
which supported the new wireless [draft] standard. It was a little more expensive,
but at least it would support the new faster cards. Future Shop
had the Linksys WAP54G
for a good price (CAD$225 after rebate). While I was there, I also bought
two Linksys PCM100
10/100 Integrated PC Card. I selected that item because it has a built-in dongle. My last NIC for the
laptop had a dongle, and it broke off. Hopefully, the Linksys will be better in the long term.

The WAP included a wall mount bracket
which doubles as a stacking tool. To use the mounting bracket, the rubber feet on the WAP must be removed.
I was able to do this by gently pushing some needle nose pliers into the hole in the bottom of the foot,
and popping the foot out of the unit. Remember to store the feet somewhere you’ll be able to find them.
Mine are in a plastic bag, which is thumbnailed to the wall beside the WAP.

Best of all, each card just worked. With both FreeBSD and Windows 98, all I had to do was put in the card
and it worked. Well, that’s not actually true. I did have to install the drivers for Windows 98. But
it just worked.

For those of you considering wireless cards, I think you should read what Linksys
has to say about wireless security.
For what it’s worth, I have done what they’ve suggested:

  1. Change the default SSID.
  2. Disable SSID Broadcasts.
  3. Change the default password for the Administrator account.
  4. Enable MAC Address Filtering.
  5. Change the SSID periodically.
  6. Enable WEP 128-bit Encryption. Please note that this will reduce your network performance.
  7. Change the WEP encryption keys periodically.

I’d not had time to do items 5-7 yet; I’ve only had the WAP for less than a week!

I should mention that my WAP firmware needed to be upgraded to support 802.11b (the older
slower cards, as opposed to the newer, faster cards : 802.11g). The upgrade was
available on the Linksys site.
At the same URL, I found a Log Viewer Utility which accepts the incoming log messages from the WAP
(transmitted over the wired LAN) and displays them on your [Windows] workstation. I found
this to be a very useful tool.

For what it’s worth, I also upgraded the firmware in my Orinoco cards.
You can get that from Proxim wireless networks.

The DHCP configuration

I wanted to use DHCP for both laptops and regardless of whether or not they were
using the wired NICs or the wireless NICs. We have four NICs here for two laptops. Any one of the four
can wind up in either of the laptops. That’s why I can’t use MAC address for this.

As part of this exercise, I also upgraded my net/isc-dhcp3
(using portupdate, of course).

Here is my

default-lease-time 600;
max-lease-time 7200;

ddns-update-style none;

# dhcpd.conf
# Sample configuration file for ISC dhcpd

# option definitions common to all supported networks...
option domain-name "example.org";
option domain-name-servers;

default-lease-time 86400;
max-lease-time 86400;

# This is a very basic subnet declaration.

subnet netmask {
    option routers;

    host dan.example.org {
        option dhcp-client-identifier "dan.example.org";
        fixed-address dan.example.org;

    host sek {
        option dhcp-client-identifier "sek";
        fixed-address sek.example.org;


This works well, for my FreeBSD laptop (dan.example.org in the example above).
Regardless of what card I’m using, the laptop
always gets the same IP address. That’s not strictly necessary. But it’s something I like. This tactic
works because I have this in /etc/dhclient.conf:

send dhcp-client-identifier "dan.example.org";

The same good words cannot be said for the Windows 98 laptop. I can’t get it to work with the above. It always
gets an IP address in the range and never the IP address associated with
sek.example.org. I used
Ethereal to sniff the packets and all that’s being given up by
the Windows 98 box is the MAC address.

18 thoughts on “Home networks are everywhere”

  1. I use the following in dhcpd.conf and it seems to work ok :-
    pcmob dual boots win2k and freebsd and gets the same address.

    My kids win98 box always gets the right address as well.

    My dns also has corresponding entries.
    host pcmob {
    default-lease-time 86400;
    hardware ethernet 00:01:03:fb:92:b5;
    fixed-address pcmob.mwr.se;

    1. As I said before, I can’t rely on the ethernet address because the NICs are shared around:

      "We have four NICs here for two laptops. Any one of the four can wind up in either of the laptops. That’s why I can’t use MAC address for this."


    2. If you need the stablitity of a static ip on your local network how about DynDNS or something similar then just specifing a name when you need to connect.

      I really can’t remember, but is it even possible outside of the windows version of apache to specify a domain name for win98.

      One thought, is that "sek" is the netbios name of the win98 machine. that would probably explain the lack of static ip. netbios is independent of the ip scheme. We had a case on campus at the end of spring break where the DHCP server was down and the only network services available were the non-ip windows file shares.

      1. thats because windows has its own dhcpserver independent – dhcp like mechanism to allocate an ip address in case the dhcp is down!
        windows (above 95) will try a specific range of ips to ensure its address is unique. (sth like 169…..)

  2. Is there some reason to prefer a commercial WAP over a low-end FreeBSD box running as a gateway? (I am considering going that direction and wonder why you chose not to.)

    1. Plus with Orinoco<->Orinono card you get no performance stats. Maybe that is just poor setup on my part but with the access point you get nice stats (connection strength).

    2. And I just thought of something else:

      – To do that, I’d need to buy another wireless nic. That’s about half the price of the WAP.

      – Would I be able to filter by MAC Address? I looked into it, but didn’t get far.

    3. I run a wifi card in my freebsd box to get it acting pretty much like a WAP – providing internet & LAN access. I basically have my wireless network on a different ip block and subnet and have to VPN into my freebsd box via wifi before i get access to anything (vpn is done using mpd on freebsd) – all secure even if sniffed and works like a dream 🙂 As regards signal strength WAP’s generally have a larger antenna (either internal or external like your linksys one) which *would* give them extra range but since my target area is only my house and a little outside in the garden there’s requirement on my behalf to have a signal stronger than what my little pcmcia card provides.

    4. For those interested here appears to be a good article on IPSEC over wifi. haven’t had a chance to try it but I plan on testing it this summer. the one WAP i have supports IPSEC pass through. If a given WAP supports a VPN pass through that would allow for stronger protection than the weak wep.

  3. Gerard Samuel

    Here in New Jersey, USA, I got my cat 5 cable, cripper, and connectors from my local Home Depot.
    This was over a year ago when I got this stuff, and back then they also sold faceplates, etc. So they should have everything one would need, no matter the location…

    1. Home Depot in Victoria also has a decent selection of CAT-5 equipment.

      As for testers, I rigged myself up a "loopback" cable, which has a male RJ45 on one end, and soldered pigtails for each pair at the other. I plug this into my patch panel, and then when punching down the outlet in the various rooms I use my handy-dandy multimeter to check connectivity. I have to check all combinations of pins, but that doesn’t take too long. It also doesn’t verify polarity, but the jacks are pretty self-explanatory, so it’s hard to punch them down incorrectly. Given that I already had a multimeter, this tester was essentially free.

  4. Dan,
    You’ve got a sweet setup going on. All you need now is an 8 port KVM switch to mount to your rack. If I didn’t rent I’d aspire to have a similar setup.


    1. Isaac wrote:
      > You’ve got a sweet setup going on. All you need now is an 8
      > port KVM switch to mount to your rack.

      Thanks. I’m about to set up an 8 port serial card so I can have serial console access to each FreeBSD box. I usually use VNC for my X boxes.

      > If I didn’t rent I’d aspire to have a similar setup.

      I’m sure that even though you rent, you should be able to do something similar. Just don’t do anything which leaves marks. Mind you, a few holes drilled in the studs in the basement should not annoy a landlord. Especially if the basement is unfinished.

    1. Right you are.

      I have my figures wrong. The Home Depot price was roughly $0.17 a foot or about $0.52 a meter. If you do the math, taking $0.51 / 3.28 gives you something like like $0.1585 a foot. Making Home Depot about $2.13 more expensive than The Trailing Edge for the 250 feet of cable I bought.


  5. You know what I like to cut off cable ties? A simple nail clipper. (The sturdier, the better) They are a lot cheaper than side cutters and they make a nice smooth (-formed cutting, on which you will never bruise your skin. (I got that idea when working for a German company, who didn’t like it, when they were cut off with our sturdy cutting pliers (and they were right). I didn’t feel like starting to walk around with another set of smaller cutting pliers. So I started using a nail clipper)

    Another thing I found at IKEA, here in Belgium, were velcro strips, three in a pack to attach the cables. Dirt cheap and reusable when you start reorganizing. I don’t know if they still have them here. Those racks are sometimes also found in other places besides ikea, over here)



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