Your router does a lot more than just give you access to the internet. It blocks strangers who are trying to get into your home network for seedy purposes. But sometimes it accidentally blocks legitimate traffic, and you have to poke a couple holes in your router's solid firewall, so your gadgets will work correctly.
Doing this involves a process called port forwarding, a term you might have seen in your router settings menu, but is that some complicated inside baseball for network engineers or is it something you can actually use at home?
It turns out port forwarding can be important to the average Joe or Jane, especially if you play games online, use smart home devices or run any kind of server. You see a port in this case, isn't an ethernet or USB port in the back of your computer, this kind of port exists in software, and it's basically just a channel devices use to talk to each other.
Which port is being used, depends on the application. For example, secure web browsing often uses port 443. The network time protocol that keeps your PC's time up-to-date uses port 123 and if you're playing Minecraft you're using port 25565, the classic! And there are thousands of ports available, with many of them being unassigned, so programs can use them as needed. So what exactly is port forwarding, then?
Well, whenever a server or another device on the internet wants to talk to a gadget on your home network, most routers by default block that request for security. It'll only let outside traffic in if you initiated the connection. Web browsing is a great example of this because when you type in a web address, you're the one starting the connection with whatever server is hosting that webpage. Port forwarding overcomes this limitation and allows something from the outside to start a connection with the device on your network. So if something like an online game or your video doorbell just isn't working, port forwarding may just be the trick.
So here's how to set up port forwarding. First, you need to know what port is used by the program you wanna allow through. You can typically find that information with a quick Google search, but some programs can use any open port that you specify. So if that's the case, pick a port that is typically not used by anything else.
Next you'll need to go into your router settings and assign a static IP address to the device you're trying to set up with port forwarding. A typical router will change the local address of devices on your network regularly (devices beeping) so you'll need to have one local IP address for the gadget in question. Make sure to assign it something in your local IP range, which typically starts with the numbers 192.168
The final step is to set up a port forwarding rule, also in your router settings. It's just a matter of specifying the port you're using or a range of ports, then punching in which internal IP address the traffic should go to. This way, when an outside program tries to connect to your routervia its public or external IP address on that port, your router knows to allow the connection and forward the traffic to the device you want.
After doing this, you should be good to go. You can even use an online port checker to quickly check that the port you want is open and that your settings are correct. Do keep in mind that because you're allowing an outside connection to your internal network, port forwarding can open you up to some security risks, especially if you're forwarding to a PC or a server rather than a game console. So make sure you're not opening up more ports than you need.
The good news is that modern operating systems like Windows, as well as many popular applications that use port forwarding like Plex and TeamSpeak are pretty good about not giving excessive control to someone connecting from the outside, but make sure your software is up-to-date. You don't want to miss a security patch to allow some rando to start peeking through your cameras .