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FLOSS Friday: DD-WRT

June 11th, 2010

Today’s project is for the more adventuresome sorts who enjoy tinkering with their home networks, getting the most performance and features our of consumer grade (read: the stuff you would buy at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. as opposed to ordering from Cisco) routers and wireless access points.  If you didn’t know, the “little boxes” that most all of us have in our homes actually have some level of operating system (in the form of firmware) running on them.  You may run a web interface and periodically update this firmware yourself.  Updating the firmware usually involves visiting a web page hosted by your router’s manufacturer, downloading a file, and then using the router’s web interface to upload the file to the device.

Given that many of these home routers run a variant of Linux, it became possible to modify the default distribution as shipped by the manufacturer and make it better, faster, strong, more convenient, etc.  One of the first routers that became wildly popular for this kind of tinkering was the Linksys (now Cisco) WRT54G.  One very popular alternative firmware for this device is DD-WRT.  As more and more devices became replaceable-firmware friendly, the projects such as DD-WRT expanded to support more and more hardware.  As new devices are released, the DD-WRT team determines if they can make a replacement firmware.

If you do have a compatible device, you might want to give DD-WRT a try.  It exposes features of the hardware that the original Cisco/Linksys/whoever didn’t necessarily make available to end users.  As a simple example, DD-WRT lets you associate a device’s MAC address with a fixed IP address.  By default, the device simply assigns IP addresses to devices as they request addresses.  That complicates doing things like opening ports for server applications and using a network printer; you have to constantly update applications to repoint to the current correct address.

As the web site says, it is possible to make your device no longer functional, so don’t use an alternative firmware unless you’re fairly confident about doing experiments with your hardware.  You don’t have to do anything very different from a normal upgrde, but if you’ve never done that and wouldn’t know how to, then this type of software isn’t for you.

As always, it’s not FLOSS Friday without a screen shot:

DD-WRT Main Settings

Since the image doesn’t capture the details very well, it’s much better if you visit the interface demo at the DD-WRT site.

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