Using VNC, you can log into your home computer from any machine in the world with web access (including your iPhone) to access files, schedule downloads, and tons more. Here's how.
VNC (virtual network computing) is one of those tricks that never gets old, and having it set up can often save your ass—whether you left some info on your home computer that you need at work, want to check on your massive BitTorrent queue to schedule the evening's entertainments, or help your poor parents use clip art in Microsoft Word, having remote access can be handy dandy.
So let's get started:
What You'll Need
• A VNC Server. Mac OS X 10.4 and higher and Windows Vista Ultimate and higher have them built in—but for Windows we find it's easier to use the excellent standalone software TightVNC. Try OSXvnc (Vine) if you're in pre-10.4 territory. For this tutorial, we're using OS X's built-in services, and TightVNC for Windows.
• A VNC client that you will use to access the server running on your home computer. Again, OS X and Windows have built-in clients, or you can use standalones like Chicken of the VNC for Mac or TightVNC for Windows. You can also install these external clients to a thumbdrive for use on computers that aren't yours.
The process is a little different depending on which platforms you're using on each end, but the first thing you'll need to do regardless is set up your home router to forward all VNC network traffic to the computer you wan to control. You may recall we had to do this exact same thing to get BitTorrent working properly—so for a primer on port forwarding, check out last week's Torrent guide or Portforward.com.
And note: any time you're opening up a port to your home network for access from the greater internet, you're taking a bit of risk. Make sure you choose good passwords, change them often, and don't proceed if you're feeling skittish.
Set Up Your Home Machine
1. In your router's admin pages, set up a new port forwarding service for port 5900—the default for VNC screen sharing. Make sure assign it to both UDP and TCP ports, and for the IP address, enter in the IP of your machine on the local network.
Again, just like for Torrenting, make sure your machine has a static local IP address on your network so this info won't change. This is easy to set up on both Windows and Mac—for OS X simply choose "Using DHCP with manual address" under "Configure IPv4" in the TCP/IP section of the Networking preferences, and follow this guide for Windows.
2. Activate VNC sharing on your home machine:
Windows: Download TightVNC and install it. Launch the server, and set a password. Everything else should be good to go, so save settings and the server will continue to run in the background.
Mac: Activate "Remote Management" in the Sharing preferences. Here you can also set which user accounts can access your computer and how. And under "Computer Settings" choose a good password in the "VNC viewers may control screen with password" field.
3. And finally, figure out your home's external IP with whatismyip.com. This can also change from time to time if you're on a big ISP without a static IP, so check it frequently. You'll need this number to connect.
Update: Setting up DynDNS makes connecting with your external IP even easier. Read more here.
Connect to Your Home Computer
This is slightly different depending on which computers you're using. But we're here to hold your hand!
Windows -> Mac:
Start the TightVNC Viewer. Type in the external IP, enter your VNC password, and you're connected.
Mac -> Mac:
In Finder, go to Go -> Connect to Server and type in vnc://xxx.xx.xx.x (enter in your EXTERNAL IP from whatismyip.com. Type in your account user name and password for the active account on your home machine, and boom. Remote control. Note: if you're doing Mac to Mac connections, you'll use the username and password for an account on the Mac, not the VNC password you set in the preferences.
Mac -> Windows
Use the exact same process as above, only use the VNC password you specified in TightVNC.
Windows -> Windows
Same as Windows -> Mac.
More Fun: Connecting With an iPhone
Mocha VNC is a great client for the iPhone that lets you control from your phone. It's a pretty amazing feeling, and the free lite version works fine for basic stuff.
And you're done!
If you have more tips and tools to share, please drop some links in the comments-your feedback is hugely important to our Saturday How To guides. And if you have any topics you'd like to see covered here, please let me know. Have a good weekend remote controlling, everyone!
[Photo By Theis Kofoed Hjorth/Flickr]