Have you ever needed to just grab some files off a computer, but they were too large for a disk, and you didn’t have a network connection handy? Or maybe you’re using workstations with no floppy drives? In cases like these, you can get your information through a direct cable connection by using a crossover parallel or serial cable. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll show you how. In my next Daily Drill Down on this topic, I’ll show you how to set up and troubleshoot connections to Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0

Cable transfer rates
For cable transfers, you’ll need a crossover cable, either serial or parallel. If you have two systems whose infrared ports can be aligned to see each other, you can also use an infrared connection. In Windows 2000, a serial cable can move information at the maximum port speed of 115 Kbps. Parallel connections are much faster, with a throughput of about 4 Mbps. Higher speed connections are available with special cables, such as an Extended Capabilities Port (ECP) cable, but both computers must have ports that support this. To begin, connect the cable from one computer to the other.

Check protocols
For a direct connection to work, both machines need to have Client For Microsoft Networks installed, as well as the same networking protocol, such as TCP/IP. In addition, your host machine needs to have File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks installed and enabled.

Setting up a direct connection host
Start setup by configuring a host. The host computer will be the machine that contains the data you want to share. A properly configured client will connect to the host, allowing you to read files, and, if your share allows, write files. You can even access a LAN or the Internet through this connection. To set up a host, make sure you are logged in with administrator rights.

  • First, make sure your host machine has shares that the client or guest will be able to access.
  • Go to Start | Settings | Network And Dial-Up Connections.
  • In Network And Dial-Up Connections, double-click Make New Connection to open the Network Connection Wizard.
  • Select Connect Directly To Another Computer and then click Next.
  • Choose Host as your computer’s role and then click Next.
  • Choose your connection device from the drop-down list. Available ports are infrared, direct parallel, or communications port (COM1). If you have more than one COM port enabled, they will all be available for selecting.
  • If you choose a COM port, click on Properties to set the speed and flow control options (Figure A). Due to an issue with Win2K, you may see a list that doesn’t include the full range of speeds. For example, you may see the fastest allowable speed as 19,200 bps.

If your host properties don’t show the full range of COM port speeds, this is an error. Microsoft has published a workaround in Knowledgebase article Q211182. Open up your Windows 2000 Device Manager. Under Modems, right-click Communications Cable Between Two Computers and then click Properties. On the Modem tab, set the Maximum Port Speed to 115,200. Now, reconfigure your host connection to the maximum speed. Note that according to Microsoft, the server side of the connection (host) is limited to 19,200 bps.

Figure A
The Network Connection Wizard allows you to set COM port properties.

  • Next, set up users for this connection (Figure B). You can press the Add, Delete, and Properties buttons to set options for each user. Default users are Administrator and Guest. It’s not necessary to change the default settings for most situations. When finished, click Next.
  • Figure B
    Here, you can set your users for this connection.

  • The final screen shows you that the connection will be named Incoming Connections. This default name can’t be modified. Click Finish, and Windows 2000 will create an Incoming Connections icon in Control Panel | Network And Dial-Up Connections.
  • Setting additional host properties
    While the basic settings should get you started on a cable connection, any time you want to modify your configuration for incoming connections, right-click the Incoming Connections icon and select Properties. This icon controls the settings for all incoming connections, not just direct cable connections. You’ll see three tabs in the Incoming Connections Properties dialog box (Figure C).

    Figure C
    You can later modify settings for all incoming connections.

    • The General tab lets you set the types of installed devices that can accept direct incoming connections. These devices include modems as well as cable and infrared ports. Select any device and click Properties to modify the settings. In this dialog box, you can also choose to enable VPN for incoming connections.
    • The Users tab contains buttons to adjust the properties for current users, delete users, and create new users who are allowed to be guests for direct connections. Select the box next to each user to enable connections; deselect the box to disable connections. Click Properties to set passwords and callback settings. You can also require users to secure passwords and data (remember to use the same settings for guest machines) and allow directly connected devices (such as Palm organizers) to connect without providing a password.
    • The Networking tab lets you install or uninstall networking components for direct connections and specify additional properties for components. These properties are separate from your LAN or RAS connections. For instance, a nice security feature of TCP/IP properties includes the ability to set a range of TCP/IP addresses the host will accept (Figure D). Note the Total box, which calculates the number of possible clients your range encompasses. (If you need a quick networking calculator, here’s a place to find it.) You can also choose to allow or disallow guests to access the LAN through the direct connection. Be careful of whom you allow access when you set these security features.

    Figure D
    You can set a range of TCP/IP addresses that can connect directly to your host.

    Configuring a guest
    Once you’ve configured Incoming Connections on a host machine, you don’t need to do anything more. The host senses when a guest tries to connect and will set up or reject the connection based on the way you have configured it. Now, you need to set up a guest connection with the Make New Connection Wizard.

    1. On your guest machine, choose Start | Settings | Network And Dial-Up Connections and then double-click the Make New Connection icon.
    2. Choose Connect Directly To Another Computer and then click Next.
    3. Choose Guest as the role for this computer and then click Next.
    4. Select the port you’ll be using and then click Next.
    5. Do you want your connection available for all users who can log in to your machine or only for you? If you choose Only For Myself, you must be logged on with that profile. The default setting is For All Users. Click Next.
    6. Name your connection. Unlike Incoming Connections, you can create more than one Guest connection with separate properties. For example, you might need to create a different connection for a Windows 98 host than a Windows 2000 host. To complete, click Finish.
    7. An icon with the name of your Guest connection will now be visible in Network And Dial-Up Connections.

    When you click Finish, you may see a warning message. For example, one of my guest machines is connected to a NetWare network using Microsoft’s NetWare client. IPX in this configuration can only bind to one session at a time. The warning lets me know that when I connect to the host, I’ll lose my NetWare shares on the LAN during that session. (See Figure E below.)

    Figure E
    Warning messages help with your guest configuration.

    Setting additional guest properties
    Default settings should work fine between Windows 2000 systems. Nevertheless, in some cases you may want to fine-tune your guest connection. To do so, right-click its icon and choose Properties. The Direct Cable Properties dialog box has five tabs that you can use as follows:

    • The General tab lets you configure a device by selecting it from a drop-down list and clicking Configure. Not all devices can be configured. For example, settings for parallel ports can’t be dynamically changed.
    • Under Options, you can configure the Dialing and Redialing options, such as whether or not you see connection progress, whether or not you are prompted for your name and password, the number of redialing attempts, and other options.
    • Security settings include Typical and Advanced (Custom Settings). With Typical settings enabled, you can choose a way to validate your identity. Choices include Allow Unsecured Password, Require Secured Password, and Use Smart Card. Make sure your host is configured to use the same validation method. Setting Advanced features requires a knowledge of security protocols, but changes here are necessary for troubleshooting some types of connections. For example, connections to a Windows 9x host require enabling an older MS-CHAP protocol.
    • On the Networking tab, you’ll see all the bound networking components. You can unbind components by deselecting their boxes (see Figure F). You can also specify whether or not the host server accepts PPP or SLIP connections and specify PPP settings.

    Figure F
    Deselect components not needed for your connection.

  • The Sharing tab lets you set up other computers on the LAN to use your direct connection to access the host’s LAN connection or connection to the Internet. Clicking the Settings button allows you to specify applications that can use the shared connection. Note that enabling other users to share your direct connection can disrupt it.
  • Starting a direct connection
    Now that you’ve configured a client and a host, you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of a direct connection. Start your session by double-clicking the icon you created on your client machine under Network And Dial Up-Connections. If the host requires a user name and password, type them in. Otherwise, click Connect (Figure G).

    Figure G
    Enter your user name and password, if required, and click Connect.

    Windows 2000 will verify your connection and register your client on the network. If successful, a Connection Complete message will appear. In addition, an icon appears in both computers’ taskbars. Click this icon to bring up a status window. The window’s General tab holds useful information, such as your connection status, duration, speed, bytes sent, bytes received, compression levels, and number of errors. On this tab, two buttons allow you to either access the connection’s properties or disconnect (Figure H).

    Figure H
    By clicking the Taskbar icon, you can discover your connection status.

    The Details tab presents helpful information such as the server and client IP addresses (Figure I).

    Figure I
    Use the Details tab to view client and server IP addresses and other connection information.

    Now that you’re connected, begin to share data by typing either the computer name or IP address (in UNC format) in the Address Bar in Windows Explorer or My Computer (Figure J). Although Microsoft documentation defines a host machine as the computer whose files you want to share, in reality, I’ve found connections work on both machines in both directions. One can open files on the client from the host or on the host from the client.

    Figure J
    Type in a UNC name or IP address to begin sharing files.

    If you enabled access to a LAN or the Internet through your connection, open Internet Explorer and browse the Internet and use Windows Explorer to access network shares.

    Troubleshooting Win2K connections
    Because Windows 2000 offers you so many options, it might not always be easy to get connected between two Windows 2000 systems. Here are a few problems and solutions.

    Client can’t connect to the host: In your Incoming Connection properties, make sure you created a user. On the client side, use this user ID and password to connect.

  • Right-click your icon for this client connection and select Properties. Choose the Security tab and, under Security Options, enable Typical (Recommended Settings) and then choose to validate your identity with Allow Unsecured Password. The client and host may not share a validation method.
  • Client can’t access files on host:

    • Check to make sure you’ve created a host share that the client can access. Depending on your user and domain setup, your client may not be able to connect to the host’s default share.
    • If you typed the host’s UNC name in Windows Explorer’s Address Bar, verify that the name was entered correctly.
    • Try using the host’s IP address in Windows Explorer, rather than the name.

    Client can’t connect to the Internet through the host:

    • In your Incoming Connection properties, click the Networking tab, highlight TCP/IP properties, and confirm that you checked Allow Callers To Access My Local Area Network.
    • Type a valid user name and password when you connect. Although you can set up your direct connection so that it doesn’t require IDs and passwords to connect to the host, you may still need to use them to pass through the host to the Internet (and LAN).

    Client can’t connect to the LAN through the host:

  • If on the host you’ve allowed callers to access the LAN (see above section), your client still may not have permission on that domain. Remember that on NT and 2000 servers, only computers with domain accounts can be validated.
  • No client computer name visible in Details tab:

  • To see computer names in addition to IP addresses, add NetBEUI to the Networking properties of both the host and client connections.
  • Modem error:

  • Error messages report (erroneously) that the modem on the remote computer is out of order. This occurs when the settings for both computers don’t match. For example, if one system has a serial speed set of 57,600 bps and the other is set to use 115,200 bps, you’ll receive this type of error message. Fix this by setting the same rate for both sides of the serial connection.
  • Conclusion
    For situations requiring you to get to data from a nonnetworked machine, direct connections can be very useful. Connections between two Win2K systems are not very hard to establish, although some security issues require troubleshooting. It’s a good idea to keep a null parallel cable and null serial cables in your troubleshooting kit for just those cases where an emergency calls for direct connections.
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