Teach your router new tricks with DD-WRT

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Once you have your DD-WRT router booted up and configured, log into the router's administration page (be sure to change the default password!) and find out which features your router supports. A full breakdown of all the features in DD-WRT would require a book and might well be redundant since many of the features are common to most routers. However, here's a sampling of features included with DD-WRT but that might not be present on other routers you've worked with. (Note that not all routers support these options.)

AOSS. Short for AirStation One-Touch Secure System, AOSS is supported in some clients and routers (they'll have some statement to the effect in their documentation). If your router supports it, you'll be able to press a button on the face of the device to allow an AOSS-enabled client to connect without the need for a password. Many portable game consoles, like Sony's PSP, use AOSS.

Boot wait. When enabled, the router pauses for five seconds at boot time to allow the user to connect remotely and flash a new firmware if the current one is bricked. Leave this on, as you never know when it'll be useful -- and what's five measly seconds out of a reboot cycle?

Logging. DD-WRT can maintain running logs of its most crucial events and behaviors. The log can either be kept locally or be written to a remote IP address that has a syslog daemon listening on the appropriate port. This can be left off by default, but it's useful to toggle it on if you need to do any detailed troubleshooting (for instance, to find out if some specific action is messing things up).

NTP client. With this, you can specify a remote timeserver that the router will use to synchronize its own clock. This is a good idea generally, since it saves you the trouble of having to set the clock by hand, and it allows for more accurate deployment of scheduled reboots (see below).

Overclocking. Some routers support the ability to overclock, or they run the CPU faster than the manufacturer normally recommends. There are few cases where this is needed, especially since overclocking any hardware often leads to instability.

Scheduled reboot. You can force the router to reset itself at a given time of day, after a certain interval, or on a specific day of the week. Some claim this improves performance, although in my own experience it doesn't seem to make much difference. The documentation (linked above) shows you how to do this via a command line, but some builds -- including the one in my Buffalo router -- let you set this in the GUI under Administration/Keep Alive. Note that in order to use this, you'll need to enable the Cron option as well.

Telnet. The telnet daemon should be running if you plan on connecting via telnet to perform administration (such as to manually flash new firmware). If you're worried about the security implications of leaving telnet running, you can shut it off until you need it.

Trasmit power and antenna gain. These let you control the power to the wireless antenna and the amount of gain or "focus" used to single out weaker signals. Most of the time these options should be left as-is -- especially if they're already specified by your router's manufacturer in its DD-WRT stock firmware -- but you can experiment with the gain function to see if it improves reception in your environment. Note that raising transmit power can cause some routers to overheat, so don't fool with it and then forget about it.

Watchdog. If enabled, the router will attempt to ping other computers regularly and will reboot itself if it doesn't receive a response. This should not normally be needed, but it can be useful if you have a flaky network gateway. Just be sure to use sane intervals for the pings -- anything less than five minutes is probably overkill -- and make sure you're pinging something whose inaccessibility will be a sure sign of trouble (Google, for instance, or your ISP's home page).

Last words for the DD-WRT user

Once you have things running the way you want, keep a few final details in mind for smooth sailing in the future:

Back up your router settings every so often. DD-WRT lets you save your router's settings to a file that can be stored on a PC, then reloaded into the router if needed. If you make a lot of elaborate custom settings -- port forwardings, for instance -- and then have to do a 30/30/30 reset, it's good to have all that stuff backed up so that you don't have to manually punch it in again.

Set passwords. Not just for your wireless connection -- and be sure to use WPA2 if your clients can support it -- but also for the administration panel itself. Pick a different username and password for the admin panel than the out-of-the-box settings, as both are trivially easy to crack if you leave them as-is.

Check for updates about once a month. Bookmark the page where your router has updates posted and check it every so often for new versions of the firmware. There's not much point in using DD-WRT if you're not keeping it current.

Finally, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This may sound counterintuitive, but if your main reason for picking up a DD-WRT-powered router is stability and functionality, don't shoot yourself in the foot by tinkering with it too much. For the most part, DD-WRT should work with the default settings, especially if it's provided out of the box with your new router.

Of course, if you're using DD-WRT explicitly in order to tinker with it, that's another story!

This story, "Teach your router new tricks with DD-WRT" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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