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First Steps: Setting up an IP Camera

To every question, there is a simple answer.

And it is wrong.

There are simpler answers... not much simpler... to setting up an IPcam, and if you use them, what you can do next, or alongside your camera, is limited.

The "answer" I am going to present here does not have all the bells and whistles you could employ, but it does do a few "extra" things which will pay dividends.

Where we are going

As I was working on the following, I could feel it unraveling. Sorry.

What I'm trying to do is give you an overview of the basics of getting an IP Cam set up. Each camera will have its little quirks, but there are certain fundamental tasks which always need attention.

In the next few paragraphs, I am going to try to list them. Then the rest of the page is an attempt to clarify what each entails.

Not every one of my suggestions is the only way something can be done. When was that ever the case? But I've been playing with IP cams and similar for more than ten years, and with computers for a lot longer. The prime target audience here is the home user, or small business. If you found useful things, I would be grateful to hear what was useful, and a bit about your circumstances. Am I serving my audience??

Start by trying for no more than to get a camera working well on your LAN. Get all the challenges of THAT sorted out, and you are a long way towards being able to see the camera across the internet. There is no aspect of the latter which is needed for the former.

Set aside part of the LANs address space for some devices with a static (local) IP address. Depending on your circumstances, you might well want to put the majority of the available addresses aside for assignment to specific devices.

Tell the IP cam to connect to the network with a static IP address.

Tell the camera to use a port other than :80

All of the above I would do with the camera attached to the LAN with a cable. If you want to use a wireless attachment, that's fine. Setting that up would be the next step, after the above was working.

You might have to tell your anti-malware protection to let the camera operate.

Once all of the above is sorted out, accessing the camera over your LAN should be straightforward.

To make that camera visible (and, if you wish, configurable) across the internet (aka the "WAN" (wide area network) is relatively trivial after you have the above accomplished, but what's necessary for that final stage isn't covered here. Maybe if this page seems to be useful to people, I'll write "the next chapter" in the style of this page. (I've covered the subjects many times, on many pages... rationalization of those would be a better use of my time than new essays!)

Once you can access the camera across the LAN, depending on you camera, you will have various things available to you such as a way to configure the camera to send an email when it detects motion. Or send images to an FTP server. Again, I am not going into those things here... I've covered them in other pages, if not in a well organized manner. Hurrah for Google!

First steps in IP camera deployment.

Start by getting your camera onto your LAN, and visible in an ordinary web browser, e.g. Firefox, on a computer connected to the LAN.

In doing that, you will have to overcome a few hurdles... all hurdles which have to be overcome, anyway, if you want to do more than just check live images via LAN.

Prepare for the new arrival

If this is the first "special" thing you've put on your LAN, you may need to go into your switch/ router and make some adjustments there.

Sidebar: I'm assuming that most of my readers will be home users. Even if you are from a different constituency, this should be useful, but you may need to "translate" bits. (A bigger problem is that you may not have authorities you will need.)

(sidebar continued): Your "switch/ router" is "the box" you use to get to the internet. Now it will also be at the heart of your LAN, local area network, if you didn't have a LAN before this. Or one you were aware of, anyway.

I'll work from the premise that you have a laptop or tower computer connected to the internet. There's a "box" someplace in your environment to which the computer attaches on one "side", with wires to (and from) "the outside world", the internet, coming out the other side... probably to a phone line or cable service. That "box" is your "switch/router"... perhaps previously referred to by you merely as "the router". It is a remarkably clever bit of kit, even though most of us "just use it", and miss the glories of all the stuff it does.

I'll explain in a bit why I was sticking that "switch/" bit on at the front, and for now just call it "the router", even though it IS doing some switching, too, probably, and may also have modem circuitry. (A story for another time.)

Sidebar ends.

I don't care if your computer is connected to the router with cables or by WiFi. It doesn't matter to our discussion. If you are using WiFi for that, just pretend you are using cables, for me, please?

Have you ever accessed the internet from your home on something other than the computer? (Other than some probably expensive direct connection to the internet via a smartphone?

It isn't hard to do. If you have a tablet, or smartphone, and have connected to the internet by a means that only works when you are near (100 meters or so) your router, you are doing it.

And again... even if that isn't the case for you... Imagine you've done it? Please?

Hurrah! You've used a LAN! (Or imagined using one.)

The tablet and the computer are connected to one another. Just because you haven't used the connection doesn't mean that it isn't there. They are on the same LAN, a LAN created by one "side" of that "switch/router" box thingie.

The router has just one connection to the internet. Have you ever thought about how really cool it is that two devices (the computer and the tablet) can "talk to" the internet across one connection to the internet, and not even know the other device is present? That's where the "switch" part of the "switch/ router" name comes from.

When there is more than one device on the LAN, things that go across the LAN to the router to go off to the internet have to be keep distinct from the things coming from the other device. And when answers come back, the all arrive through one wire, to one place... the switch/ router. But it sends the right material to the right device. Magic! (Do you really want me to try to explain that, too, in other terms?)

You don't have to use connection to the internet

I have, at a quick, off the top of my head count, ten things all connecting to my switch/ router. And sometimes they are only "talking" to each other. They are all on one LAN, some with wired connections to the switch/router, some with WiFi connections, and, with the right commands, I can have them talk to each other with no "talk" going out of the house, off to the internet.

For instance, there is an Arduino which watches various weather things (windspeed, light levels, temperature). But it is a bear of little brain. One of the bigger computers uses it as the source of some sensor readings, and saves what the Arduino is seeing into a datafile.

A more typical local use of a LAN might be to have a shared printer. Now, you can have a printer connected to one of the computers on the LAN, and print "through" that computer. A more elegant solution (with problems I've never wanted to tackle, because the inelegant solution meets my wants) is to have the printer directly connected to the LAN. Then any device on the LAN can send something to be printed across the LAN to the printer, and out it comes.

The secret of addresses

"Things" in our modern, connected world, have "addresses". "Phone numbers" might have been a better term to extend, but "they" chose "addresses".

There are (at least) two sorts of address that are important to us.

The devices on your LAN have "addresses". They will look something like...

192.168.0.204

Four numbers. Separated by "."s Each less than 256.

Everything "on the internet" has an address. It will look something like...

157.12.121.27

Again: four numbers. Separated by "."s Each less than 256. (Although that is being expanded to be six numbers.)

When you go, say, "to Google", although you might put "http://google.com" into your browser, behind the scenes, "goggle .com" gets translated into one of those numbers. (It is, as I hinted before, a bit like telephone numbers... although the phone company has never rolled out a system to let us use "Joe Smith" instead of his number.

How does a poor chip know if an address is a device on the LAN, or out on the WAN??

Partly by context. Partly by the number itself. Something beginning 192.168.0 will always be something on the LAN. The LAN the "poor chip" is on. That's the beauty of LANs... MY LAN may have my printer "at" 192.168.0.72 while YOUR LAN may have your games console at that address.

These numeric "addresses" are more fully called IP addresses. ("IP" for "Internet Protocol".) In terminology I find useful, but I must admit I've never seen anyone else use, I add the terms LIPA and WIPA for "LAN IP Address", and "WAN IP Address".

We can leave the WIPAs for another day. Remember I said I was showing you how to put an IP cam on your LAN?

In simple circumstances, your router assigns a LIPA to any device when that device is plugged into the LAN. If your laptop comes and goes from your LAN, its LIPA might be one thing one day, and another a different day, and it might all work just fine.

Managing LIPAs this way is called using DHCP.

With an IP cam, there are advantages to saying "No thanks, I don't want this device given a LIPA automatically when it is plugged in. I want it to use the LIPA I've set in it."

You can't help the camera asking for a LIPA to be assigned by the router when you plug it into the LAN for the first time after doing a factory reset to the camera. (And new cameras come with a recent factory reset.) But once you've "got into" it the first time, I would suggest changing the settings, telling the camera to use a specific LIPA from now on.

That will mean that before you plug the camera in, you have, as talked of earlier, to tell your router to set aside some address for the use of devices which have been told DON'T ask for a LIPA to be assigned. Use the same LIPA every time.

And then you just give the camera a LIPA from the range of addresses the router has set aside.

You will need to keep a careful list of the LIPAs you are using for various things. If you have two devices on one LAN which both try to use one LIPA the result will be Very Tedious. (No harm will arise, but things will be "crazy".)

If you put things on more than one LAN, unless you have LOTS of LANs and lots of devices you want to assign static LIPAs to, you might want to consider reserving the LIPA for "camera A" across ALL your LANs for that camera. Yes! It is only on one LAN at a time... but if you have reserved the LIPA across all your LANs, you won't have to do any LIPA (re) setting chores if you decide to move it from one LAN to another, will you?

Enough theory! Let's do that bit.

Okay... here we go...

You've told your router to set aside some addresses for static LIPAs. (In other words, words you router might use, you have excluded those LIPAs from the pool of addresses used by the DHCP.)

Start Hard

Many people like, some people need, things to connect with WiFi. With a new IP cam, you need, at least briefly, to connect it to your LAN the old fashioned way... with a cable.

And, when first connected after a factory reset, it will use the router's DHCP service.

Which leaves you with the problem of finding it!

Many routers have a page you can go to which will list the devices connected to them, a list which will include the LIPA being used. With luck, your camera will have its "MAC address" listed on it. (Sort of a machine readable serial number). If it does, find the camera in the connected devices list that way. Otherwise... use your detective skills! (Not helpful, Grandma? Sorry. But You Can Do It!)

Let's assume that you've discovered that the camera is "at" 192.168.0.32.

Fire up your web browser. (Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc. Many cameras "need" IE (and its vulnerable ActiveX provision) for "advanced" matters. I haven't seen one that can't do "the basics" with the more secure Firefox.)

Put the LIPA into the browser's address bar.

You should be rewarded with something that looks like a web page. It IS a webpage... but from inside the camera. Something you may not have come across before!

You may be asked for ID and password. Try "admin" "admin" (without the "s). Or go online, and search the web with the make and model of your camera to learn the default authentication. The camera should revert to that after a reset. You WILL eventually CHANGE both, won't you? And in the not too distant future. And write down what you've chosen someplace safe? (And eat your vegetables/ get some "fresh air", not stay on the computer all day.)(The Mom's Union pays me for these little messages.)

RIGHT!

You're in.

Find the right page. Tell the camera, "Next time, connect with... ((whatever static LIPA you've decided on. I'm going to write 192.168.0.123 where YOU should use THE ONE YOU CHOSE)).

Don't worry about the sub-net mask. Just make it 255.255.255.0, or leave it what the factory reset made it. (I have to admit: I don't understand it well!)

If you can... not end of the world, at first, if you have only the IP cam as a "funny" on your LAN... change the "port" it is using. It will almost certainly have 80 as the default port.

Ah. Ports. I haven't explained THEM, have I? Sigh. If you know about ports, I don't have to say much. If you don't, and you're pretty sure that someone more knowledgeable hasn't been "putting things on" your LAN, you are probably okay with ports 1024 to 1032 for your initial work. I will use 1024 in this, but just like the LIPA: If you have used something else, use THAT where ever I use 1024.

If you haven't managed to change the port, (or have funked doing so!), you can put 80 where I put 1024, or just leave it out, along with the colon (:) which I will usually be putting in front of it.

Right!... "Set" inside the IP cam: The fact that you don't want it to use DHCP services, the static IP address you want it to use, the port you want it to use.

Sidebar: Everyone always says "The static IP address you want it to use." It might help novices if we said "The (local) IP address we want the device to use statically.". End sidebar.

Be sure, at all stages when working "inside" the IP cam or your router, or similar, to SAVE the setting you have "made". Many times, making these settings is a bit like filling in an online form to "register" to access a new website, but, as with the online form, just putting the numbers and letters into the boxes, or even ticking boxes, doesn't "do it". Hidden away in a corner of the screen, a corner you may have to scroll to to see, will be a button called "Save" or somesuch. Until you click that, the device won't care what you put in the boxes.

There's probably a way to tell the camera to "reset", or "restart". (DON'T use a "reset to factory defaults"!). Either do that, or the alternative: Unplug it from its power supply. THAT will reset it!

... and then "start" again.

This time, I would put...

192.168.0.123:1024

... into my browser's address bar. YOU MIGHT BE USING DIFFERENT NUMBERS, remember.

That should take us back to the "Enter username and password" page.

Don't be alarmed if it doesn't at first. IP cameras commonly take up to 90 seconds to reboot after power first comes on, or after a reset. Often an LED will indicate whether it is ready.

If your first attempt with your "192.168.0.123:1024" didn't work, after the LED is giving you hope, just reload the page.

It doesn't seem to bad, when I sit and write it out today. But it is easy to spend HOURS "fighting" with a camera, exploring (and perhaps breaking) all sorts of things that are NOT the problem, because you are overlooking the thing that IS the problem.

Good Luck in your struggles. IP cams are a lot of fun, once you've "paid your dues", gone through the struggles. Got to where "it works"... and you have some idea of what to poke when it doesn't.

Going back to "ports"...

We "did things" to set the camera up on a port other than 80.

Until you try to use the camera across the internet, it isn't important. But I wanted to get it "in", because I hope you WILL go on, and this was the easy time to do it.

No wire, no wire, my kingdom to get rid of the wire

Once you have the camera working nicely, across the LAN, with a wired connection, if your camera offers wireless operation, you can go ahead an put the right "stuff" into the right "boxes" inside the camera, and all should be well.

The camera will attach to the LAN (the router a the heart of it) over the wireless channel. (Even if you still have the cable connected. While it is connected, the camera may use both.)

As a USER of the camera, you don't have to do anything differently. It is just a "thing" on the LAN, and how it connects to the LAN is a problem for the router, not the person wanting to access the camera.

Where did you have trouble??

I would be very grateful to hear from you. Where did you have trouble getting your camera working? What bits of this could be re-done, to spare the next novice?





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