Discussion on Network Printing – a complex subject…

Printers on networks are complex…but the benefit is convenience and power savings. When you have a network printer installed, you don’t have to leave a computer on 24/7 to share it to others on the network.
 
If you have a router, then you have a local area network (LAN). The router sits between your modem and your LAN.
 
Usually in a LAN you have the ability of having 254 Internet Protocal (IP) addresses or 254 devices. These IP addresses can be used by computers, printers, and other devices (like TIVO, etc.) that need an IP address for network and internet access.
 
There are 2 ways to get an IP on the LAN. First is by Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (dhcp) issued IP addresses from a pool of available addresses. A portion of the range of 254 IP addresses is assignable by the router via dhcp.
 
The other way is to manually issue static IP addresses. You need to issue these outside the dhcp range. And you should write them down in your computer notebook for future reference.
 
Most devices can acquire an IP address via dhcp. And for the most part this is not a problem. Except for when you have other devices using the services of an IP in the range – like the services of a printer or a storage device. So it is best to issue the printer a static IP.
 
You can usually do this via the printer’s front panel. Every one is different from every other one. You will probably need to get the printer’s user guide for this. If you no longer have it, you can download it from the manufacturer’s website.
 
Anyway, you need to issue your printer a static IP address. You may also need to issue it a Sub Net Mask and a Gateway. Typically the subnet mask is 255.255.255.0 and the gateway is xxx.xxx.xxx.1, but in some routers you may see the gateway address as xxx.xxx.xxx.254 where the xxxs are the same as the first 3 sets of xxxs in the dynamically issued IP addresses of the computers currently on the LAN.
 
And, your printer needs to be plugged into the LAN with a Network Interface Cable (NIC).
 
Now from each computer, you need to install the printer as a “network” printer.
 
For a computer where it is already installed as a USB printer, you may be able to go into the printer properties and change the port to a network port (may be termed TCPIP) at the static address you have assigned to the printer. You may have to create this port in the printer control panel before you can change the printer to a network port address.
 
On computers that do not already have the printer installed, you need to go through the “Network Printer” installation process. If you have the original CD, this may be supported there. If not, you need to go to the printer manufacturer’s website and locate the driver for your Operating System (OS), download it to yout desktop and run it from there.
 
EVERY printer tends to be different and every software installation also different. Not just from Manufacturer to Manufacturer, but also from printer to printer from the same Manufacturer. And of couse then there are the differences from OS to OS.
 
Finally a little more about the LAN. The typical router today has a Wide Area Network (WAN) input connector where the modem goes and then there are 4 connector ports for your LAN. These are generally considered “Switch” ports. And the router does not care what you plug into any switched port. The switch function is supposed to figure our the IPs at each port and for the most part this works seamlessly as a hardware function.
 
But what to do when you get the 5th piece of equipment that needs to plug in and use and IP address? At that point you purchase a second switch from Staples or similar store and you plug it into one of the ports on the router and then you have several more available ports you can use. Note you may see devices called HUBs at the store. Switches work much better and I recommend you avoid HUBs.
 
The switch can be located right near the router, or, at the other end of your home or office. The network limit for TCPIP Category 5 Cabeling is 100 meters so most of us will not have a problem with length. Most cabeling available the  last few years is Category 5 or better.
 
I hope this discussion assists you in your Network Printer quest.
 
Bill Perry
PerTel Communications, Inc.
bill@pertel.com

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