Most people buy a home Wifi router, set it up, and forget about it. For most of them this is just fine, but as we enter the increasingly connected world of Home Automation, the standard software on those routers can be somewhat limiting. We’ll cover those limitations in subsequent posts, but for now let’s look at an alternative “operating system” that is available for most common Wifi routers.
What you may not realize is that virtually every electronic device you buy has software that runs on and controls it, much like Microsoft Windows controls and runs on your laptop. And, like Windows, that software can be swapped out with other software.
At a low level, this type of software is called firmware, and each Wifi router vendor such as Asus, Netgear, and Cisco/Linksys use their own custom firmware to power these devices. But there is an open-source project called DD-WRT that will run on many of these devices, and often provides much more sophisticated control of your router than what’s provided by the vendor.
Out-of-the-box firmware generally offers basic features such as secure Wifi, firewall, port forwarding, and DHCP. But DD-WRT expands on this with really rich services like VPN, guest Wifi, QoS, DNS, and time-based access restrictions. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all that jargon; its ability to act as a VPN Server is enough of a reason to upgrade – which we’ll cover soon.
Installing DD-WRT is pretty straight-forward, and thoroughly document here. The most critical step is finding the exact right version for your particular router – if you don’t, there’s a chance you could brick your router.
This certainly isn’t software for everyone, but in upcoming posts we’ll use DD-WRT as the baseline for configuring certain things like port forwarding and VPN access. Even if you don’t install this software on your router, stay tuned for some posts on how to leverage some advanced router capabilities that will allow you to connect to your home automation system when on the road.