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Configuring Windows for Remote Access

Windows doesn't include the network services Screens requires to establish a connection, so configuring a Windows PC can take a little more work than a macOS or Linux computer might. But don't worry, it's still a pretty easy process.

Screens uses the industry-standard VNC protocol to display a remote computer's desktop. Because Windows doesn't include a VNC service, one must be installed. Any standards-compliant VNC server should do, but we recommend TightVNC or UltraVNC.

If you wish to use a secure connection for increased privacy when working over untrusted networks, Screens can work through an encrypted "tunnel." For this to work, an SSH server is required. freeSSHd is our recommendation. 

Screens Connect

It is strongly recommended that you install Screens Connect on your Windows PC. Not only will it make your computer accessible from outside your local network, the installer also includes a virtual network computing (VNC) server (TightVNC) and a secure shell (SSH) server (freeSSHd). These provide the network services Screens uses to establish a connection with the computer. A VNC server is mandatory, but if you wish to use a secure connection, an SSH server is also required.

Leveraging Apple's Bonjour protocol, Screens Connect also broadcasts the PC's availability over the local network, allowing Screens to automatically add the PC to the Nearby Computers list in the Screens Library.

See our Screens Connect user guide for installation instructions. If you're not using Screens Connect in your set-up, you can install TightVNC and freeSSHd individually.

 

Without Screens Connect

If you won't be using Screens Connect in your set-up, the following instructions will get your Windows PC ready for remote access.

Installing a VNC Server

If you choose not to, or are unable to, install Screens Connect on your PC, you must install a VNC server. We recommend TightVNC or UltraVNC, but any VNC server should work just as well.

Once a VNC server has been installed, you'll need to gather some information.

  • The IP address. Move your mouse cursor over the VNC server icon in the taskbar and wait for the popup to display the IP address.

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  • The VNC port. Double-click the VNC server icon in the Windows task bar to open the server settings. By default, the port number should be 5900, but it's possible to have this set to another value. We recommend that port 5900 is used.

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These steps are required because the VNC server running on Windows will not broadcast its availability on the local network. Because this prevents Screens from automatically detecting your PC, you must create a custom connection for the PC in Screens.

If the Windows Firewall is running -- or any other software firewall, for that matter -- make sure that Screens Connect (if installed) and the VNC server are allowed to receive incoming connections.

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Optional: Installing a SSH Server for Secure Connections

By default, Windows does not provide a service to create a SSH tunnel, so you must install a 3rd-party app to add this functionality to your PC. We recommend using freeSSHd, which is free and used in the following instructions as an example.

  • Follow the developer’s installation instructions.
  • When asked to create private keys, click Yes.
  • When asked whether freeSSHd should run as a service, click Yes.
  • In the Windows task bar, double-click the VNC icon to display the settings window.

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  • Select the User tab. 
  • Click the Add button.

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  • User Properties window appears.

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  • Enter a username.
  • Set the Authorization to Password stored as SHA1 hash.
  • Enter a secure password.
  • Enable only the tunneling option.
  • Click OK.
  • Select the SSH tab.

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Note: By default, the SSH port will be set to 22, but it's possible that another app installed on your PC is already using that port. If so, you may change the port to something else, like port 222 in our example.

  • Select the Tunneling tab.
  • Enable Allow local port forwarding.
  • Click OK.

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  • If an error occurs when connecting through a SSH tunnel with freeSSHd, open the VNC server settings on the Windows PC you’re trying to connect to and enable Allow loopback connections.

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  • If the Windows Firewall -- or any other software firewall -- is running, make sure that freeSSHd is allowed to receive incoming connections.

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Making the Computer Available Outside the Local Network

The following process will ensure that Screens can reach your Windows PC over the Internet.

Step 1: Automatically Update Your PC's Public IP Address

Your public IP address will change from time to time. To make sure Screens can find your computer, you can subscribe to a service that will monitor these IP address changes for you and automatically update your chosen public URL so that your PC is always reachable.

For this example, we chose a free service called No-IP (not associated in any way with Edovia). There are many similar services available on the Web, but they all share similar set-up procedure.

Create a No-IP account and host:

  • Visit no-ip.com.
  • Select No-IP Free.
  • Create an account.
  • Once your No-IP account has been created and validated, visit no-ip.com/login to log in.
  • On your No-IP page, select Add a Host.
  • Enter a Hostname.
  • Make sure DNS Host (A) is selected.
  • Do not change the IP address.
  • Click Create Host.

Install the Host Updater:

  • Note: Many routers will let you do this easily, without having to install any additional software on your Windows PC. Consult this page to see if your router supports the No-IP service. If your router doesn't support the service, please proceed.
  • Visit no-ip.com/downloads.
  • Click Windows.
  • Download the latest version of the app.
  • Install the app, selecting the default configuration.
  • Click the Windows Start button, then click the entry DUC x.x, where "x.x" is the application version number.
  • Log in with your No-IP account credentials.
  • Select the Host you created earlier.
  • To automatically launch the application at start-up, enable Run on startup.

Step 2: Configure a Static Local IP Address

Like your public IP address, your local IP address may change from time to time. For our purposes, we need to make sure it stays the same all the time.

First, gather some information about your network:

  • Click the Windows Start button, and type cmd, followed by the Enter key. A shell window appears.
  • Type ipconfig, followed by the Enter key. This displays the network information you're interested in.
  • Under Ethernet Adapter Local Area Connection, write down the addresses for Subnet Mask and Default Gateway.

Next, configure a static IP address:

  • Click the Windows Start button and type network and sharing.
  • Select Network and Sharing Center.
  • Click Change adapter settings.
  • Right-click on your local adapter and select Properties.
  • In the Local Area Connection Properties window, select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), then click the Properties button.
  • Select the radio button labeled Use the following IP address.
  • Enter the IP address, subnet mask, and default gateway, referring to the information recorded earlier.
  • Enter your Preferred DNS and Alternate DNS server addresses. Our example represents a simple home network (Class C) with Google DNS.
  • Enable Validate settings upon exit to instruct Windows to check for potential problems.
  • Click OK.
  • Close the Local Area Connections Properties window.

Step 3: Port Forwarding

Just as your configuration requires a public IP address, you will also need to create corresponding public ports that will redirect to your new static IP address and the private ports used by VNC and SSH (normally 5900 and 22, respectively, unless you changed the default settings).

These instructions are based on Apple's Airport Extreme. If you have a different router, consult the excellent Port Forward Web site. Select your router brand and model, and then select VNC on the next page.

  • Launch Airport Utility.
  • Select your router.
  • Click Edit.
  • Click the Network tab.
  • Just under Port Mapping, click the [+] button. A settings window appears.
  • Type VNC or any arbitrary description you would like to identify the mapping.
  • In the Public field, enter a port number. In this example, we chose 4000.
  • In the Private IP Address field, enter the static IP address you created in Step 2.
  • In the Private field, type the port number associated with your VNC server. In our example, the port number is 5901. Refer to your VNC server settings to confirm the correct port number.
  • Click Save.
  • Click Update to apply the changes.

Step 4: Create a Screen to Connect to the PC

  • Launch Screens.
  • In the Screens toolbar, click the [+], then click New Screen, to create a saved screen.
  • In the Address or Hostname field, enter your No-IP Host. In this example, it's winpc.zapto.org.
  • Set the Port field to 4000.
  • From the Operating System drop-down, select Windows.
  • Enter the VNC password.
  • Click Save.
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