InfoWorld how-to's

Teach your router new tricks with DD-WRT or OpenWrt

Open source DD-WRT or OpenWrt firmware can breathe new life -- and advanced features -- into your old wired or wireless router

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  • Transmit 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, but you can experiment with the gain function to see if it improves reception in your environment. Note that increasing transmit power can cause some routers to overheat, so don't fool with it, 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 be needed in most environments, 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 an item for which inaccessibility will be a sure sign of trouble (Google, for instance, or your ISP's home page).
  • Asterisk. This one's for the truly ambitious. Asterisk is an open source PBX system that can be used as a replacement for a proprietary PBX, although the capacities available to Asterisk will be limited by the hardware you're using.
OpenWrt packages
The package list for OpenWrt can be dauntingly large, but that's a testament to how flexible the firmware can be in the right hands.

Last words for DD-WRT and OpenWrt users
Once you have your setup 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. (OpenWrt has similar functionality.) If you have a number of custom settings -- port forwarding, for instance -- and need to do a 30/30/30 reset, it would be good to have all of it backed up so that you don't have to manually punch it in again.
  • Set passwords. Not just for your wireless connection -- be sure to use WPA2 if your clients can support it -- but also for the administration panel in your firmware. It should go without saying, but designate a different username and password for the admin panel than the out-of-the-box settings. If you stick with the default credentials, your network is a sitting duck.
  • Check for updates about once a month. Bookmark the page where updates for your router are posted, and check it every so often for new versions of the firmware. There's not much point in using a custom firmware 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 custom-powered router is stability and functionality, don't shoot yourself in the foot by tinkering with it too much. If you do tinker, back up your settings before trying anything particularly adventurous.

Of course, if you're using a custom firmware explicitly in order to tinker with it, that's another story!

This article, "Teach your router new tricks with DD-WRT or OpenWrt," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in networking and open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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