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Want to get network access in your dormitory? Interested in setting up a server? In this column, part 2 of 6 in our introductory orientation columns, we cover residential computing and getting connected to the network.

Question: Should I set up my computer now?

Answer: If you are an undergrad, in general, it is best if you do not set up your personal computer right away. Unless you live in McCormick, which has forced room squatting, you may be moving to either another dormitory, or at least another room.

If you need to use a computer, there are always the Athena clusters easily accessible all over campus. Once you move to your room for the fall term on Thursday, feel free to go ahead and set up your computer.

When you do finally set up your computer, if it is running any version of Windows, please IMMEDIATELY apply the appropriate patches. Because of a recently exploited vulnerability, unpatched Windows systems may be compromised very quickly, before they have a chance to get patched. To work around this, you should follow the directions at to block incoming connections to your computer, before plugging it in to the network.

If you do not follow these instructions, your computer’s security will likely become compromised, and Network Security will turn off your network drop and/or disable your DHCP access. In such cases, you must reformat your hard drive and reinstall the operating system. For more information, see

Running Windows Update is always a good idea, though it is especially important now because of a recently discovered vulnerability. Also ensure that you have a non-trivial Administrator password, as your system can otherwise be remotely broken into. To learn more about what makes a non-trivial password, visit

Question: What is a static IP address good for?

Answer: A static IP address is useful if you wish to set up your own server, like a web server, as it means your machine always has the same IP address, instead of getting a new one each time you reboot. Typical servers students run include web servers and FTP servers. In addition, if you configure your machine properly, you can also set up remote access through various other protocols. While these things are still all possible without a static IP address, you will not have a consistent hostname or IP address you can use to access your machine.

To connect your computer to the network with a static IP address, follow the instructions you receive when you request the IP address. You can request the address either at a "Getting Connected" meeting (see below), or through the RCC web page at

Question: What is DHCP, and how do I configure my computer to use it?

Answer: DHCP is the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, which allows your computer to automatically obtain an IP address and associated information. If you are not running a web server, and do not need a static internet protocol address for any other reason, we recommend using DHCP as it is the most flexible and easy to set up. Most computers are set to use DHCP by default.

To use DHCP to connect to the network, configure your computer to use DHCP by following the instructions at These are typically the default settings, so if you have not changed anything, you probably do not need to do anything. Then, simply open up a web browser, and complete the registration that appears automatically.

If you have a laptop, it is possible to configure your computer to obtain your static IP address via DHCP when you are on your home subnet, typically your dormitory, and to obtain a random address while you are elsewhere. If you would like to configure your laptop in this way, visit the registration page at from the computer you wish to register. The computer should be on your home subnet at this time, and using its static IP address.

Question: How can I use the wireless network at MIT?

Answer: Most non-residential MIT buildings now have wireless network access. You can find a list of wireless-enabled locations at Furthermore, wireless is gradually being deployed in many dormitories. Baker House, Senior House, Sidney-Pacific, Simmons Hall, and The Warehouse all have official I/S-deployed wireless service, and Bexley Hall and East Campus will have wireless service deployed during this school year. Other dormitories may have wireless access points set up by residents, though these are not officially supported. Signing up for this service is easy, and detailed instructions are available at After you perform the necessary steps, wait about 15 minutes before these changes take effect.

If you are a faculty or staff member, or a student with a static IP address, you may also choose to receive your static IP address via DHCP while using the wireless network on your home subnet, typically your dorm. To do so, follow the step-by-step instructions in the October 4, 2002 Ask SIPB column at our Web site at

Question: How can I find more information about a machine?

Answer: To get more information about a machine, including its IP address, aliases it has, and its owner, you can use type stella machinename at an Athena prompt. You can see the name of any public machine at the top of the login screen.

Question: Where can I get more help with networking and getting my computer configured properly?

Answer: Each dormitory has student Residential Computer Consultants who can assist you with network problems. The RCCs can help you configure your computer's network settings, provide you with a network cable, assist with broken network drops, assign you a hostname and IP address, and help with other network-related problems. To submit a request, visit

In addition, the RCCs will be running "Getting Connected" meetings throughout orientation, in which you can learn more about these topics and others. The schedule for these meetings is:

Monday, Aug. 25, 10-11a.m., 4-370

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 10-11a.m., 1-190

Wednesday, Aug. 27, 10-11a.m., 1-190

Thursday, Aug. 28, 3-4p.m., 4-370

Friday, Aug. 29, 3-4p.m., 4-370

To ask us a question, send e-mail to We'll try to answer you quickly, and we might address your question in our next column. Copies of each column and pointers to additional information will be posted on our Web site