A networking insight into the past

Back in 2007-2008, when I was just starting out with Linux geekery I had an ISP connection which was working fine for almost a year. Previously I was a Windows user and the hardware I used to run Windows XP was a Pentium 3 with 384 MB RAM.

Now I don’t know whether it was the hardware or issues with Windows itself that caused me so much frustration sufficient to make me move to Linux. After switching to Linux, things had become smooth so it was probably not the hardware. Perhaps the hardware was insufficient to run XP although it was slightly better than the recommended hardware specification at that time.

So yeah, this ISP had installed a telephone wire into my house and provided me an ADSL modem. In those days, it was rather uncommon to have multiple devices at home at least in India, so they had a policy of allowing only one PC at a time to use the Internet. My networking knowledge was pretty limited at that time so I never thought about how or why it was like that.

Then dad’s workplace assigned him a laptop and that’s when there were two devices at home that required Internet. Again due to limited knowledge of networking and Linux, I got a long LAN cable so that dad’s laptop could be wired to the modem having a single Ethernet port. A couple of times this plugging/unplugging; we got tired of it and then bought an unmanaged switch. That helped solve the cabling issue, but still two computers couldn’t use the Internet at the same time. I used to log out when my dad wanted to use Internet and vice versa. The switch model worked because the modem provided by the ISP was in bridge mode as per the settings I found out by poking around.

Both the machines were Windows XP initially. Then I switched to Linux and configured a simple DHCP based Ethernet connection to use Internet and it worked fine. The wizards helped me and the authentication mechanism was to login to the ISP using a Web page you got redirected to once you opened some site after acquiring a lease. But one day, all of a sudden the Internet stopped working on my Linux box. A quick observation was that it worked fine in Windows. Numerous calls to the ISP’s call center and as usual a clueless response by them (this continues even today to some extent) but they eventually sent their technician who couldn’t solve the problem either. Then we switched ISP.

Over the seven years after this I have learned a lot of Linux and Networking and worked in real life scenarios. But today while chatting with my friend Nikhil about ISPs and their reviews, I recalled this issue and now I can make sense why it wasn’t working. Reason is simple, routers generally contain Embedded Linux. In DHCP there’s a field mentioning what OS or which client is it (like a Web browser sends user agent to every website). This cunning ISP wanted to make money by selling their own routers and charging more for allowing multiple computers to use Internet at the same time so they decided to block all Linux DHCP clients (probably excluding their own) because every Linux box is a potential NAT box! It is possible to use Windows as a NAT box as well, but then they had no choice. If they blocked windows nobody would use their services 😂😂

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