Home Mac, Airport Extreme, DynDNS, simple remote VNC

Since I had willingly allowed my MobileMe subscription to expire, I no longer had access to Apple’s Back to My Mac service for accessing my home Mac remotely. Although the feature was definitely useful + headache free to setup and use, I couldn’t justify the $99 annual renewal for the entire MobileMe package.

I experimented with LogMeIn but really wanted to leave the web browser for browsing and remote control of a computer to a VNC client. Having previously setup my computers for VNC access / control on the local network, the changes for remote access were minimal. In short, setting up remote VNC access requires:

  1. VNC server running on the host (home) computer
  2. Your home router forwarding required ports to the host computer
  3. Helpful: Easy to remember dynamic hostname instead of memorizing an IP
  4. VNC viewer (client) for your remote computer or iPhone

I wanted to document the process here for Mac OS X 10.5+ users with along with some helpful screenshots for curious minds.

First, enable Screen Sharing on your Mac. Open System Preferences > Sharing and tick the ‘Screen Sharing’ option. In the screenshot above I’ve added the password requirement for controlling the screen (Computer Settings…).

In order to access your home computer remotely, you’ll need to forward the necessary ports appropriately. To do this, log into your Airport Extreme. Select Manual Setup. Inside the Advanced tab, select the Advanced tab then Port Mapping. Inside of this dialog, select the small ‘+’ (plus) button. The port mapping setup assistant will slide into view. Select Remote Login – SSH & Apple Remote Desktop. Each selection will automatically fill the correct ports. Select Continue after specifying each service.

You Port Mapping window should now look like the image above. Ensure that both checkboxes are checked then proceed to update the new settings to your router.

DynDNS to save you from remembering your IP

To keep the entire process of accessing your computer remotely easy, setup a free account at DynDNS (create account). Once the account has been properly setup, return to the main dashboard and look for My Services.

What you want to setup is a new Host Service > Dynamic DNS Hosts.

Select Add New Host on the following screen. DynDNS will request some basic info related to your home Mac.

The first field – Hostname – will be your "memorable" URL to access your computer remotely from outside of your home network (select from alternate domains using the dropdown). Select Service Type: Host with IP address. DynDNS can automatically fill-in your location IP address (click on the link). The rest of the settings can be ignored.

Chances are your location IP will change every so often (without you knowledge). Unless you’re paying your service provider for a static IP, you’ll want to install the DynDNS Updater (free). This handy daemon runs in the background and updates DynDNS with your current IP.

Connecting to your home Mac with a VNC client

Now that VNC is enabled on the home Mac, the appropriate ports forwarded and DynDNS setup, it’s time to connect remotely. The first option is to use a VNC client like Chicken of the VNC. The alternative (my preference) is to use the built-in VNC client provided by Apple as of 10.5 Leopard – the same client use for Back to my Mac. To access the client, go to Finder > Go > Connect to Server or CMD +K.

Upon successfully connecting, you will be prompted to enter the previously setup credentials to control your remote Mac. The beauty of Apple’s integrated VNC client is the fact that larger remote screens are automatically resized to fit. For MacBook / MacBook Pro users, the iMac or Apple Cinema display at home will be resized to fit (with the option to view at full resolution).

Do you use VNC? What method to you use to manage / control your computer at home?

Discuss - 7 Comments

  1. roycifer says:

    i was totally looking for something like this over the past week. going to try this out tonight!

  2. matt ryan says:

    i completed all the steps here, but when i try to connect using my IP or the dyndns url it just hangs and never connects. i also don’t receive any errors, and can cancel at any point.

  3. Libby says:

    Thank you! I knew I was close, but I couldn’t figure out the problem. Your step-by-step was incredibly helpful, and solved my problem in a minute. (I was using Remote Management instead of Screen Sharing and hadn’t port-forwarded SSH.)

  4. Paul says:

    DynDNS saves the day, phew, I didn’t even think to use it.

  5. Dave says:

    I’ve followed these instructions but it’s failing to create an SSH connection. I know that the Remote Desktop mapping is working because, when the router is configured such that the Remote Desktop ports are forwarded directly to the target machine, I can connect to the VNC server no problem via the router’s public IP. But the OSX Console on that VNC server machine shows that no SSH connection is made.

    Do I need to forward the SSH ports to the target machine’s IP address? (I use DHCP internally, so this seems like it might break if a different IP is assigned on the LAN.)

    Bit confused here…! Thanks for this guide, though. It’s gotten me quite far down the line. :-)

  6. Kevin says:

    What if you have more than one computer on a home network that you want to login to remotely? How would you set the airport extreme up for that?

    Thank you,
    Kevin

  7. paddyo says:

    does this work with airport extreme and a mac mini for filemaker pro and filemaker go with ipads?