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Helix Server Remote Access Configuration Tips
Introduction

While setting up Helix Client/Server for local access is relatively simple, configuring your Server for internet access can be a daunting task. Few home and small office users have access to networking professionals, and although modern equipment makes setup fairly easy, the wide variety of products available makes it harder to provide turnkey answers for every situation you may encounter.

For customers who require assistance configuring a Helix Server or network router, support is available under our standard User Support plan. Please consult our Support Overview page for pricing and details.

This document deals with configuring Helix Server; for information on configuring machines for Helix Client access, see Helix Client Access Configuration Tips.

Helix Server Configuration Notes
Key considerations

Providing detailed instructions that work for every situation is virtually impossible, so this section offers a general outline of the primary considerations, along with some tips.

  • Computer Name: Regardless of the size and scope of your network, you should give the Mac that is running Helix Server a reasonable name. By default, Macintosh computers are named according to the first user created. Thus, if your first user is named “Joe Doaks” then the computer is named “Joe Doaks’s Computer” — if you have more than one computer, a number is typically appended to the end.

    The computer name setting is found in System Preferences, at the top of the Sharing panel. (screenshot) The longer the name, the more the likelihood of user error, so it is good practice to change the Server computer name to something short and descriptive, like ‘helix’ or ‘server’ or, if your users know your Helix application by a particular name, use that. Press Tab (or click outside the field) and make sure the “Computers on your local network can access your computer at: …” line makes sense as well. If not, click on the Edit button and enter a meaningful name in the Local Hostname field.

    With that done, your local Clients can connect to the Server by choosing Connect from the File menu and typing in the name you set.

  • Firewall: Helix Server (like all TCP/IP applications) communicates over a ‘port’ — a good analogy is a private extension in a business telephone system. By default, Helix uses port 10860, so your firewall must be configured to allow ‘traffic on port 10860’ to pass through. If it does not, Helix Clients can not reach the Server.

    If you are not making your Server available from the internet and your router is configured to use private addressing (see faq page), then you do not really need a firewall — unless you do not trust the other users in your local network — and can safely run without one. In that situation, no extra configuration is required to access Helix Server.

    If you do want to make your Server accessible from the internet, you should use a firewall to keep unauthorized users away from your information. macOS contains a firewall, which you can activate via System Preferences. Unfortunately, Apple’s improvements to the firewall in macOS 10.5 and later made it simpler for basic use, but more difficult for use with applications like Helix.

    For a PowerPC Helix Server running macOS 10.4, configure the firewall by opening the Sharing panel, clicking the Firewall tab, then clicking the New button and opening port 10860. (screenshot)

    In macOS 10.5 (Leopard) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard), this configuration option is gone. In Leopard/Snow Leopard, a dialog is presented when you launch Helix Server, asking for permission to allow network traffic. (screenshot) Click Allow to open the port. Note: If you are not present to allow the port opening, macOS will automatically deny it after a few minutes. If that happens, open System Preferences, click on the Security panel, then on the Firewall tab. Locate the entry for Helix Server and change the setting to Allow Incoming Connections. (screenshot)

    For Macs running the macOS Server operating system, the firewall is configured through the Server Admin application. (screenshot) Unlike the ‘client’ versions of macOS 10.5 and 10.6, all versions of macOS Server have the ability to open specific ports, as can be done with macOS 10.4.

    For users who do not have macOS Server, but need to make sure their Helix Server ports remain open, hanynet.com has applications that provide a way to configure the underlying firewall software: try NoobProof for basic configuration, and WaterRoof for more greater control.

  • Automatic Launch: For truly hands-free configuration, the Mac should be set up to automatically log in to a specific user, and that user should have your Helix collection set to automatically open on login. (Doing these things requires that you log in to the Mac as a user with Administrative privileges.)

    To set this up, log into your Server Mac as an Administrator and open System Preferences, click on Accounts, then on Login Options and choose a user from the Automatic login popup. (screenshot)

    Then log in as that user (if you are not already), reopen System Preferences, click on Accounts, then on your user name on the left, then on Login Items on the right. Click the + below the list of items and choose a Helix collection, or drag a collection into the list. (screenshot)

    With those setting complete, the user will be logged in and the Helix collection opened automatically whenever the computer is started up.

    One last potential issue: macOS uses different rules for choosing which application to use when a file (such as a Helix collection) is opened automatically. To make sure Helix Server is the application used, Get Info on the collection icon and set the Open With popup to Helix Server. (screenshot)

  • Leave it Running or Turn it Off? A question we are often asked is whether or not to leave a computer (in this case, one running Helix Server) running all the time, or to shut it down when not in use. This is a debate that could go on for years, with no ‘right’ answer. Our recommendation is to leave it running. Once you get used to the idea that your server is always available, you will enjoy not having to remember to turn it on for times when you want remote access.

    One of the underlying questions related to whether to keep a server running is that of cost. Each type of Mac consumes differing amounts of electricity, so the truly cost-conscious person should choose a Mac mini for your server. According to Apple’s published power consumption figures, you can run a “Mac mini (mid 2010)” for under $10/year. Metering our own Mac mini that runs techdb shows an electricity cost of a little under $9/year.

    If you are curious as to how much your computers (or other devices) cost to run, we recommend these handy electricity meters. They can measure consumption over a period of time, giving you an accurate figure with which to judge your equipment’s efficiency.

Network Configuration

For access to a Helix Server from outside the network (the LAN) you must configure your internet router to enable access from a wide area network (a WAN). Because of the wide variety of network configurations and routers available, it is virtually impossible to provide generic advice on how to configure your network for remote access. To ensure proper configuration, our first recommendation is that you print our TCP/IP Notes page and give it to somebody familiar with the specifics of your network. A qualified person, familiar with your specific hardware, can make certain your Helix traffic flows freely.

Many networks use private addressing, both as an economical use of IP Addresses, and for network security. Private addressing prevents connections from outside your local network from accessing specific machines, funneling external requests through a router. To accomodate this scenario, Helix (like all TCP/IP applications) communicates over a ‘port’ — a good analogy is a private extension in a business telephone system. By default, Helix uses port 10860, so for networks that rely on private addressing, the router must be configured to forward traffic on port 10860 to the machine running Helix Server. This is typically referred to as port forwarding. If network requests on port 10860 are not forwarded to your Helix Server, Helix Clients can not communicate with it.

For customers who desire assistance configuring a network router, support is available under our standard User Support plan. Please consult our Support Overview page for more pricing and details, then contact technical support for assistance.

Remote Access Notes

Sometimes when your Server is running at a remote location, you might need to be able to control that machine as though you were right in front of it. Fortunately, macOS provides many options for doing just that. A few of our favorites are discussed on our Remote Access Options page. (This information is also useful should you need to contact us for support in configuring your Server.)