So far, our Docker Media Server is going really well. We’ve sorted out our hardware and we’ve installed Docker Engine, so we’re almost ready to start working with the app containers which will deliver the groovy media features we need. Almost.

Before we dive into containers, I want to take a step back and discuss network configuration. Any media server that’s accessing or moving data around a home network needs careful consideration – particularly where remote access (outside the home) is desired. Throw virtualization into the mix, be it VMs or app containers, then configuring a robust, well organised home network is a must.

Once you understand the concept of container apps, working with them is pretty easy – however, I’ll guarantee that the one area of complexity that can throw things askew is network configuration. You have a number of individual, containerized media server apps that need to work together – with each other, with your integrated or external media libraries and potentially with other apps on other devices. If you’ve yet to organise your home network really well, now’s the time to do it.

In this section, I’m not going to talk about Docker networking per se – no doubt it’ll be discussed down the line. First we’ll discuss the basics – settings required to ensure your media server hardware is accessible on your local network and – should you need – remotely, when you’re away from home. If you can access your host hardware easily on the network, then we’re one step closer to hooking up those apps.

If you’re a seasoned user that finds this basic network configuration somewhat of a yawnfest, then feel free to skip ahead. The next section of the guide, in which we’ll download and install our first media server app container, is coming soon. Everyone else, read on!

Back to Basics: Setting Up File Sharing

Whether you’re using Windows, Linux, MacOS or a NAS server it’s a given that your network devices will connect and communicate with each other using IP addresses and, in most cases Samba (also referred to as SMB (Server Message Block)) services.

Setting Up File Sharing in Windows

While some operating systems are ready for file sharing out of the box, others require you to enable the feature. In Windows, for instance, you’ll probably be first prompted to allow your PC to detect other network devices. Doing so, in turn, allows those devices to see and access your PC.

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When you connect to a new network on Windows, you’ll receive this network discovery prompt.

This is a crucial step in a Windows media server setup. Without network discovery being enabled, your PC will act as if it’s completely alone on your network and will hide from any devices trying to locate it. So, want to stream that movie from the home server to your TV? Sorry! Want to copy that important work spreadsheet to your laptop from the home server? You’ll need a USB key, my friend, as network transfer is out! Once network discovery is enabled, you’ll be free to explore other network devices, which will be displayed in File Explorer.

In case you decided to say No at the initial network discovery prompt, or if you ever think network discovery may have been disabled accidentally, then here’s how to manually enable the setting.

A handy shortcut before we go into the Control Panel – usually, if you disconnect and then reconnect your network cable from the PC, Windows will detect the connection as a “new” network and will fire up the network discovery panel above. In that case, hit Yes and you’re all set. Otherwise, come with me!

There are a couple of ways to enable network discovery and file sharing on Windows 10. Head to File Explorer and in the left navigation pane, click the Network button. This should usually bring up a list of available network devices, but with network discovery disabled, Windows 10 believes it’s all alone. Close the dialog box and you’ll see a notification at the top of the main pane telling you what’s wrong. Network discovery and file sharing are turned off. Network computers and devices are not visible. Click to change…

Click the notification and you’ll see a menu.

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The second option, Open Network and Sharing Center, is handy if you want to head into the Control Panel and dig around in advanced network settings. However, the first option, Turn on network discovery and file sharing is what we need. Click it, and you’ll be presented with another dialog that mentions public networks and private networks.

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We’ll be setting Windows 10 to be a private network, as you’ll have guessed. But before we do so, a quick note on network types. Selecting a network type automatically sets appropriate firewall and security settings for the type of network that you’re using. It’s less relevant for media server PCs, which are likely to be fixed computers at home (and therefore should always be set to private). However, if you have a mobile device that connects to networks in different locations (for example, your home network, a Wi-Fi hotspot in a coffee shop, or your corporate network at work), selecting the relevant network type ensures that your computer is always set to an appropriate security level.

By default, when you connect to a public network, your computer is kept from being visible to other computers around you. The Windows Homegroup feature is not available on public networks, and network discovery is turned off. As you can see from the dialog box above, you can change your public network settings to enable network discovery and file sharing on a PC if needed.

Click the option reading No, make the network that I am connected to a private network. This will enable network discovery and file sharing for private networks – like your home or a corporate location like your workplace.

Once clicked, you should see Windows reach out to see what other devices are available on the network. Note that while you can now see network devices and they can see your PC, only publicly accessible files and folders can be opened. Any private folders secured by user account settings will need a username and password to open.

Setting Up File Sharing in MacOS

The Apple MacOS operating system is a little more forgiving out of the box. Head to Finder in MacOS and shared network resources are discovered automatically. Select the device you wish to access, enter the account name and password and you’re off.

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We’re not done with MacOS network configuration just yet though. Stay tuned for the next step.