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Disclaimer: The entries you find in these pages are based on my individual opinions and thoughts. Some of the entries may be just plain wrong, and others harmful. Should you choose to act on, or try, anything you find on this site, you assume any and all risks associated with your actions. So there.


Troubleshooting Order Matters

July 13, 2004

Many of our clients, both home and business, have cable or DSL internet connections that are shared via a router, wireless or otherwise. We see many problems where a connection is lost, seemingly permanently. While we can never know what happened prior to our arrival, all too often it seems that lack of patience has turned what should have been a temporary problem into a permanent one. This is my theory of how this happens.

You see a network, while it uses wires to connect you (ok, sometimes they are wireless), does not behave like an on/off circuit. Just because it's all connected doesn't mean it's going to work.

The flawed analogy I like to use is one of a chain-of-command. Each person in the chain gets his orders from the person above him. If one of the people fails to get his orders, then everyone in the chain below is also left out. Now suppose an underling calls for his orders, but is told there are none. Now also suppose that right after this call, his subordinates call him for their orders; he'll tell them there are none. Now further suppose that he calls again and this time he gets his orders, but his subordinates have given up, assuming that there are no orders. They're going to fail at their task because they aren't aware of it (Ok, the superior should call them, but I said this was flawed). The orders are there, but no one knows it.

Now where this parallels networking is that each piece of the connection is like a person. There's the ISP, the Cable or DSL Modem, the Router and finally the computer(s). If the ISP has a problem, the Modem will fail to give it's info to the Router, which in turn fails to give it to the computer. The user goes in and fiddles with devices, turning them on and off and generally trying to Make It Work. The user gives up, and 30 seconds later the ISP comes back on line. But now the Router has bad/wrong info, and so does the computer. The router doesn't know to ask for the "orders" again, and neither does the computer. But while the problem has been solved, the user has given up trying, and in the process of trying made things worse.

So, how do you approach this type of trouble? While troubleshooting, always proceed down the chain-of-command. If you reset the modem, then you need to reset your router and reboot your computer as well (Ok, OS X and Win XP should "get it" but they don't always, so you really have to reboot to be sure). By "reset" I generally mean turn-off/turn-on. Otherwise, your modem might begin to work, but your router won't ask and therefore can't tell your computer. Make sense?