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ShareWay IP Personal

Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 1
Column Tag: Tools of the Trade

ShareWay IP Personal

by Michael Ash

Enhancing AppleShare for the TCP/IP age

Welcome

As many of you may know, Apple's new MacOS 9 ships with the ability to use Personal File Sharing over TCP/IP. Less widely known is that the technology behind this new feature is ShareWay IP, from Open Door Networks, Inc. Open Door has been selling ShareWay IP for over two years, and Apple's inclusion of the product in the latest MacOS only serves to make it even more relevant.

The concept behind ShareWay IP is simple. It takes an existing AppleTalk-based AppleShare server, such as MacOS's Personal File Sharing, and converts it to work over TCP/IP as well. Management of users and shared folders is kept on the original server; ShareWay IP is simply a gateway. This means that most configuration is kept exactly the same as before, making setup a very simple task. ShareWay IP also adds some important security features, an area where Personal File Sharing is very weak.

Open Door Networks offers three versions of ShareWay IP: ShareWay IP Personal, ShareWay IP Standard, and ShareWay IP Professional. The Standard and Professional editions take an existing AppleTalk-based server on a separate computer and makes it work over TCP/IP. The Standard edition serves a single AppleShare server while the Professional edition can serve multiple servers.

The Personal edition works only with an AppleShare server running on the same computer, and is aimed to get a typical Personal File Sharing setup converted over to TCP/IP. Since the Standard and Professional editions are used in only specialized circumstances, they are not covered in this review. When "ShareWay IP" is mentioned, it refers to the Personal edition.

Why ShareWay IP?

In almost any Mac network environment, AppleShare is the most convenient method of getting files from one computer to another. Simply go to the Chooser, log in to the other computer, and a nice shared folder appears right on the desktop. Shared folders act just like any other disk once connected. However, as networks expand to take on non-Mac platforms, the TCP/IP protocol becomes ever more prevalent. On many mixed networks, AppleTalk no longer works beyond the subnet in which it originates.

Apple neatly solved this problem by adding TCP/IP capability to AppleShare. While the IP-capable version of the AppleShare client was free, the only way to run a server on a Mac was to spend several hundred dollars on AppleShare IP. Until Mac OS 9, Personal File Sharing was still relegated to AppleTalk.

Enter ShareWay IP. While AppleShare IP is a one-size-fit-all serving package, including FTP, HTTP, and mail, ShareWay IP concentrates solely on serving AppleShare via TCP/IP. The result is a small, easy-to-use package that gets the job done for a fraction of the price.

First Impressions

My first stop was Open Door Network's web site at http://www.opendoor.com/ to download the trial version of ShareWay IP Personal 3.0. The one-megabyte download is a fully functional version of the program that will run for ten days. It is try-before-you-buy software, and makes for a definite plus in my book. The installer took only seconds to run on both of my test machines. It didn't even require a restart! Being an impatient person, I turned on file sharing and ran ShareWay IP. I clicked the button labeled "Start," and a moment later was serving AppleShare over IP. The entire process took perhaps sixty seconds from starting the installer to having a running, functional server.


Figure 1.ShareWay IP about to be started.

Once I had the server started up, I wandered over to my other test computer and logged in. For those of you not familiar with the procedure, it varies only slightly from logging into a normal AppleShare server. Open the Chooser, click AppleShare, but then instead of picking a server from the list, click the button titled "Server IP Address..." and type in the machine name or IP address of the server. After that, the usual dialog box comes up asking whether to log in as a guest or as a registered user. Log in as normal, and the shared folder is mounted on the desktop without any AppleTalk at all. While this procedure is not unique to ShareWay IP, it is very nice to not have any extra hassle.


Figure 2.Logging in to an AppleShare server over TCP/IP.

The ShareWay IP package comes with a program called "AFP Engage!" It serves as a partial replacement for Apple's Network browser program. Along with being a helper for afp:// URLs, it brings the convenience of the Chooser's AppleTalk server list to TCP/IP servers. It does this by using Service Location Protocol, an Internet standard for registering servers and a plugin that comes with MacOS 8.5 and greater. Unfortunately, MacOS 8.5 and 8.6 have version 1 of SLP, where MacOS 9 has version 2. These two versions are not compatible. However, copying MacOS 9's SLP plugin to an 8.6 machine will allow them to work together. I ran into problems getting this to work; it turned out that the Search Domains field in the TCP/IP control panel must be blank. Unfortunately, the issue is only mentioned in the Read Me for AFP Engage!, not in the main documentation. Once that issue was resolved, everything ran perfectly, but it's something to watch for.

Setting it All Up

Once ShareWay IP is up and running, there's little else to do in the way of setup. Connection logs may be turned on if the administrator desires it. The server can also be run on a different port number, which may be necessary if the server is behind a firewall. AppleShare servers run standard on port 548, which could present problems if a firewall or proxy blocks that port. With ShareWay IP, running on a nonstandard port is as simple as shutting the server down, selecting the appropriate menu item, and restarting it. Once this is accomplished, users will need to enter the new port number at the end of the server's machine name or IP address using the standard notation of machine.name:<port>.

The only other configuration left is that of security. ShareWay IP allows guest access to be turned off, and also has a list of users. This list can function either as an allowed list, where only those users on the list are allowed to log in, or as a disallowed list where the users on the list are unable to log on. This list is particularly useful, because it does not affect standard AppleTalk logins, allowing an administrator to limit worldwide access to only those people who need it. Because of the nature of ShareWay IP, setting up individual users and their access rights falls to the underlying AppleShare server.

If the server has not been used as an AppleShare server before, then users, permissions, and shared folders must be set up using Apple's server software. Fortunately, Apple's experience in human interface design makes this process relatively painless. If an AppleShare server is already set up, then all of its settings transfer automatically and transparently to the ShareWay server. This is convenient, but it also means that the ShareWay server inherets any underlying limitations. In the case of Apple's Personal File Sharing, the main limitation is a maximum of ten simultaneous connections.

Now the choice must be made as to which version of ShareWay IP to run. There are two, a normal application and a faceless background application. The faceless background app is difficult to quit accidentally and will continue running if the current user logs off under MacOS 9's Multiple Users feature, but it must be shut down to make any changes to the settings. The normal program can change settings without shutting down the server (with the exception of changing the port number) but could be easily shut down accidentally and won't function as a long-term server under Multiple Users.

Documentation

Open Door provides excellent documentation with ShareWay IP. It comes in HTML form and is installed along with the program, and can also be viewed on Open Door's web site. The best part about the documentation is that it's not necessary. ShareWay IP is easy enough to figure out without the documentation, which is very pleasant. However, when a question arises or the user wishes to delve into the more complicated aspects of ShareWay IP, the documentation is clearly written and very helpful. The only real problem is the aforementioned problem with AFP Engage!, where a pertinent issue was only mentioned in a Read Me. Otherwise, the documentation is very comprehensive.

So, How's the Speed?

TCP/IP applications have always seemed faster than AppleTalk to me. AppleShare has no equal for convenience, but if the transfer of several hundred megabytes is called for, using FTP or a similar protocol seems to be the way to go. Does ShareWay IP combine the best of both worlds?

Sort of. AppleShare is very CPU-speed dependent; using a fast server will make for faster transfers. It would seem that a midrange 604e would be able to completely saturate a 10Base-T ethernet connection. Indeed, with a good web or FTP server it can, but performance suffers under File Sharing. My two test machines were a PowerCenter Pro (180MHz 604e) and an iBook (300MHz G3). Over AppleTalk, the PowerCenter Pro sustained roughly 370k/sec as the server based on a 25-megabyte file on a 10Base-T network. The iBook managed 630k/sec when serving, a marked increase. Apparently ShareWay IP makes the process even more dependent on the server's speed. The PowerCenter Pro saw a large drop in speed when serving over TCP/IP, down to 215k/sec under otherwise identical circumstances. The iBook pulled off a small speed increase, jumping to 760k/sec.

Unless the server is being run on a midrange G3, ShareWay IP's performance may not be as great as one would expect. The speed on slower machines is adequate for casual use, but for heavy-duty serving, ShareWay IP needs a reasonably fast machine.

But, I Already Have Mac OS 9...

Although built around the same technology, ShareWay IP Personal 3.0 adds some features on top of the version that ships with Mac OS 9. The version that comes with Mac OS 9 is a faceless background application and can't be configured beyond what's in the File Sharing control panel. The full version of ShareWay IP Personal 3.0 adds greater security and more options to the Mac OS 9 version. As an added bonus, the $39 upgrade price from previous versions of ShareWay IP applies to the Mac OS 9 version as well. Aside from being able to change the server's port, the major extra features are security-related. Which brings us to....

Security

Security is certainly not an area where ShareWay IP is found lacking. With a live connection list and comprehensive logging capabilities, there is little left to be desired. Certainly security is one of the major improvements over the MacOS 9 version.

The foreground application has a connection list similar to the one found in Apple's File Sharing control panel. The major difference is that ShareWay's connection list shows the user's IP address along with his name, invaluable information if the server is accessible to the outside world.

More importantly, ShareWay IP has the ability to keep logs of each connection. Though the log file is somewhat difficult to read, it provides a wealth of information. The user's name, IP address, time of connection, whether the attempt succeeded, how many bytes were transferred during the session, which, if any, errors AppleShare returned, and others. The information contained in the log file could be extremely helpful in the event of an unauthorized attempt to access the server.

Conclusion

For users still running versions of MacOS prior to MacOS 9, ShareWay IP Personal 3.0 is a very important product. It allows Mac OS's built in file sharing to run over a TCP/IP network with a minimum of cost and difficulty. Although not as comprehensive as AppleShare IP, it boasts a feature set more than sufficient for most situations. Under Mac OS 9, ShareWay IP Personal 3.0 adds greater configurability and some important security features. While the version that comes with Mac OS 9 is sufficient for casual use, any serious servers could benefit from the added protection that ShareWay IP offers.

ShareWay IP Personal 3.0 runs on any 68k or PowerPC Macintosh running System 7.5.5 or newer. It is available from Open Door Networks, Inc. for $79. Upgrades are available for users of Mac OS 9 and users of previous versions of ShareWay IP Personal for $39. Open Door Networks' web site is located at http://www.opendoor.com/.


Michael Ash is a junior majoring in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When he's not working with his Macs, you can often find him rollerblading, playing chess, or grumbling about the cold. He can be reached at mail@mikeash.com.

 
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