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What Is Remote Access to Computer Networks?

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A man using a laptop computer.
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Question: What Is Remote Access to Computer Networks?
Answer: In computer networking, remote access technology allows logging into a system as an authorized user without being physically present at its keyboard. Remote access is commonly used on corporate computer networks but can also be utilized on home networks.

Remote Desktop

The most sophisticated form of remote access enables users on one computer to see and interact with the actual desktop user interface of another computer. Setting up remote desktop support involves configuring software on both the host (local computer controlling the connection) and target (remote computer being accessed). When connected, this software opens a window on the host system containing a view of the target's desktop.

Current versions of Microsoft Windows include Remote Desktop Connection software. However, this software package only supports target computers running Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate versions of the O/S, making it unsuitable for use with many home networks. For Mac OS X computers, the Apple Remote Desktop software package is also designed for business networks and sold separately. For Linux, various remote desktop software exists.

Many remote desktop solutions are based on Virtual Network Computing (VNC) technology. Software packages based on VNC work across multiple operating systems. The speed of VNC and any other remote desktop software can vary, sometimes performing effectively the same as the local computer but other times exhibiting sluggish responsiveness due to network latency.

Remote Access to Files

Basic remote network access allows files to be read from and written to the target, even without remote desktop capability in place. Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology provides remote login and file access functionality across wide area networks (WANs). A VPN requires client software be present on host systems and VPN server technology installed on the target network. As an alternative to VPNs, client/server software based on the secure shell (SSH) protocol can be also be used for remote file access. SSH provides a command line interface to the target system.

File sharing with a home or other local area network (LAN) is generally not considered to be a remote access environment.

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