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How to make a machine accessible from the LAN using its hostname

I have is a simple home network with a few machines connecting through DHCP. If everyone and their respective devices are all home and active I'll have about 15 active IPs. I would like to be able to identify hosts on the network by name.

I am not interested in solutions involving static IPs or permanent DHCP leases. Ideally, it should be transparent to the user and any new machine connected to my LAN should be able to access any other by name.

It should be cross-platform. My LAN has Linux, OSX, iOS and the occasional windows machine. I'm not too bothered if it doesn't work in windows but I'd like to have it in the rest at least.

I realise I can set up a local DNS server but I'm hoping there is a simpler solution that I am not aware of (avahi? NIS?). So, is a local DNS server the best way to go about this?

  • Doesn't whatever hands out the DHCP leases has a facility to manage the local DNS as well? – tink Oct 23 '12 at 0:19
  • @tink, I am using an airport extreme to distribute the DHCP addresses. I had the same idea and checked the settings but found no relevant options. – terdon Oct 23 '12 at 0:21
  • @Gilles, thanks for the link, your answer there is very informative. However, my basic question is whether I need to set up a local DNS server. I thought there were services today that advertise local hostnames (avahi, bonjour etc) and it may be easier to set up that way. If I'm wrong and I do need the DNS then it is indeed a duplicate and you may feel free to close it. – terdon Oct 23 '12 at 0:27
  • @terdon I think DNS is by far the easy way. You can probably get most if not all of your machines to use other methods, but I'm pretty sure it'll be more effort getting all of them to talk to each other. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Oct 23 '12 at 0:34

The least effort method is mDNS (MulticastDNS).

  • Mac OS X and iOS have Bonjour built in which implements mDNS.
  • For Windows mDNS resolution can be obtained via Apple's Bonjour Print Services for Windows. While this is intended for printers it supplies full mDNS name resolution.
  • For UNIX based systems, avahi works great.
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