How to Connect Two Home Computers Through a Network

A direct connection is the simplest way to network

The simplest kind of home network contains just two computers. You can use this kind of network to share files, a printer or another peripheral device, and even an Internet connection. To connect two computers for sharing these and other network resources, consider the options described below.

Connecting Two Computers Directly With Cable

Illustration of two people sharing a photo file from one computer to another in their home
Lifewire / Maddy Price

The conventional method to network two computers involves making a dedicated link by plugging one cable into the two systems. You'll need an Ethernet crossover cable, a null modem serial cable or parallel peripheral cable, or special-purpose USB cables.

Ethernet Connections

Ethernet method is the preferred choice as it supports a reliable, high-speed connection with minimal configuration required. Additionally, Ethernet technology offers the most general-purpose solution, allowing networks with more than two computers to be built fairly easily later. If one of your computers possesses an Ethernet adapter but the other has USB, an Ethernet crossover cable can still be used by first plugging a USB-to-Ethernet converter unit into the computer's USB port.

Serial and Parallel Connections

This type of cabling, called Direct Cable Connection when you use Microsoft Windows, offers lower performance but offers the same basic functionality as Ethernet cables. You may prefer this option if you have such cables readily available and network speed is not a concern. Serial and parallel cables are never used to network more than two computers.

USB Connections

Ordinary USB 2.0 or newer cables with Type-A connectors can connect two computers directly to each other. You may prefer this option over others if your computers lack functional Ethernet network adapters.

To make dedicated connections with Ethernet, USB, serial, or parallel cables requires that:

  1. Each computer has a functioning network interface with an external jack for the cable, and
  2. The network settings on each computer are appropriately configured.

One phone line or power cord cannot be used to directly connect two computers to each other for networking.

Connecting Two Computers With Cable Through Central Infrastructure

Rather than cable two computers directly, the computers may instead be joined indirectly through a central network fixture. This method requires two network cables, one connecting each computer to the fixture. Several types of fixtures exist for home networking:

Implementing this method often entails additional up-front cost to purchase more cables and network infrastructure. However, it's a general-purpose solution accommodating any reasonable number of devices (e.g, ten or more). You will likely prefer this approach if you intend to expand your network in the future.

Most cabled networks use Ethernet technology. Alternatively, USB hubs work well, while powerline and phoneline home networks each offer their own unique form of central infrastructure. The standard Ethernet solutions are generally very reliable and offer high performance.

Connecting Two Computers Wirelessly

In recent years, wireless solutions have enjoyed increasing popularity for home networking. As with cabled solutions, several different wireless technologies exist to support basic two computer networks:

Wi-Fi Connections

Wi-Fi connections can reach a greater distance than wireless alternatives. Many newer computers, especially laptops, now contain built-in Wi-Fi capability, making it the preferred choice in most situations. Wi-Fi can be used either with or without a network fixture. With two computers, Wi-Fi networking minus a fixture (also called ad-hoc mode) is especially simple to set up.

Bluetooth Connections

Bluetooth technology supports reasonably high-speed wireless connections between two computers without the need for a network fixture. Bluetooth is more commonly used when networking a computer with a consumer handheld device like a cell phone. Most desktop and older computers do not possess Bluetooth capability. Bluetooth works best if both devices are in the same room in close proximity to each other. Consider Bluetooth if you have an interest in networking with handheld devices and your computers lack Wi-Fi capability.

Infrared Connections

Infrared networking existed on laptops years before either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technologies became popular. Infrared connections only work between two computers, do not require a fixture, and are reasonably fast. Being very simple to set up and use, consider infrared if your computers support it and you lack the desire to invest effort in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

If you find mention of an alternative wireless technology called HomeRF, you can safely ignore it. HomeRF technology became obsolete several years ago and is not a practical option for home networking.