What Is "Port Forwarding?" How Do I Set My Own?

It can speed up your gaming and downloading

Port forwarding is the redirecting of computer signals to follow specific electronic paths into your computer. If the computer signal can find its way into your computer a few milliseconds quicker, it will dramatically increase the speed of gaming and downloading.

A young man using a computer while laying on a bed.
 MoMo Productions / Getty Images

Ports and Transfer Packets

That pencil-thin network cable (or wireless network adapter) at the back of your computer contains 65,536 microscopic pathways inside of it. Your network cable is the same as a major highway, except your network cable has 65,536 lanes, and there is a tollbooth on each lane. We call each lane a 'port'.

Your internet signal is comprised of millions of tiny little cars that travel on these 65,536 lanes. We call these cars "transfer packets." Computer transfer packets can travel very quickly (up to thousands of kilometers per second). However, they are required to stop at each major network intersection as if it were a border crossing between countries. At each intersection, the packet must do three things:

  1. Find an open port.
  2. Pass the identification test that will allow it through that port, and, if not...
  3. Move to the next port and try again until it is allowed to pass through the toll.

In some cases, packets sent by hackers will be caught and held at the intersection, where they will then be dissolved into random electrons. When this happens, it is called "packet sniffing" or "packet sniping."

A Port for Every Program

Most software is programmed to send its packets through a specific port. These port choices are often established as programming standards in the computer industry. (And yes, that includes World of Warcraft port forwarding.) Accordingly, your router needs to be commanded to allow packets through these ports, lest you slow down the speed at which they transfer to or from your computer:

  • HTML pages: port 80
  • FTP file transferring: port 21
  • World of Warcraft: port 3724
  • POP3 email: port 110
  • MSN Messenger: port 6901 and ports 6891-6900
  • Everquest: port 1024
  • Bit Torrents: port 6881

Using Port Forwarding to Speed up Packets

Port forwarding is when you command your network router to proactively identify and redirect every packet to travel on specific electronic lanes. Instead of having every packet stop at each port until it finds an open port, a router can be programmed to expedite the process by identifying and redirecting packets. Your router then acts like a type of traffic signal, directing packets in front of ports.

While this electronic identification and forwarding only takes milliseconds, the time involved adds up as millions of electronic packets enter and leave your computer. If you program your port forwarding correctly, you can speed up your internet connections by several seconds. In the case of downloading large files, like P2P torrent sharing, you can save yourself hours of download time by programming your port forwards. A video that used to take 3 hours to download can now finish in less than 10 minutes.

How to Program Your Router's Port Forwarding Commands

While the programming of port forwarding can be somewhat intimidating, there are online tutorials that can help. The most common reason for programming port forwarding is to improve the speed of BitTorrent downloads, followed by improving the performance of streaming media and computer games like World of Warcraft.

To speed up your specific downloading client, game, or program, find the exact name of your router and software, and then visit portforward.com for a visual tutorial on how your router takes port forwarding commands.

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