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UPnP function: what is it and how to activate it

Definition of the UPnP standard and instructions for activation under Windows.

Plug in and get started: This is the motto when we connect a new device to our computer these days. This is made possible, among other things, by the UPnP function, which you can use to Control or access devices from different manufacturers over a network or the Internet can. You can find out exactly how this works in this tip.

1. UPnP: function and areas of application

The abbreviation UPnP stands for "Universal Plug and Play" and describes a bundle of protocols that includes multicast addresses and various protocols (including unusual candidates such as http over UDP). The UPnP standard was originally developed by Microsoft and passed on to the UPnP forum in 1999, which continued it and certified the devices accordingly. In January 2016, the task was transferred to the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF).

Printers and multifunctional devices use the UPnP function to indicate their services and also provide information about the drivers.

The UPnP function enables a control unit to find the available devices and services even without user interaction. It works on all transmission media that support IPs (e.g. Ethernet, WLAN, Bluetooth or Firewire). To do this, it uses a large number of standardized technologies, including TCP, IP, multicast, http, SOAP, UDP or XML.

UPnP fulfills several tasks in the home network: Printers and multifunctional devices use it to instruct their services and also provide information about the drivers. It also brings together media servers (e.g. a FRITZ! Box), playback devices (e.g. Smart TVs) and the associated control points (e.g. smartphone apps). In addition, thanks to the UPnP process, you no longer need to worry about how you want to connect a USB stick or an external hard drive to your computer. Simply connect it to the appropriate port and the automatic device detection will take care of the rest.

Good to know: A UPnP device or control point can be implemented with any IP-capable operating system and a wide variety of programming languages.

1.1. How UPnP works at the network level

UPnP consists of a so-called "Basic Device Architecture" (BDA), which serves as the basis for a large number of manufacturer-specific and standardized expansions. It also includes the following services, which also mark the course of a request:

  • Addressing: So that the individual UPnP devices can be connected to one another, they each need their own IP address. It is irrelevant in which way (e.g. DHCP or manual configuration) you receive this.
  • Localization (Discovery): If a UPnP device has an IP address, it must identify itself to the other devices and control points in the network. This is done on the basis of SSDP (Simple Service Discovery Protocol), the localization itself then takes place via UDP (User Datagram Protocol).
  • Description (Description): Once the Control Point has recognized a device, it uses http to get its description as an XML file (the TCP port used for this is made known by SSDP). In addition to information on the manufacturer and the serial number, this also contains the URLs for the presentation, control and events.
  • Control: Based on the control description, SOAP messages can now be sent to the URLs of the device.
  • Event control: So that a device does not have to permanently inquire about the status of a service or a status variable, it can subscribe to event messages. UPnP uses the XML-based General Event Notification Architecture (GENA) for this.
  • Presentation: The presentation is an alternative way of controlling a UPnP device. You can access the device via a browser using the presentation URL (known from the description phase).

Good to know: Some functions of UPnP are also criticized. If the protocol is active on a DSL router, for example, instant messengers or file sharing programs can use it to set up port forwarding to the local network without any security queries. For this reason, the Federal Office for Information Security recommended in October 2010 that the function on routers be deactivated for safety's sake.

2. Activate UPnP streaming under Windows

To play streaming content on your smartphone, you need different apps than under Windows.

If a device is UPnP-capable, there is usually special control software on it, which is also used to exchange data. With some receivers (e.g. certain televisions or smartphones) this must first be installed.

However, different types of software are required depending on the task. For example, if you would like to access a UPnP server with your mobile phone in order to play videos or MP3s from a computer, you will need a different app than to display pictures on a Windows notebook.

One of the best-known players that access the network via UPnP is the VCL media player. This is also available as an app for iOS, Android and Samsung Smart TVs. Kodi and MediaMonkey also have a corresponding functionality. Windows Media Player can even be set up as a UPnP server in a few simple steps.

2.1. Activate media streaming manually

While programs like the Universal Media Server take care of activating the corresponding services themselves, you have to Activate media streaming manually in certain cases. To do this, proceed as follows:

  1. Enter the term "Media streaming options“And then click on the entry of the same name.
  2. The dialog window "Media streaming options“The control panel opens.
  3. Click on the button "Enable media streaming“.

Click on the button of the same name to activate media streaming.

Tip:If you receive an error message after pressing the button that the associated service cannot be started, you must first allow and activate it. Instructions can be found here.

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UPnP function: what is it and how to activate it
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