In addition to its most common use as a "nailed-up RS-232 pipe" when used in pairs, the Etherpath serial server is often used to provide remote serial port access for a computer connected through the TCP/IP network. There are several different methods to use software to complete this connection. We'll discuss the most common approaches and give some examples of code and program packages that are freely available or can be purchased at reasonable cost. The major categories (in order by ease of implementation) are...
Port Redirector SoftwareWhen PC or Unix application software must access the remote device through an Etherpath connection, and the software can not be modified for TCP/IP communications, the most straight-forward method is to use port redirection software. A port redirector program tricks the computer into thinking that the remote port is actually a local COM: port. This software would be run on the computer workstation, then the application software reads and writes to the COM: port normally... none the wiser. This approach is commonly used with proprietary software that the customer either can't change because of technical or economic factors.
DCB tested a number of port redirector packages, and recommends only a couple. The program of choice for Microsoft Windows (all versions) is Serial/IP by Tactical Software at about $100 (Download a 30 day full-featured trial copy here, then after you see it work, buy the license on-line). This program creates a remote COM: port on the Windows PC that is accessable just like your local physical ports (up to 255 remote ports are available). This excellent package runs on all varieties of Microsoft Windows. After trying it, you can purchase a license for Serial/IP on-line. If instead, you wish to use DDE connections directly into a spreadsheet or equivalent, TCPWedge, sold by TAL Technologies ( http://www.taltech.com ) is also a quality product, but we don't think it creates clean, virtual COM: ports like the Tactical product. It's about $200 to $400. They also have a demo version available for download.
An example of this approach is available from DCB here. This sample system, written in Visual Basic, retrieves ASCII data from an Etherpath and plots it in a MSWindows screen window. The source of the sample data is another PC, running an included program, that sends the ASCII numbers out its serial port for input to the remote Etherpath.
Another example of this type programming is the "middleware" program example written by Hildeco Oy, Ltd in Finland. Their Visual Basic program allows multiple computers to "control" a single Etherpath and illustrates combining UDP communications to the control computer with TCP/IP communications to the Etherpath. They have graciously made this example of the application available here.
A program example, written in C, is listed in the Etherpath manual under Appendix B. It can be downloaded from here. This is a simple example of network programming in MSWindows. Although DCB has technical support available, customers who implement a custom software solution should have in-house expertise in network programming. By examining these sample programs, most skilled network programmers can produce code that will communicate effectively with the Etherpath.
If programming expertise isn't available, using port redirector software is usually the best approach. The cost and risk is low when implementing this type of solution. Using two Etherpath units in "nailed up" mode to provide a virtual RS-232 cable across the ethernet is even easier since this method requires no software changes at all.
For answers to other implementation questions, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-432-2638. The Etherpath is a quick and easy to install solution. Using it can put your device or product on the Ethernet quickly and economically.
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