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How Webcams Work

What You Need

In order to create a simple Webcam, you need three things:

  • A camera of some sort connected to your computer
  • A piece of software that can grab a frame from the camera periodically
  • A way to broadcast your images on the Web

If you have your own Web server and Web site, you already have a way to post your Webcam images on the Web. At its most basic, a Web server is simply a piece of hardware that has the ability to deliver Web-based content to a Web browser. For some people, their home computer serves as their Web server. If that's the case, a camera, a piece of software and your PC are all that you need. If you want to use a Web server that's hosted elsewhere (for example, if you're paying an ASP to host your Web server), you also need:

  • The ability to move frames from your computer to the Web server, typically by File Transfer Protocol (FTP). For most Web servers, this is no problem; but occasionally, a hosting company will have policies in place that make this difficult.
  • A relatively consistent connection between your computer and the Internet. A modem connection to an ISP is fine if it is something that you keep connected most of the time, which implies that you have a dedicated phone line for your computer. If you have something like a cable modem that is connected all the time, that's perfect.

If you don't have a Web server or a Web site, and you don't want one, you can simply have someone else maintain your Webcam images. Lots of Webcam software comes complete with Web-based image access. They usually offer different access options, including remote access, which utilizes UDP protocol to transfer your Webcam images directly from your computer to another computer. This can be done:

  • via Web browser, in which case the software itself establishes its own HTTP server so anyone using a Web browser can access the Webcam images on your PC
  • via traditional FTP upload to a remote Web server

By using this type of service, you avoid having to host and/or maintain your own Web site. If you are using one of these services and you want the image to refresh itself constantly, you need a relatively consistent connection between your computer and the Internet. If your connection is not consistent, it won't hurt anything. It just means that the image won't always be up to date.