Before you start
Objectives: learn about network printing in general and what is print server.
Prerequisites: no prerequisites.
Key terms: print, server, job, workstation, hardware, interface, method
Concept of Network Printing
Network printing allows us to efficiently use printing resources. With network printing we first connect all of our work stations to a network and then we implement a network printer. In general there are two ways this can be done. In first method we take a regular printer and plug it into the back of one of the PCs. On the picture below that PC is named Workstation 1. Then we share that printer on the network by going to the printer properties in Windows.
337.1 – Shared Printer
In this configuration other hosts on the network can send the print job through the network to the Workstation 1, which then sends the print job to the print device. This is the cheaper method, but we depend on the Workstation 1, which has to be turned on all the time. If someone is using that computer, then we depend on that person too. This method is used in home or small office scenarios. To connect to the shared printer we can use the UNC path in the format: \\computername\sharename.
In second method we implement the type of printer that has its own network interface installed (either wired or wireless). This way we can connect our printer directly to the network so the print jobs can be sent from workstations directly to that network printer.
337.2 – Printer With Network Interface Card
The print job doesn’t have to go through the workstation such as in the first case. To connect to a network attached printer we can create a printer object using a TCP/IP port. We use the IP address and port name information to connect to the printer.
When a client needs to send a print job to the network printer, client application formats the print job and sends it to the print driver. Just as a traditional print job, it’s saved on the local work station in the spool. Then the job is sent from the spool to the printer. In traditional set up the computer will send the job through the parallel or USB cable to the printer. In the network printing set up, the job is redirected. The print job goes out through the network board, then the network, and then arrives at the destination network printer.
Each network host that wants to use the network printer must have the corresponding printer driver installed. When we share a printer in Windows, the current printer driver is automatically delivered to clients that connect to the shared printer. If the client computers run a different version of Windows, we can add the necessary printer drivers to the printer object. To add drivers for network users we can use the ‘Advanced’ and ‘Sharing’ tab in printer properties.
An important component of any network printer that we have is the print server. The print server manages the flow of documents sent to the printer. Using a print server lets us customize when and how documents print. There are different types of print servers. In the first scenario where we have attached ordinary printer to our workstation, the printer has no print server hardware built in. In this case the operating system running on Workstation 1 functions as a print server. It receives the jobs from the other clients, saves them locally in a directory on the hard drive and spools them off to the printer one at a time as the printer becomes ready. The computer can fill other roles on the network in addition to being the print server. Most operating systems include print server software.
Some printers, like our printer from the second scenario, have a built in print server that’s integrated into the hardware of the printer itself. It receives the print jobs from the various clients, queues them up, gives them priority and sends them on through the printing mechanism as it becomes available. We often refer to this type of print server as internal print server. We use special management software to connect to this kind of print server and manage print jobs.
Print servers can also be implemented in another way. We can purchase an external print server. The external print server has one interface that connects to the printer (parallel or USB interface), and it also has a network jack that plugs into our HUB or switch. It provides all the print server functions but it’s all built into the hardware of the print server itself. So, when clients send a job to the printer, the jobs are sent through the network to the hardware print server which then formats, prioritizes, saves them in the queue, and then spools them off to the printer one at a time as the printer becomes available. Different operating systems implement servers in different ways, and different external or internal print servers also function in different ways. Because of that we need to check our documentation to see how to set it up with our specific hardware or software.
We have articles in which we show how to set up network printer.
We can share our existing printers on the network or we can set up a printer which has its own NIC and which is then directly connected to the network. Print server formats, prioritizes, queues and then spools print jobs.