Chapter 8: Accessing and Sharing Network Resources

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In this chapter

  • Accessing Shared Network Resources

  • Mapping a Network Folder to a Local Drive Letter

  • Creating a Network Location for a Remote Folder

  • Accessing a Shared Printer

  • Sharing Resources with the Network

Many home and small office networks exist for no other reason than to share a broadband Internet connection. The administrators of those networks attach a broadband modem to a router, configure the router, run some ethernet cable (or set up wireless connections), and then they never think about the network again.

There’s nothing wrong with this scenario, of course, but there’s something that just feels, well, incomplete about such a network. Sharing an Internet connection is a must for any modern network, but networking should be about sharing so much more: disk drives, folders, documents, music, photos, videos, recorded TV shows, printers, scanners, CD and DVD burners, projectors, and more.

This expanded view of networking is about working, playing, and connecting with your fellow network users. It is, in short, about sharing, and sharing is the subject of this chapter. You learn how to access those network resources that others have shared, and you learn how to share your own resources with the network.


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Accessing Shared Network Resources

After you connect to the network, the first thing you’ll likely want to do is see what’s on the network and access the available resources. Vista gives you two ways to get started:

  • Select Start, Network.

  • In the Network and Sharing Center, click View Network Computers and Devices.

Either way, you see the Network window, which lists the main network resources, such as the computers and media devices in your workgroup. As you can see in Figure 8.1, Details view shows you the resource name, category, workgroup or domain name, and the name of the network profile.

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1

Vista’s Network window displays the main resources on your network.


For a more detailed look at the types of items you see in the Network window, see “Viewing Network Computers and Devices,” p. 130.

Viewing a Computer’s Shared Resources

Your Network window will likely show mostly computers, and those are the network items you’ll work with most often. (The computers display an icon that shows a monitor and mini tower computer; if you’re not sure, select View, Details and look for the objects that have Computer in the Category column.) If you don’t see a particular computer, it likely means that the machine is either turned off or is currently in Sleep mode. You need to either turn on or wake up the computer.


You may be able to remotely wake up a computer that’s in Sleep mode; see “Using a Network Connection to Wake Up a Sleeping Computer,” p. 151.


If you see the computer you want to work with, double-click the computer’s icon. One of two things will happen:

  • If your user account is also a user account on the remote computer, Windows Vista displays the computer’s shared resources.

  • If your user account is not a user account on the remote computer, and the remote computer has activated password protected sharing (see “Using Password Protected Sharing,” later in this chapter), Windows Vista displays the Connect to Computer dialog box (where Computer is the name of the remote computer). You need to type the username and password of an account on the remote computer, as shown in Figure 8.2.

Figure 8.2

Figure 8.2

You may need to log on to the remote computer to see its shared resources.

Figure 8.3 shows a typical collection of shared resources for a computer.

Figure 8.3

Figure 8.3

Double-click a network computer to see its shared resources.

The computer shown in Figure 8.3 is sharing a folder named Data, two hard drives (Drive D and Drive G), a DVD drive, and a printer. The computer is also sharing two folders that that many Vista computers automatically share:

Public

This folder is open to everyone on the network and usually provides users with full read/write access. However, it’s also possible to protect this folder by giving users read-only access, or by not displaying the Public folder at all. See “Sharing the Public Folder,” later in this chapter.

Printers

This folder contains the computer’s installed printers. Vista usually places an icon for each shared printer in the computer’s main folder, too. You can control whether Vista displays the Printers folder; see “Activating Printer Folder Sharing,” later in this chapter.

Double-click a shared folder to see its contents. For example, Figure 8.4 displays the partial contents of the Data folder shown earlier in Figure 8.3. What you can do with the shared folder’s contents depends on the permissions the computer owner has applied to the folder. See “Sharing a Resource with the File Sharing Wizard” and “Sharing a Resource with Advanced Permissions,” later in this chapter.


Caution - Double-clicking a network computer to see its shared resources works because the default action (which you initiate by double-clicking) for a network computer is to run the Open command, which opens the computer’s shared resources in a folder window. However, not all the devices you see in the Network window have Open as the default action. For example, with media devices, the default action is either Open Media Player or Open Media Sharing. Other devices have more dangerous default actions. On some routers, for example, the default action is Disable, which disconnects the router’s Internet connection! So, instead of just double-clicking any device to see what happens, it’s better to right-click the device and examine the list of commands. In particular, make note of the command shown in bold type, which is the default action.


Working with Network Addresses

In Figure 8.4, the Address bar shows the breadcrumb path to the shared folder:

Network > PAULSPC > Data
                                     

Figure 8.4

Figure 8.4

Double-click a shared folder to see its contents.

Clicking an empty section of the Address bar (or the icon that appears on the left side of the Address bar) changes the breadcrumb path to the following network address, as shown in Figure 8.5:

\ \ PAULSPC\ Data
                                     

Figure 8.5

Figure 8.5

Click an empty section of the Address bar to see the network address.

As you can see, a network address uses the following format:

\ \ComputerName\ShareName
                                     

Here, ComputerName is the name of the network computer, and ShareName is the name of the shared resource on that computer. This format for network addresses is known as the Universal Naming Convention (UNC). If the UNC refers to a drive or folder, you can use the regular Windows path conventions to access folders and subfolders on that resource. For example, if the resource Data on PAULSPC has a Documents folder, the network address of that folder would be as follows:

\
                                       \ PAULSPC\ Data\ Documents
                                     

Similarly, if that Documents folder has a Writing subfolder, here’s the network address of that subfolder:

\ \ PAULSPC\ Data\ Documents\ Writing
                                     

So, although you’ll most often use icons in folder windows to navigate through a computer’s shared resources, network addresses give you an alternative way to specify the resource you want to work with. Here are some examples:

  • In the Network Explorer, click an empty section of the Address bar, type the network address for a shared resource, and then press Enter.

  • Press Windows Logo+R (or select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Run) to open the Run dialog box. Type the network address for a shared resource, and then click OK to open the resource in a folder window.

  • In a program’s Open or Save As dialog box, you can type a network address in the File Name text box.

  • In a Command Prompt session (select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Command Prompt), type start, then a space, then the network address of the resource you want to open. Here’s an example:

start
                                       \ \ paulspc\ data\ documents
                                     
  • In a Command Prompt session, you can use a network address as part of a command. For example, to copy a file named memo.doc from \ \ PAULSPC\ Documents\ Downloads\ to the current folder, you’d use the following command:

copy “\ \ paulspc\ data\ documents\
                                       memo.doc”
                                     

Mapping a Network Folder to a Local Drive Letter

Navigating a computer’s shared folders is straightforward, and is no different from navigating the folders on your own computer. However, you might find that you need to access a particular folder on a shared resource quite often. That’s not a problem if the folder is shared directly—see, for example, the shared Data folder in Figure 8.3. However, the folder you want might be buried several layers down. For example, you may need to open the Data folder, then the Documents folder, then Writing, then Articles, and so on. That’s a lot of double-clicking. You could use the network address, instead, but even that could get quite long and unwieldy. (And, with Murphy’s law still in force, the longer the address, the greater the chance of a typo slipping in.)


Note - You might also find that mapping a network folder to a local drive letter helps with some older programs that aren’t meant to operate over a network connection. For example, I have a screen-capture program that I need to use from time to time. If I capture a screen on another computer and then try to save the image over the network to my own computer, the program throws up an error message telling me that the destination drive is out of disk space (despite having, in fact, 100GB or so of free space on the drive). I solve this problem by mapping the folder on my computer to a drive letter on the other computer, which fools the program into thinking it’s dealing with a local drive instead of a network folder.


You can avoid the hassle of navigating innumerable network folders and typing lengthy network addresses by mapping the network folder to your own computer. Mapping means that Windows assigns a drive letter to the network folder, such as G: or Z:. The advantage here is that now the network folder shows up as just another disk drive on your machine, enabling you to access the resource quickly by selecting Start, Computer.

Creating the Mapped Network Folder

To map a network folder to a local drive letter, follow these steps:

  1. Select Start, right-click Network, and then click Map Network Drive. (In any folder window, you can also press Alt to display the menu bar, and then select Tools, Map Network Drive.) Windows Vista displays the Map Network Drive dialog box.


Caution - If you use a removable drive, such as a memory card or flash drive, Windows Vista assigns the first available drive letter to that drive. This can cause problems if you have a mapped network drive that uses a lower drive letter. Therefore, it’s good practice to use higher drive letters (such as X, Y, and Z) for your mapped resources.


  1. The Drive drop-down list displays the last available drive letter on your system, but you can pull down the list and select any available letter.

  2. Use the Folder text box to type the network address of the folder, as shown in Figure 8.6. (Alternatively, click Browse, select the shared folder in the Browse for Folder dialog box, and then click OK.)

Figure 8.6

Figure 8.6

Use the Map Network Drive dialog box to assign a drive letter to a network resource.

  1. If you want Windows Vista to map the network folder to this drive letter each time you log on to the system, leave the Reconnect at Logon check box activated.

  2. Click Finish. Windows Vista adds the new drive letter to your system and opens the new drive in a folder window.

To open the mapped network folder later, select Start, Computer, and then double-click the drive in the Network Location group (see Figure 8.7).


Tip - By default, Vista connects you to the network folder using your current username and password. If the network folder requires a different username and password, click the Different User Name link to open the Connect As dialog box. Type the account data in the User Name and Password text boxes, and then click OK.


Figure 8.7

Figure 8.7

After you map a network folder to a local drive letter, the mapped drive appears in the Computer window for easier access.

Mapping Folders at the Command Line

You can also map a network folder to a local drive letter by using a command prompt session and the NET USE command. Although you probably won’t use this method very often, it’s handy to know how it works, just in case. Here’s the basic syntax:

NET USE [drive] [share] [password]
                                       [/USER:user]Â[/PERSISTENT:[YES | NO]] | /DELETE]
                                     

drive

The drive letter (followed by a colon) of the local drive to which you want the network folder mapped.

share

The network address of the folder.

password

The password required to connect to the shared folder (that is, the password associated with the username, specified next).

/USER:user

The username you want to use to connect to the shared folder.

/PERSISTENT:

Add YES to reconnect the mapped network drive the next time you log on.

/DELETE

Deletes the existing mapping that’s associated with drive.

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