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Lesson 3: Customizing Your Network Sharing Settings

File and printer sharing

This setting allows Windows to share files and printers as well as access files and printers shared by other computers on the network.

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This setting must be turned on in order to perform any kind of network sharing.

HomeGroup connections

“HomeGroup connections” is for turning on or off the Homegroup feature in Windows. If you have multiple computers with Windows 7 or Windows 8.x, you should keep this feature turned on and use it for easy network sharing. To learn more about the Homegroup and what it does, go back to Lesson 2. If you would like to learn how to share using this feature, read Lesson 5.

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When you turn this setting off, Windows will allow network sharing only through the use of user accounts and passwords. People on other computers must authenticate themselves using the user account you shared folders and devices with.

Public folder sharing

“Public folder sharing” is an old-school concept for sharing folders with others on the same computer and on the network.

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We’ll explain this in more detail in the next lesson. Until you read it, keep in mind that when this kind of sharing is enabled, anything you drop in the “C:\Users\Public” folder is publicly available for other devices and computers on the network.

Media streaming

This setting allows you to specify where you want people and devices on the network to access pictures, music, and videos on your computer.

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Basically, your standard libraries (Pictures, Videos, etc.) are made available for media streaming and you can access them using Windows Media Player. If you have an Xbox console in your network you can easily stream your libraries to it.

There is one important difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8.x: Windows 7 has this setting turned off by default while Windows 8.x has it turned on, and you are expected to customize how it works.

File sharing connections

Not many people know that file sharing connections are encrypted by Windows. By default, Windows uses 128-bit encryption so that your data transfers are not easily sniffed by others.

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This encryption works well with all modern operating systems and you should not have to change the default setting, unless there’s some really old computer on your network with a dated operating system. Only then should you consider changing the 128-bit encryption with 40 or 56-bit encryption.

Password protected sharing

“Password protected sharing” is important for the security of your network but it can also constitute an annoyance factor.

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By default, only the computers and devices that are part of the same Homegroup can view the stuff you share, without authentication. Computers or devices with a different operating system will be able to access what you are sharing only if they authenticate using a user account and password that is allowed to access what you are sharing.

This is fine if your network includes mostly Windows computers and devices and if they use recent versions like Windows 7 or Windows 8.x. If you have Linux PCs or Mac OS computers, then this setting might be a pain and you may prefer to disable password protected sharing.

What Network Sharing Settings Should I Change?

To help you make sure that you create the best possible setup, we would like to share some recommendations:

  • In both Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, use the defaults for “Public” network connections. Meaning that you turn off both network discovery and file and printer sharing.
  • For “Private” (“Home or Work” in Windows 7) network connections, turn on the following settings: “network discovery”, “automatic setup of network connected devices” (available only in Windows 8), “file and printer sharing” and “allow Windows to manage Homegroup connections”.
  • If you don’t plan to use the Public folder for sharing (don’t forget to read Lesson 4 before making this decision), it is best to turn off this feature for all network locations.
  • “Media streaming” should also be turned off if you don’t plan to use it, for all network locations.
  • We recommend that you leave the default 128-bit encryption to help protect file sharing connections and that you keep “password protected sharing” turned on, unless this is a major annoyance and only a few trusted people have access to the computers in your home network.

If you have chosen the wrong location for your active network connection, please do not change the network sharing settings for it. You will be exposing yourself to all kinds of issues when connecting to a new network. The best way to solve this problem is to change the incorrectly assigned location, detailed in the following section.

How to Change the Network Location in Windows 7

In Windows 7, you can change the assigned network location from the “Network and Sharing Center”.

In the middle of the window, you will see a section that says “View your active networks”.

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This section displays the active connection for each network adapter or network card. If you have virtualization software installed (like Virtual Box or VMWare Player), you will see additional network adapters installed by the virtualization software. For those virtual adapters, it is best not to change the assigned network location/profile.

To change the location for your active network connection, click the currently assigned location. The “Set Network Location” window is shown, where you can choose a different location.

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Select the location that works best for you. You are informed about this change and what it means for you.

Click “Close” to finish.

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Your network sharing settings have now been adjusted accordingly and changed to the defaults that have been set for the newly active location.

Note, if you choose the “Home” location you will also be asked to create a Homegroup and share stuff with it, even though a Homegroup may already exist on your network. It is best to close that wizard and follow the instructions in Lesson 5 so that you set up your Homegroup correctly. How to Change the Network Location in Windows 8.x

The procedure for changing the network location in Windows 8.1 is very different than in Windows 7. First, go to “PC Settings”. One way to do this is to go to the Start screen and bringing up the charms by flicking from the right side of the screen or pressing “Windows + C” on your keyboard. Click or tap “Settings” and then “Change PC Settings”.

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In PC Settings, go to “Network”. In the “Connections” section, you will see the active network connection. If you are on a desktop PC and you have a wired network connection, your connection will be named “Network” and it will be displayed under “Ethernet”.

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If you are using a laptop or tablet with Windows 8.1, you will see the name of your wireless network in the section named “Wi-Fi”.

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Click or tap your network connection and its properties are displayed.

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The information displayed depends on the network card you are using and the type of connection you have (wired or wireless). However, for all connections, you will see a section named “Find devices and content” that includes a switch. If you want to assign the “Private” location for the active network connection, set this switch to “On”.

If you want to assign the “Public” location, set this switch to “Off”. Your network sharing settings will be adjusted accordingly and changed to the defaults that have been set for the newly active location.

Coming up Next …

Now you know all the basics about settings that are important for network sharing in Windows. We hope that you have enjoyed this lesson and that it was useful to you.

Next, you will learn more about the Public folder and how it can be used for sharing with others.

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Ciprian Adrian Rusen is an experienced technology writer and author with several titles published internationally by Microsoft Press. You can connect with him on 7 Tutorials, Twitter, and Google+ or even buy his books on Amazon.

  • Published 04/9/14

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