For the last lesson in this Geek School series, we will talk about accessing everything that’s shared on the network.
We will start by showing how to view and access what’s shared by others on the Homegroup, both in Windows 7 and Windows 8.x. Even though the steps involved are a little bit different, the basic principles are the same in both operating systems.
Then, we will explain how to access everything that’s shared on the network, even from computers that do not have Windows installed or that are not part of the Homegroup.
In the second half of this lesson you will learn how to monitor what you are sharing with the network and who is accessing what you are sharing.
Last but not least, we will close with a nice tip just for Windows 7 users. This operating system includes a small but nice networking feature which is not available in Windows 8.x.
How to View What is Shared With the Homegroup in Windows 8.x
To view everything that is shared with the Homegroup in your network, open File Explorer. Then, expand the “Homegroup” section. Here you will see all the user accounts sharing something with the Homegroup from computers that are part of the Homegroup.
One user account may exist on multiple computers so don’t worry if the number of users is not the same as the number of computers that are part of your Homegroup.
If you double-click or double-tap a user account, you see a list with all the Windows computers and devices where this user exists and it shares something with others. For example, we use the same Microsoft account on three of the computers that are found in my home network. For each computer, we see what we are sharing with others in the Homegroup.
The list of shared folders and resources differs from computer to computer. To access something that is being shared, double-click or tap on it.
How to View What is Shared With the Homegroup in Windows 7
Windows 7 displays what is being shared with the Homegroup in a slightly different way. First, open Windows Explorer and go to the “Homegroup” section.
There you will see all the user accounts and the computers that are sharing something with the Homegroup. Unlike Windows 8.x operating systems, here you will see each user account with an entry for each PC or device where it is used. For example, in the screenshot below you can see three entries for Ciprian Rusen, one for each computer using that account.
To access what is shared with the Homegroup by one user on a specific computer, double-click the appropriate entry. You can now view and work with what is being shared, depending on the permissions that were set when sharing with the Homegroup.
How to View What is Shared With the Network
Accessing what is shared with the network works the same in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.x. Open Windows Explorer in Windows 7 or File Explorer in Windows 8.x and go to the Network section.
Here you will see a network with all the computers and devices that are part of your network, which are turned on at that time. While the “Homegroup” section explained earlier only displays computers that are part of the Homegroup, the “Network” section displays all the computers that are part of your network and use the same Workgroup setting.
If you need a refresher about the Workgroup, please read Lesson 2. If you have Macs or Linux computers on your network, you will see them listed only in the “Network” section.
Below the list of network computers, most probably you will see a list of media devices you can access.
If you double-click or double tap a computer from your network, you will see what that computer is sharing with the network. To access any of its shared resources, double-click or double-tap on it.
If a network computer is not sharing resources with your user account, then the “Windows Security” prompt will be shown. You will be asked to enter the details of a user account that has access to the shared resources on that computer, before you can see what it is sharing with the network.
In the “User name” field, type the name of the network computer you are trying to access, followed by “\” and then the user account.
For example, “Computer1\HowToGeek” translates to: the computer named “Computer1” and the user name “HowToGeek”.
If you are using a Microsoft account, type the e-mail address of that user account. Then, type the password in the appropriate field and check whether you would like Windows to remember your credentials. When done, press “OK” and your will be able to access that computer’s shared resources.
If you double-click or double-tap a media device in the “Networks” section, Windows Media Player is opened. You will be able to use it for streaming the media libraries of the computers that are sharing them with the network and have made them available for streaming. Windows Media Player will be able to play their music, videos, pictures and recorded TV.
How to Monitor Your Shares, Active Sessions and Open Files with Computer Management
If you are not using Windows 7 Home Premium or earlier, the core edition of Windows 8.x or Windows RT, then you can use the “Computer Management” tool to monitor what you are sharing with others on the network, the users that have connected to your computer through the network and the files they have opened. Even though this tool exists in these Windows versions, it doesn’t include the management tools mentioned in this lesson.
For those of you that do have the required versions of Windows, go to Control Panel and then to “System and Security > Administrative Tools”. Here you will find several shortcuts including one named “Computer Management”. Double-click or double-tap on it.
Below you can see how the Computer Management tool looks like. As you will see, it includes many useful features.
To manage your shared folders, expand the “Shared Folders” section. Here you will find three subsections: Shares, Sessions and Open Files.
In the “Shares” section you will see all the resources you are sharing with the network, their name and folder path. Having this view is very useful as you may be sharing more than you think. If you see something that you no longer want to share, use what you learned in Lessons 6 and Lesson 7 to stop sharing resources with the network.
Before we move on to the next subfolder, there’s something else that you should keep in mind: in this list you will see all your drives as being shared. They have a special name like C$ or D$. These are hidden administrative shares created automatically by Windows.
You will see that they also have a different icon. These hidden shares are used in network domains and network administrators get access to them. You cannot make these shares go away but also you do not have to worry about them. Because they are hidden, they are not visible as shared resources to others on the network.
Next, go to the “Sessions” subfolder. Here you will see the users that are currently accessing your computer through the network. For each session you see the user, the computer from which it is connecting, the type of operating system being used, and the number of opened files, for how long he or she is connected and how long the session was idle.
In the “Open Files” subfolder you can view all the open files and folders from all the sessions that are active on your computer.
How to Monitor Your Shares, Active Sessions and Open Files with Third-Party Tools
If you are using Windows 7 Home Premium or earlier, the core edition of Windows 8.x or Windows RT, you cannot use the Computer Management tool to monitor what you are sharing and the active sessions on your computer. However, you can use third party tools like Net Share Monitor.
The trouble with this specific tool is that, when you install it, it tries to download and install unwanted toolbars. However, it does have a portable version that’s found in the archive you will download from their website.
After you extract its content, look for the “Portable Version” subfolder and run NetShareMonitor.exe from there. This will make sure that you avoid installing the crapware that’s bundled with it!
You should run this application as an administrator, meaning that you have to right-click on it and select “Run as administrator”. Otherwise the application will run but it will not show any useful data.
Net Share Monitor has three tabs that emulate what is being shown in “Computer Management: Active Sessions”, “Accessed Files” and “Shared Files”.
In the “Active Sessions” tab you will see the user accounts that are connected to your computer, from where they connected, when they connected, how many files they have opened, how long their session has been active, and how long it has been idle.
In the “Accessed Files” tab you will see all the folders and files that are opened during the active sessions listed in the previous tab.
In the “Shared Files” tab you can see all the resources that are shared with the network, including hidden administrative shares you have no control over.
How to View a Map of Your Home Network in Windows 7
If you are using Windows 7, you can use a nice visual map of your network and the devices that are part of it. To view it, you must go to the “Network and Sharing Center”, using the instructions shared in Lesson 3.
Look at the top-right corner of the “Network and Sharing Center” and you will notice a link that says “See full map”.
Click on it and wait for a couple of seconds. Windows 7 will load a map of your network with all the devices that are part of it and turned on at that time.
If you hover the mouse over any device, you can see its name, IP address and MAC address.
This map can provide a good view of how your home network is set up and you can use it to quickly learn details like the IP address of a PC or another.
We have reached the end of the How-To Geek School’s Guide to Sharing Folders, Libraries & Devices in Windows.
We have covered a lot of ground and we hope that you have learned something new and useful. If you missed any part of this series, or simply want to review something again, you can easily do so by clicking any of the links in the table of contents at the beginning of the article.
Thank you for being great students!