The objective for this lesson is to explain all the network sharing settings that are available in Windows and what they do. It sounds simple, isn’t it? But unfortunately it is not.
As you will see, there are plenty of sharing settings available. Some are easy to figure out, while others not so much. Also, Windows 8.x introduces a new setting that’s not documented anywhere. In order to make sense of it and what it does, we had to perform plenty of experimentation. But we did get the hang of it and we can explain it to you, so that you can set things correctly.
Another topic we cover in this lesson is how to change the location assigned to the active network connection. As you will see, with one simple change Windows reconfigures all the available network sharing settings. Therefore it is important to understand when you should change the network location and how.
At the end of this lesson you will know how to configure the network profile and the network sharing settings so that you turn on only the features that you need to use on your network.
Let’s get to work!
Where to Find the Network Sharing Settings in Windows
Windows 7 and Windows 8.x have the same network sharing settings. They are found in the same place, but their order is different and so is their grouping.
To find them, go to the “Control Panel > Network and Internet” and then to “Network and Sharing Center”. This window is very important when it comes to setting up your network connections and network sharing. Here you will find the options for changing your network adapter settings, a link to all network sharing settings, and wizards for setting up new connections or troubleshooting problems.
To access your network sharing settings, click or tap the “Change advanced sharing settings” link on the left column.
Now you will see a list with all the available network sharing settings that are found in Windows, grouped by network location.
Changing the Default Sharing Settings
As we mentioned earlier, these settings are displayed in a different order, depending on the Windows version you are using.
In Windows 7, all the settings are grouped under two categories: “Home or Work” and “Public”. This splits all the network sharing settings in groups according to the three network locations available in Windows 7 (to learn more about network locations, read Lesson 2).
You will see a line that says “current profile”, telling you which network location is assigned to the active network connection. The settings found in that profile will apply to your active network connection and not the others.
If you click the arrow next to each profile type, you can expand each of these groups, you will see that they include the same network sharing settings except “HomeGroup connections”, which is available only for the “Home or Work” network locations.
You will also see that each setting has different values for different locations. That is great because it allows Windows to quickly adjust your network sharing settings based on the network you are connected to. However, for your home network, you may want to customize the defaults.
Windows 8.x makes things a bit confusing because they group all the network sharing settings in three sections: “Private”, “Guest or Public” and “All Networks”.
The “Private” group includes three settings: “network discovery”, “file and printer sharing” and “HomeGroup connections”. These settings are applied only for network connections that are set as Private.
The “Guest and Public” group includes only two settings: “network discovery” and “file and printer sharing”. They are applied only to network connections that are set as “Public”.
The All Networks group includes four settings: “public folder sharing”, “media streaming”, “file sharing connections” and “password protected sharing”. The trouble with these settings is that they are applied to all network connections (both “Private” and “Public”).
Why is this a problem? Because if you turn on “public folder sharing”, you turn it on also for “Public” network connections, which may be a security risk. Also, imagine the problems you may have when turning off password protected sharing for all network connections.
That’s why it is very important that you pay attention and customize these settings while keeping security foremost in your mind.
Windows Network Sharing Settings
Before you start configuring all the network sharing settings, it is best to understand what each setting does. Let’s take a look at each of them, one by one, based on their order in Windows 8.x:
This setting makes Windows search for other computers and devices on the network and broadcasts your computer on the network, so that others see it. “Network discovery” should be turned on in order for your computer to access other computers on the network and be able to share things with them.
In Windows 8.x you will find also a sub-setting that says “Turn on automatic setup of network connected devices”. Unfortunately, this setting is not documented anywhere by Microsoft and figuring out what it does took us a lot of time and experimentation. It seems that when this is enabled, Windows is able to detect network connected devices like external hard drives connected to your router or to another PC and then be able to use them to provide all kinds of services, including making “File History” backups on those devices.
When this setting is turned off, Windows won’t detect such devices and it won’t be able to use them to perform “File History” backups or provided other kinds of services.
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.
This setting must be turned on in order to perform any kind of network sharing.
“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.
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.
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.
This setting allows you to specify where you want people and devices on the network to access pictures, music, and videos on your computer.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Select the location that works best for you. You are informed about this change and what it means for you.
Click “Close” to finish.
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”.
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”.
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”.
Click or tap your network connection and its properties are displayed.
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.