The objective for this lesson is to explain what network drives and network locations are, what they do, why they are useful, and how to use them.
We will start by defining these two concepts and compare their characteristics, so that you know what a network drive is and how it differs from a network location. Also, you will understand when to use one or the other.
You will learn how to map a network drive as we will walk you through all the steps involved. Then we will cover how to create a network location pointing to a website or FTP site.
You can enhance how accessible network drives or network locations are by creating shortcuts to them on the Start screen, the Desktop or the taskbar. This will also be covered in this lesson.
Last but not least, you will learn how to remove network drives and network locations, when you no longer need them.
What Are Network Drives and Network Locations
In order to access shared network resources more efficiently, you can create a shortcut to a folder shared by another PC or device on the network. The process for creating this type of shortcut is called mapping a network drive. A mapped network drive has the following characteristics:
- It has a drive letter assigned like any other partition in your system.
- It points to a network shared folder.
- It points only to resources found on your network.
- You need the appropriate credentials to connect to it.
You can also create shortcuts to a web resources like a web share or an FTP server. The process for creating this type of shortcut is named creating a network location. A network location has the following characteristics:
- It is a shortcut to a web location like a website or FTP site.
- It can point to either external resources found on the Internet and to resources found in your network/intranet.
- You need the appropriate credentials to connect to it.
- It doesn’t have a driver letter assigned.
Both network drives and network locations are stored individually for each user account. They are available only from the user account that has created them and they are not available for all the users on the same Windows computer or device.
If you need a refresher on user accounts, their types and characteristics, don’t hesitate to read Lesson 1.
How to Map a Shared Network Folder as a Network Drive
Mapping a shared network folder as a network drive is done using the “Map Network Drive” wizard. This wizard works the same in Windows 7 and Windows 8.x but it is started slightly differently in each operating system.
For example, in Windows 8.x you need to start File Explorer and go to This PC, then expand the Computer tab on the ribbon and click or tap “Map network drive”.
In Windows 7, start Windows Explorer and go to Computer. On the top toolbar you will see several buttons including one that says “Map network drive”. If you don’t see it, it means that there is insufficient space for displaying it and you need to maximize the Windows Explorer window.
The “Map Network Drive” wizard is now displayed. First, select the letter you want to assign to the drive you are about to map. Then, you need to select the shared network folder you want it to point to. You can directly type the path to it, if you know it. When typing the network path, you must start with “\\” followed by the name of the computer that is sharing the folder you want to map, followed by “\” and the name of the shared network folder. If you don’t really know these details, you can always click or tap “Browse”.
In the “Browse For Folder” window, browse through your network computers and expand the computer and select the folder you want to map and press “OK”.
Note, do not double-click on it as this may return an error saying that you don’t have access to it because you have not yet entered the credentials required to access it.
The network path to the selected folder is now displayed in the “Folder” entry. By default, Windows checks the box that says “Reconnect at sign-in”. This is to make sure that the drive you are about to map is used for all subsequent sign-ins. If you clear this box, the mapped resource will be used by Windows until you sign out from your user account and you will have to recreate it when you sign in again.
The next important setting says “Connect using different credentials”. This setting is disabled by default and it means that Windows will try to connect to the mapped drive using the user account and password from your computer. If this user account doesn’t exist on the computer sharing the selected folder, then you will have issues connecting to it. That is unless that folder is shared with the Homegroup or with the Everyone user group. In these scenarios you will be able to access the shared network folder.
If you need a refresher about the Homegroup and how it works, please read lesson 5.
If you want to use a specific user account and password to connect to the shared network folder and that user has permissions to access it, then check the “Connect using different credentials” setting.
When you are done configuring how you want to connect to the network drive, press “Finish”. If you enabled “Connect using different credentials”, the “Windows Security” window is shown, asking you to enter the user account and password it should use to connect to the network drive. If you did not enable this setting, Windows will try to connect to the network drive using the user account details from your computer.
In the Windows Security window it is very important that you pay attention to how you enter the credentials of the user account you are about to use.
In the “Username” field it is mandatory that you start by typing the name of the computer you will connect to. The name of this computer is mentioned in the line that says “Enter your credentials to connect to: Computer Name”. Simply type what you see there, followed by a “\” and then the user name you want to use.
If you are connecting to a Windows 8.x computer with a Microsoft account, type the e-mail address used by that account (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). Then, in the “Password” field, type the password for that user account. If you want your credentials to be remembered, check the box that says “Remember my credentials”.
Note, we advise against doing that at first because you might make a mistake in typing the credentials, at least the first time you try things. If you are successful during the first connection, then, when you connect again to this drive mapping, Windows will display the Windows Security window again, asking for the same log in details. Then you can enter them and check this box so that you don’t have to enter the user credentials each time you use this drive mapping.
When done, press “OK”.
The drive mapping is now complete and an Explorer window is shown, displaying the contents of the shared network folder you just mapped.
The drive mapping is displayed in the “This PC” section of File Explorer (in Windows 8.x) or the Computer section of Windows Explorer (in Windows 7). All the mapped drives are shown under “Network Locations”.
How to Map the Address of a Website or FTP Server as a Network Location
Mapping the address of a website or FTP service is done using the “Add Network Location” wizard. This wizard works the same in Windows 7 and Windows 8.x but it is started slightly differently. For example, in Windows 8.x you need to start File Explorer and go to This PC. Then, expand the Computer tab on the ribbon and click or tap “Add a network location”.
In Windows 7, open Windows Explorer and go to the Computer section. There, right click somewhere on the available empty space. In the right-click menu you will see an option which says “Add a network location”.
Click on it and the wizard starts.
The “Add Network Location” wizard is now displayed and it shares what you can do with it.
You are asked where you want to create this network location and given only one choice. Select “Choose a custom network location” and press “Next”.
You are asked to give the location of the website or FTP site you want to add. If you want to add a web share, you should type “http://” or “https://” – depending on the protocol used by the web share, followed by the web server and then “/” followed by the share name. For example: http://howtogeek.com/sharename.
Most people will use this wizard to map FTP sites. At least this is the only thing we have used this wizard for. To map an FTP site, type “ftp://” followed by the IP address of the FTP site (if you need a refresher on IP addresses, please read Lesson 2). For example: ftp://192.168.1.2.
You are asked to enter a user name and password if they are required. If you cannot log in anonymously, clear the box that says “Log on anonymously”. If you can log in anonymously, press “Next” and skip the next step.
If you cleared “Log on anonymously”, you are asked to enter the user name for accessing the specified location. Type it and press “Next”.
Now you are asked to give a name to this network location. Its default name is the IP address or the web address of the location you entered. Name it anything you wish and press “Next”.
You are informed that you have successfully created this network location. Press “Finish” to access it.
If you can’t log on anonymously to this location, you will see the “Log On As” window, asking for the username and password to authenticate to this location. Type them and then select “Save password” if you don’t want to type the password every time you access this location. When done, press “Log On”.
The network location and its content is now displayed in an Explorer window.
You can now browse its contents and use it according to the permissions given to the user account you have used to authenticate.
How to Pin Network Drives or Network Locations for Easy Access
Even though the main benefit of mapping drives or network locations is making things more accessible, they are not accessible enough if you ask us. In order to access them you need to first open Explorer. If you truly want to make them accessible, you should pin them to the Start screen in Windows 8, the Desktop, or the taskbar.
To pin a network drive to the Windows 8.x Start screen, right-click with a mouse (or press and hold on a touchscreen) on the drive and select “Pin to Start”.
A tile with the generic icon used for mapped drives, will be added to the Start screen pointing to the network location set for your mapping.
To create a shortcut on the Desktop, right click the network drive and select “Create shortcut”.
The shortcut is automatically added to the Desktop and you can use it to quickly access the network location mapped for that drive.
You can also drag-and-drop a mapped drive to the taskbar, as shown below. The drive will be pinned to the File Explorer or Windows Explorer shortcut, depending on whether you use Windows 8.x or Windows 7.
How to Remove a Network Drive
There are several ways of removing a network drive. In Windows 8.x, open File Explorer and go to “This PC”, and select the network drive you want to remove. Expand the “Computer” tab on the ribbon and click or tap the arrow for “Map network drive”.
A small menu is displayed, which includes an option that says “Disconnect network drive”. Click or tap on it and the network drive is disconnected and removed from File Explorer.
Both in Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, open Explorer and find the network drive that you want to remove, in the section named This PC (in Windows 8.x) or Computer (in Windows 7). Then, right-click the network drive and select “Disconnect” in the right-click menu.
The mapped network drive will be removed.
How to Remove a Network Location
Removing a mapping to a website or FTP site is similar. You need to find the mapped network location in Windows Explorer (Windows 7) or File Explorer (Windows 8.x). You will find it in the “Computer” section in Windows 7 or “This PC” section in Windows 8.x.
Right-click on it (or press and hold) and select “Delete”.
The network location is now removed.
Coming up Next …
In the next lesson we will explain how to share devices with the network like your printer or the external hard drive attached to one of your computers.