In my last post, I introduced the essential file sharing notions for standalone computers. Today, I will discuss a few more uncommon concepts: Public Folders sharing, network discovery, and password-protected sharing and homegroups.

Public Folders sharing ^

Public Folders allow you to share files with other users who log on to the same computer. You can access those folders through the Libraries (Public Documents, Public Pictures, Public Videos). It is also possible to share Public Folders on the network. The corresponding settings are in the Network and Sharing Center, together with the network location types discussed above under All Networks. There you can turn sharing for Public Folders on or off.

Public folder sharing

Public folder sharing

 

Confusing is that this switch alone is not sufficient. Another necessary condition is that file and printer sharing is turned on for the currently active location type. Say you are currently connected to a Public network, and sharing is turned off for this location type; in this case, you cannot access the Public Folders even if sharing is enabled under All Networks.

If everything is configured properly, you can map the Public Documents folders this way: \\computer\users\public\documents. The other Public Folders can be mapped accordingly.

Public folders

Public folders

It is interesting to note that all configurations discussed so far are only for the target computer—that is, the computer with the file shares. The settings or the current location type on the source computer don’t matter at all. The reason is that the Windows Firewall blocks only inbound connections and allows all outbound connections by default. Thus the Public and Private networks are only metaphors and don’t correspond to physical or virtual networks.

Network discovery ^

Things are a bit different when it comes to network discovery. This feature allows you to view and browse all computers and their network shares in the LAN. For this to work, network discovery has to be enabled on both the target and the source computer. If you click the Network symbol in Windows Explorer, you will get the error message “Network discovery and file sharing is turned off. Network computers and devices are not visible….” As to my experience, if you only turn on network discovery on the source computer, everything works fine. However, you will then see a warning that file sharing is turned off.

Networking discovery - File sharing is turned off

Networking discovery - File sharing is turned off

By the way, network discovery is not so much about discovery but more about browsing. This means that you don’t need network discovery if you just want to map a network drive using the computer name of the target computer instead of its IP address.

Password-protected sharing ^

The settings for the password-protected sharing feature can also be found under “All Networks” in “Advanced sharing settings.” If you turn on password-protected sharing (default setting), you can connect to this computer by entering an account and a password available on that machine when you map the drive.

Password protected sharing

Password protected sharing

If you turn off password-protected sharing, you won’t be asked for credentials when you try to map a drive, and access is denied with the error message “Location is not available.” If password-protected sharing is turned off, you can only connect to this computer if the username and the password on the source computer and the target computer are the same.

Location is not available- Access is denied

Location is not available- Access is denied

Thus, as strange as it may sound, turning off password-protected sharing is more secure because an attacker can’t try different account password combinations easily. It does not mean that you can access shares without a password.

Homegroup ^

I just want to briefly mention the homegroup concept here (not to be confused with workgroups) because it belongs with the file sharing topic. You can create a homegroup on any computer in the Control Panel (type “home…” in the search box) and then allow other computers in the LAN to join this homegroup with a shared password. All members of the homegroup can then access the files of the Libraries (Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc.) you shared on all computers in the homegroup. I don’t know how many families exist where everyone is willing to share all private files with other family members, but I guess in a corporate environment this is usually not what you want.

Homegroup

Homegroup

Perhaps after reading the last two posts, you noticed that file sharing on non-domain (workgroup) machines is not as simple as you thought. I guess much of the frustration with file sharing on standalone computers comes from these confusing concepts of Public and Private networks. In Windows 8, Microsoft reduced the number of location types from three to two. In my view, Microsoft should proceed with this strategy and reduce the number of location types one more time in Windows 9. A simple on/off switch for file sharing and a corresponding hint in the systray would make much more sense. Then, the last two blog posts would probably fit in one paragraph.

In my next post, I will have a closer look at a special type of file sharing: Administrative shares.

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