Windows Troubleshooter Guide/Network Drive

Network drives (not to be confused with network location—a different thing in Windows) function as a way for your computer to access different storage machines, ranging from a other personal computers, external HDDs, specialized network access storage devices[1], or a machine connected via the internet (although the last connection method is considered not secure[2]). Essentially, they function like drives (such as a hard drive—recall that there can be different types of drives) which can be accessed through the OS's file browser of some kind. Specifically, asking whether or not the File Explorer (Windows Explorer) can access it.

How To ConnectEdit

On Windows, you can connect to a network drive by simply typing its path onto the address bar, the top part of the File Explorer where the file path like C:\WINDOWS usually shows up in, on effectively all versions of Windows. Many formats work but we will focus on the three that Windows talks about when it talks about what can be used as a network drive:

  • Shared folders, basically anything accessible in your local area network (LAN)
  • Web Share, basically any website that you can use as a network drive
  • FTP site, basically any FTP site that you can use as a network drive

When you connect (which may take a while longer than normal directories on your computer for network speed reasons), you can use it like any other directory as if it is on your computer. Of course, if there is some kind of network issue (such as a downed router or a problematic internet connection), these services may be restricted or unavailable. However, if there is a case that your computer is downed (such as a hard drive disk malfunction), if there are any files you stored on through a network drive, they will still persist by the sheer fact that the file is physically stored elsewhere.

Be aware that when you connect to a credential-protected drive (i.e. the drive is blocked with a request for you to type in a "username" and "password", you simply fill them in and hit enter. For more explanation, see the Formatting section.

The connection method is irrelevant, so long as you can access each other in the same network. No matter if you are using Ethernet, WiFi, or using a subnet to access the main network, so long as you have the permission (which can mean the credentials or the firewall), you can connect.

FormattingEdit

The format in which to type into the address bar is a major block that we will tackle here. Windows offers some examples, namely:

Shared folders \\server\share
Web Share http://webserver/share
FTP site ftp://ftp.microsoft.com

yet they offer little explanation. We will fill this in for you here.

\\server\share
You can put in so much more than what this description offers. Namely, the term server is used in the most lax sense. Anything shared that can be accessed by your LAN can be typed in there, either by name (as it appears in the network) or by IP address (as it appears in the network). The \share directory basically prompts you to type in whatever directory you can access.
Examples of Ways to Access a Network Drive
What You Have How to Access
You have a network-attached storage (NAS) device connected to your router, with the IP address 192.168.1.113 and your computer's in the same network. The NAS is sharing a folder called Volume_00 \\192.168.1.113\Volume_00
You have a computer connected to your router via WiFi, with the name (as assigned by the computer user) JOES-COMPUTER and your computer's in the same network. JOES-COMPUTER is sharing a folder called Pictures located at C:\Users\Public\Pictures, which can be accessed throughout (all folders are shared). \\JOES-COMPUTER\Users\Public\Pictures

Network Drive ShortcutsEdit

If you ever want a shortcut to this network location so you can click the shortcut instead of typing it in[3] and filling out credentials, this is possible. In Windows, this has two different names based on how integrated you want it to be.

Add a Network LocationEdit

This is the less integrated version that will work for directories shared to everyone that can access the network. To set it up, you simply need to right click anywhere when you are on the Computer File Explorer page and select "Add a Network Location". Follow the prompts given and when told to type in the address, follow the guideline in the Formatting section.

Map Network DriveEdit

This is the more integrated version that will create a new drive letter and everything so that Windows will only see the drive as a computer directory accessible by the OS. To set it up, you simply need to visit the Computer File Explorer page and select "Map network drive". Follow the prompts given and when told to type in the address, follow the guideline in the Formatting section.

Be aware that there is a setting, while specifying the drive letter and the address, that you can connect using different credentials. This refers to the username/password set up on the network drive, which may have the same username/password combination as your computer or not. If they do not match, you must check the box, which will offer you a chance to fill out the username/password for the network drive later. For reference, if you do not check the box, it will assume that the username/password combination for the network drive is the same as your username/password for your User Account.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Wigmore, Ivy. "network drive". TechTarget. http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/network-drive. Retrieved 02/14/2016. 
  2. TheBunker. "FTP vs Mapping a Network Drive". ExpertsExchange. http://www.experts-exchange.com/questions/27570962/FTP-vs-Mapping-a-Network-Drive.html. Retrieved 02/14/2016. "I would not recommend mapping a drive on the public side. Get a VPN in place or get an FTP server that uses SFTP or FTPS to encrypt the password. One example here is that you can have an FTP server that has the drives on your web server mapped to it, and it presents those mapped drives as FTP folders to the client. It is really a security vs. convenience question for you though." 
  3. "Lesson 8: How to Work With Network Drives & Network Locations". How-To Geek. http://www.howtogeek.com/school/windows-network-sharing/lesson8/all/. Retrieved 02/14/2016.