How to connect to Windows shares

Earlier this week we discussed how to create Windows shares to access files and folders on another computer in the same local network. This time we’re explaining how to connect to a pre-existing share.

The easy way: Using File Explorer

The easiest way to connect to a Windows share is simply opening it using File Explorer. When you open it, you will notice that there’s a vertical pane on the left side of the screen, listing a few items. Towards the bottom is Network, which lists computers on the network and other devices such as routers, network printers and multimedia devices.

Computers are listed at the top, under the eponymous moniker. Note that while you may choose not to share anything, your computer will still be listed. Deciding not to list a computer will prevent it from accessing files stored on other computers.

You can double-click an icon to access its files, just like you would with any other file in your local computer. However, if the other computer requires authentication, you will be prompted for a username and a password.

NoteNote: The username and password you’re asked must be for a user in the target computer.

A more advanced way: Mapping a network path or drive

Network paths vs network drives

The concepts of network paths and network drives are actually very similar: both refer to resources (usually files and folders or printers) that instead of being located on the local machine are shared across computers in a network in a peer-to-peer fashion (that is, all computers in the network function both as servers, which provide services, and clients, which benefit from them).

Data shared on a local network in this fashion usually protected by unauthorised access via a username and password combination. Windows uses the same username and password used to log into the destination machine, whereas on Linux it’s possible to specify a different password unique to the share(s).

A network path is represented on Windows using the Uniform Naming Convention (UNC), characterised by two leading backslashes and the computer name.

Example:

\\COMPUTERNAME\Share

NoteNote: Windows paths are case-insensitive, meaning that there’s no distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters. \\COMPUTERNAME\Share and \\computername\share are the same resource.

The difference between the two lies on whether they have a drive letter or not: a network path doesn’t, whereas a network drive does. A second, more important difference is that a network path can also refer to a website or an FTP server, whereas a network drive cannot. This isn’t generally terribly important, but it’s a thing to keep in mind nonetheless.

Mapping a network path

If you wish to map a network path that will appear in File Explorer, open This PC and right-click in an empty space. Among the available options, you’ll see Add a network location. Click it to run the wizard.

The first page is just to let you know what the procedure does, so you can just click Next to get to the meat of it.

The second page asks you to choose where to create your network location. Normally, only one option is available to you, labeled Choose a custom network location. I’m not aware if there are different option, as I’ve never encountered a single instance where I was presented with multiple selections. Click Next to progress.

You’re now asked to insert the address you want to connect to. This can be a FTP server, a web share (which uses the HTTP protocol) or a shared folder. If you want to map a path available on another computer in your home or business network, enter \\computername\sharename.

NoteNote: You cannot map a computer directly. Instead, you’re required to map a share.

After that, you’ll be allowed to enter a custom name. By default, Windows will choose something similar to Share name (Computer name). Click Next to proceed.

We’re almost done. Now you can choose whether you want to open the newly-created network path or not. In that case, uncheck the Open this network location when I click Finish checkbox. Lastly, click Finish. If authentication is required, enter your username and password.

Your network path will appear in This PC under the Network locations category.

Removing a network path

To remove a network location, simply open This PC and right-click on its icon, then select Delete.

Connecting to a network drive

As we mentioned earlier, a network drive is a resource located on the network that has a drive letter on a specific local machine. This doesn’t necessarily mean that data on it can be accessed even when the other computer is shut down (also known as Offline availability), but merely that it’s easier to access because of the drive letter.

In order to add a network drive, open File Explorer and browse to the share you wish to map as a network drive. Among the options available to you is Map network drive… Click it to launch its wizard. This procedure includes a single step.

You can choose what drive letter to assign. By default, network drives are assigned drive letters starting with Z in a descending order, but nothing prevents you from changing this.

If you want, you can uncheck the Reconnect at sign-in checkbox to force users to insert a username and password to access the drive every time the computer is turned on.

The Connect using different credentials is used when you want to use a different account to access network drives. It generally isn’t required.

The Connect to a website that you can use to store your documents and pictures link will simply open the Add network location wizard. When you’re happy with the changes you’ve made, click Finish to connect to the network drive.

Network drives can be accessed from This PC.

Detaching a network drive

If you want to detach a network drive, right-click its icon and choose Disconnect.

About Andrea Luciano Damico 137 Articles
Andrea Luciano Damico is a freelance translator from Italy. Among his interests are linguistics, technology, video games, and generally being a chill guy. He runs Let's Translate.it and Tech4Freelancers.net.