How to Share Folders and Printers on Your Network
By Gabriel Torres on November 14, 2005
After you have built your own network, you may want to share files and printers between your computers. In this tutorial we will show you how this is done. We are assuming that you already have built your network. If that is not the case, read our tutorial How to Build a Small Network Using a Broadband Router, where we also explain how to share your Internet connection.
Before continuing, you should pay attention on how your network was built. Using a broadband router is our preferred way, since it works as a hardware firewall and will prevent people accessing your files from the Internet. If that is your case, just go ahead and share your folders and printers as described in this tutorial.
However, if you are not using a router, you should be very careful sharing folders. Depending on how your network is set up, people from outside your network can have access to your files. We have already explained about this on our tutorial Protecting Your Computer Against Invasions, so if you are not using a broadband router you must read this tutorial to learn how to prevent outside people from having access to your files.
So, what is sharing anyway? It is the ability for people from other computers besides your own to access resources located on it, like files and printers.
All tutorial is based on Windows XP. The way file and printer sharing works on previous Windows versions is just the same, however the exact name of the options is a little bit different.
The first thing you need to do on the computer you want to enable file and/or printer sharing is to check if the sharing service is already installed. Just hit Start, Setting, Network Connections and double click the network card installed on your PC.
On the window that will show up, click on Properties.
Figure 2: Click on Properties.
On the next screen you should check if “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks” is enabled, see Figure 3.
Figure 3: Checking if file and printer sharing is installed.
If not, you will need to install this service, by clicking on Install, Service, Add, select File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks, then Ok.
With this service installed you will be able to share folders and printers. Note that this service is not required on client computers, i.e., computers that will access the files or printers located on your computer.
You can share any folder on your computer so people can access all files below it from other computers. That includes a folder on your hard drive, an entire hard drive partition, a CD-ROM, a DVD-ROM, a flash USB drive and even a floppy disk drive. Any device that is recognized as a drive by the operating system can be shared.
To share a folder or drive, just click on it with the right mouse button and select Sharing and Security from the menu that will appear. On our example we will be sharing your entire D: partition. As we mention, you could share only one folder of your hard drive.
On the window that will appear, click on “If you understand the risk but still want to share the root of the drive, click here”.
Figure 5: Yes, that is what we want.
On the next window, you need to check “Share this folder on the network” and give a name for the sharing on “Share name” (we used “Shared_Data”). That’s how your shared folder will be known on your network. If you want to enable people from writing new files to your shared folder or updating files already there you should enable “Allow network users to change my files”.
Figure 6: Enabling folder sharing.
Just hit Ok and your folder will be accessible by all computers on your network (this procedure can delay a little bit).
Now that you shared your folder, we will show you how to access it from other computers.
To access the shared folders available on your network, click on My Network Places, icon that is located on Windows desktop. Just double click the shared folder you want to access and that’s all you’ll need to do.
If a folder that you know that is shared is not being listed on My Network Places – a rather common problem –, hit the F5 key on your keyboard. This is a shortcut to the “refresh” function.
If the shared folder you want to access is still not listed, click on “Add a network place” (first item on the left column), then on the window that will show up, click on Next, Choose another network location, Next. On the next screen, you can explore your network by clicking on Browse. This will allow you to locate the computer and the shared folder you want to access. Sometimes, however, Windows won’t list the computer or the shared folder. If this is your case, you can manually add the shared folder you want to access by entering its location on “Internet or network address” box, using the \computer_name\shared_folder_name format. In our case, for example, we would add \Gabriel\Shared_Data, as Gabriel being the computer name where the shared folder is located and Shared_Data being the name we gave for the shared folder (see previous page). Just keep clicking on Next to finish this wizard.
All shared folders available on your network are available also from within any Open/Save/Save As dialog box, through My Network Places icon. So you can open a file stored in a shared folder within your favorite program.
You can assign a drive letter to a shared folder. This gives you an easier way to access a shared folder. So, instead of browsing through My Network Places, your shared folder will be accessible as F:, for example. To do that, open My Computer, Tools, Map Network Drive.
On the window that will show up, you can choose the drive letter and the shared folder to assign to that drive letter. In our case, we assigned our Shared_Data folder to Z: drive, so this folder will be accessed as drive Z: on our computer. You can also check the “Reconnect at logon” box if you want this assignment to be reestablished when you restart your computer.
Figure 10: Assigning a drive letter to a network shared folder.
If you want to break the drive letter assignment in the future, just right click the drive on My Computer and choose Disconnect from the menu that will show up.
Sharing a printer is very easy. Just go to Start, Settings, Printer and Faxes, right click on your printer and choose Sharing from the menu that will pop up.
On the window that will appear, check “Share this printer” and enter a name for the shared printer in Share name box. This will be the name your printer will be known by the other computers on your network.
Figure 13: Sharing the printer.
Click on Ok and your printer will be accessible by all other computers located on your network. Let’s now see how other computers can access your shared printer.
To print on a printer located on another computer on your network, first you will have to install it on your computer. To do that, go to Start, Settings, Printers and Faxes, Add a printer (first item on the left column). Click Next on the first screen that will appear and, on the second screen, select “A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer”.
Click on Next and you will see three options. Select the first option, “Browse for a printer”, to locate the shared printer. Then click on Next.
On the next screen you should browse your network in order to locate the printer you wish to install on your computer. Click on Next and answer Yes to the question this wizard will ask.
On the next screen you will be asked if you want to set the network printer as the default printer for your computer. If your computer has no other printer attached, you should answer Yes. Then click on Next and, on the next screen, Finish.
After these steps the network printer will be installed on your computer. Using it is very simple, as you will use just like if it were a printer physically installed on your computer, being accessible from all your programs.