Beyond Simple File Sharing: Using Mapped Drives

By Eric Geier | Posted July 25, 2008

The previous tutorial in this series demonstrated how to create hidden shares so others on the network are unable to see them. This tutorial continues the discussion on advanced sharing techniques, concentrating on how to make shared resources much more accessible. Learn how to save time and some clicks of the mouse by mapping a drive to a shared folder or drive on the network — which would be called a mapped network drive.

Why Use Mapped Drives?

Mapping network drives certainly saves time and energy in the long run when it comes to shared folders or drives on the network accessed regularly. It pays to make them more accessible in My Computer (or just Computer in Vista) and in dialog boxes where you select files.

When you map a network drive, you are essentially creating a shortcut to a certain shared folder or drive, masked as a drive. You assign the mapped network drive a drive letter, anything from A to Z that's not already assigned to other drives (such as A, C, D or E) on the computer.

Figure 1 is an example of how a mapped network drive (assigned with the drive letter X) looks in Computer and in the Open dialog box of Microsoft Word.

Mapped Network Drive
Figure 1
Mapped Network Drive

This shows how much more accessible shared resources can be when using mapped network drives. Instead of having to double-click Network to bring up the Network window and double-click DESKTOP>My Folder>My Sub Folder, all I have to do is double-click Computer and double-click on the mapped network drive icon. This saves me two double-clicks every time I access the My Sub Folder, giving me a bit more time to do something much more productive.

Mapping Drives in Windows

You have several ways to go about creating a mapped network drive, which are the same in all versions and editions of Windows (2000, XP and Vista). The following steps sequence the method of right-clicking on the shared folder or drive you want to map as a drive:

  • Browse your network using My Network Places (in XP) or Network (in Vista) and find the shared folder or drive you want to map as a drive. If the computers aren't showing up or you wish to create a mapped network drive of a hidden share on your network, you can create a mapped network drive manually by opening My Computer (or Computer in Vista), click Tools, and select Map Network Drive. Then enter the UNC path (\computernamesharename) of the share into the Folder field and skip to Step 3.
  • Right-click on the shared folder or drive and click Map Network Drive. The Map Network Drive window box will appear, as Figure 2 demonstrates.
    The Map Network Drive window box
    Figure 2
    Map Network Drive Window Box
  • Assign a drive letter for the mapped network drive from the Drive drop-down menu list.
  • Keep the Reconnect at Logon checkbox selected, if you want the mapped network drive to remain active after you reboot your computer, which is probably what you want to do.
  • If the Windows account username and password you're currently logged into doesn't match exactly with an account that has permission to access or edit the shared folder or drive, click the Different User Name link. Then, in the Connect As dialog box enter a username and password of a Windows account set up in the sharing permissions of the shared folder or drive and click OK.
  • Click Finish.

Now you can access the shared folder or drive from most windows or dialog boxes that show your drives, folders and files, as shown earlier in Figure 1.

Tip 1: To change the default name of the mapped network (sharename on 'computername') drive, right-click the drive icon in My Computer or Computer, select Rename, type something, and then hit the Enter key.

Tip2 : To remove a mapped network drive from your computer, open My Computer or Computer, right-click the drive icon, and select Disconnect.

Conclusion

You've discovered another file sharing technique to make your networking experience easier. To wrap this tutorial up, here are several things to keep in mind:

  • If you regularly use multiple computers on the network, think about mapping the same shared folders or drives on all the computers.
  • Use the same drive letters for each folder or drive you map a drive for among all your computers.
  • If the computer hosting the folder or drive that's mapped as a drive is shut down or off the network, your computer may take some time to respond that the connection is unavailable. Give it a minute, and the window or dialog should start responding. Also expect to experience a bit longer boot time when entering Windows if the host computer is offline.
  • It can be frustrating if the underlying share structure of your network is changed (when mapped network drives become unavailable) and you must go to each computer to remove the mapped network drive and add a new one pointing to the correct share. This is more of a problem for larger networks.
Eric Geier is an author of many wireless networking and computing books including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and Wi-Fi Hotspots: Setting up Public Wireless Internet Access (Cisco Press 2006).

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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