August 29 2008 0 Comments

How to Set Up a Home Network to Share Files and Printers

Do you want to setup a home network so you can share files and printers between your computers?  I’ll show you how, step-by-step.

There are many advantages to having your computers networked together.

Some of the most common reasons to network your computers are:

  • Ability to share files:  While you’re working on one computer, you may find that you need a file on one of your other computers.  Maybe you need it for reference, to copy and paste from it, or maybe you even want to install a program and the setup file is on the other computer.  Whatever the case, if you don’t have your computers networked, it’s a pain to access them.  You may have to go to the other computer and copy the file onto a flash drive or CD or other media and then take it to the original computer again to access it.  If your computers are networked and set for file sharing, you can open the file right up from any other computer on the network.
  • Ability to share printers:  Have multiple computers and only one printer?  No problem. Set up your home network with printer sharing and you can print to the one printer from any computer on your home network.  Of course, if you’re printing to a computer in a different room, you’re obviously going to have to go there to get the pages you printed, but it eliminates the need to have multiple printers.

So how do you go about getting this set up?  It’s pretty simple and I’ll take you through the process step-by-step.

First of all, let me say that these instructions are for Windows XP.  Though Windows Vista has been around for a while, at the time of this writing, Windows XP is still the most popular.  I’ve tied a computer running Vista into my home network and the process was basically the same, but some of the specific instructions may be slightly different.  If you understand the instructions, you can probably adapt them slightly and get it to work on Vista too.  But again, these instructions are really intended for Windows XP.

And this is probably obvious, but I’m assuming you have multiple computers in your house, all connected through 1 router.  It doesn’t matter whether the computers are physically plugged into the router through an Ethernet cable or if they’re connected via wireless connection.  But they all have to be connected to the same Internet connection through a router.

Before sharing files on your network, make sure your network is secure.  If you have a wireless router, you need to set it up where you have to enter a password to connect.  It would be beyond the scope of this tutorial to get into how to do that because it varies from one router to the next.  But you don’t want to share files on your network if your network isn’t password protected because then other people can connect to it and access and even modify your files, which you don’t want.

Your network should be secured anyway because other people could be using your connection to access the Internet and could be doing things they shouldn’t, which would be traced back to you since it’s your connection.  So again, if you have a wireless connection, make it secure, whether you’re going to set up a home network or not.

Ok, now you’re all set, so let’s move on to the step-by-step instructions:

  • Go to Start -> Control Panel
  • Over on the left, under "Control Panel", it will either say "Switch to Classic View" or "Switch to Category View".  You want the Classic View.  So if it says "Switch to Classic View", click that.  Otherwise, move on to the next step.
  • Double click Network Setup Wizard.  Be careful, there are several things with the word "network" in the name.  You want "Network Setup Wizard".
  • On the first screen, click Next
  • On the next screen, click Next
  • Now you’ll see one of two things, depending on whether you’re connected through a wired or wireless connection.  If you are connected through a wireless connection and don’t have a direct connection to your router through a cable, you may see a message that says:  "The network connections listed below are disconnected.  Plug in your network cables or otherwise connect your network hardware, and then click Next".  Don’t worry about that.  Just select the checkbox that says, "Ignore disconnected network hardware" and click Next.  On the other hand, if you don’t see this screen, just move on to the next step.
  • Now you’ll see a screen that asks you to select which statement best describes this computer and will give you a few options. In most cases, if you have the setup I described earlier where all your computers are connected to a router, you’re going to want the second option:  "This computer connects to the Internet through a residential gateway or through another computer on my network."  Then click Next.
  • Now you need to give your computer a description and a name.  This is important so you know which computer is which when you’re viewing them on the network.  If you have 2 computers and one is a desktop and one is a laptop, you might just put in "desktop" or "laptop", depending on which one you’re on. Or you may want to name them based on the room they’re in. The Computer Description field can be a little longer and can contain spaces. The Computer Name section should be shorter, be all CAPS, and not contain spaces or special characters.  If you use a short, simple description, you could use the same basic name for both description and name.  For instance, I have 2 desktops and 2 laptops on my network.  The two desktops are different brands and the two laptops are different brands and I know which is which, so I name them based on that.  For instance, for my Compaq laptop, I used "compaq-laptop" for the description and "COMPAQ-LAPTOP" for the name.  Just use something that you’ll recognize.  Click Next.
  • For the Workgroup name, I don’t believe it matters too much what you put as long as you use the same exact name when setting up all the computers on the network and it should be ALL CAPS.  I always just use "WORKGROUP" (without the quotes).  If you had a laptop that you often connected to different networks, you may want to use something else, but in most cases, you’ll be fine just using "WORKGROUP".  Click Next.
  • On the next screen, select "Turn on file and printer sharing" (assuming you want to, and that’s probably why you’re doing this in the first place).  Click Next.
  • On the next screen, just click Next.
  • On the next screen, select "Just finish the wizard; I don’t need to run the wizard on other computers".  Click Next.
  • Click Finish
  • You may be prompted to restart your computer.  If so, you’ll want to do that.  But before you do, make sure you either print out this page or bookmark it because you’re not completely finished yet.  After you save these instructions in a safe place, if you’re prompted to restart, choose Yes.
  • After your computer restarts, you’ll need to select which files on your computer you want to share.  For this example, let’s say you want to share your "My Documents" folder. Go to Start -> My Documents.  Over on the left column, under "File and Folder Tasks", you should see an option for "Share this folder".  Click that.  (You can also right click on any folder you want to share and select "Sharing and Security")
  • The first checkbox should not be selected (the one about making the folder private).  Put a checkmark in the the box next to "Share this folder on the network".  This will make a couple other options available.  First, the Share name.  You may want to just leave whatever is there by default if you’ll recognize what it is when you see it on the network.  You basically just want something there where, when you see it, you’ll know what folder it is.  So if you need to change it, otherwise leave it.  Below that, there is an option for "Allow network users to change my files".  In most cases, you’ll want to select this.  If you don’t, you can only open files but can’t change them.  For instance, let’s say you have a Word document on one computer.  You could open it from another computer, but couldn’t edit it if this isn’t selected.  You also can’t copy over new files or delete files if this isn’t selected.  If you want the most flexibility, you’ll probably want to select "Allow network users to change my files".  Again, let me stress the importance of having your wireless Internet connection secured with a password.  If it’s not, your neighbors could connect to your wireless connection and mess with your files.  So make sure you secure your wireless connection before selecting this.  Click OK.  If there are a lot of files in this directory, this may take several minutes.  Just be patient and let it do it’s thing.  It’ll finish eventually.
  • If you have a printer connected to this computer that you want to share, go to Start -> Control Panel and double click Printers and Faxes.  If there is a little picture of a hand under the printer icon for your printer, you’re all set.  Otherwise, right click on it and choose Sharing.  Select "Share this printer" and click OK.
  • Ok, you’re done with this computer.  But you’re not finished altogether.  You need to follow these exact same steps on each computer you want to be on the network.  Just follow these instructions, step by step, on each computer and you’ll be all set.

Once you’ve configured all your computers and selected the files you want to share, go to Start -> My Network Places and you should see all the folders you’re sharing on all the computers on your network.  Just double click the folder you want to view the files.

You can also access the files on your network through most programs as well. For instance, if you’re in Microsoft Word and want to open a file that’s on another computer, just click File (or click the Ribbon in Word 2007) and Open.  In most programs, there will be a column over on the right.  Click My Network.  Now just navigate to the file you want.

Congratulations!  You’re now all set up for networking!

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Troubleshooting:  If you can’t view the files on your network after following the instructions above exactly, it’s almost always because of your firewall/anti-virus/Internet security program settings.  If it’s not working, try disabling your firewall or other Internet security software on all the computers temporarily and see if it works.  If so, you know you have some settings that need to be changed.  You’ll need to reference the help or support for whatever software it is to see what needs to be changed because each program is different.  I usually have no trouble with TrendMicro, but Norton almost always gives me trouble.

Happy networking!

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