The Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7, 8 and 10 is one of the important and useful Control Panel applications that allows you to view information about your network and allows you to make changes that may affect the way you access resources on the network.
Unfortunately, most people never mess with network settings because they don’t understand what everything means and are afraid to mess something up. However, once you understand the settings, you can fix problems yourself, increase privacy, and quickly set up file and printer sharing between multiple computers.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the different aspects of the Network and Sharing Hub, and show you certain features that you can use on a regular basis to make yourself more productive. .
Open Network & Sharing Center
The first step is to open network and sharing center. The fastest way to access it is by clicking Begin and type in Internet and. This will immediately show the app in the list.
In all versions of Windows, the application resides in the Control Panel. In Windows 7, just click Start and Control Panel is listed on the right side of the Start Menu. In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, just right-click the Start Menu and select Dashboard from the list.
In the Dashboard you can click Network and Internet category and then click network and sharing center. If you are in icon view, just click directly on network and sharing center.
Private or public network
The first thing you’ll see when you open the Network and Sharing Center is your current connection to the network and the Internet. Windows 7 has a bit more information and also has a few other options.
In Windows 8 and Windows 10, they cleaned up the interface by removing a few items and combining others.
At the top, you’ll see the network or active networks, network type, access type, HomeGroup information, and connection information. The first thing to understand about this information is the network type, listed just below the network’s name.
In the above examples, one has Indoor network listed and the other has Private network listed. This is important because when you connect to a private or home network, there are a lot of sharing settings that are set by default as trusted. This means that other people can find your computer on the network, can access shared folders, stream media from your computer, etc.
Windows will usually try to figure this out for you automatically so when you connect to a public WiFi network it will use Public profile, not private profile. Sometimes Windows will ask you if you want to enable sharing or find devices after you connect to the network, and if you say yes, it will make the network private. If you choose not, it will make the network public.
You can also manually change the network type to Public or Private depending on the type of security you want. This can be useful, for example, if you are visiting someone and you want to make sure that no one can access any of the data on your computer while you are connected to their network. Change the network type to Public and no one can discover your computer on the network.
You can read my post on how to toggle between public and private for the currently connected network. So what exactly does a switch do? Well you can see all the different sharing settings when you click Change advanced sharing settings link which I explain in detail in the next section below.
To the right of the network name and network type, you will see HomeGroup and Connection. Next to HomeGroup, you’ll see a link that says Available to join or Ready to create depending on whether a HomeGroup already exists on the network. HomeGroup allows you to easily share files, printers, and more between computers. I talk more about it in Advanced sharing settings section below.
Next Connection, you can click the name of the WiFi or Ethernet network to display the status information dialog for the current connection. Here you can see how long you have been connected, the signal quality of the WiFi network, the speed of the network, etc. You can also turn off the connection and diagnose the connection if there is a problem.
For WiFi networks, this screen is useful because you can click Wireless properties and then click Guard tab and view WiFi password. This is really useful if you have forgotten your WiFi password, but still have a computer connected to the network.
Finally, if you click Detailsyou can get more information about current network like Default Gateway (router IP address), MAC address and computer IP address.
Advanced sharing settings
The advanced sharing settings dialog box is the main place to manage how your computer communicates with the rest of the network. In Windows 7, you have two profiles: Home or office and Public. Only one profile can be active at a time. All settings are the same and are repeated in each profile.
In Windows 8 and 10, you have three profiles: Private, Guest or Public and All networks. It’s basically the same settings as in Windows 7, but just more logically divided. Let’s take a look at the different settings:
Network discovery – This setting is enabled for private networks by default and it means your computer can be seen by other computers and vice versa. What this means in practice is that when you open Windows Explorer, you can see the name of another computer connected to your network in Network location.
File and printer sharing – This setting will allow others to access shared folders and printers on your computer. I always make this Turn off even on private networks unless I need to use it in a specific situation. There are many times when guests come to my house, connect to the network and then be able to browse through my system. Only shared folders are viewable, but you’d be surprised at how folders can be shared without your knowledge.
Connect HomeGroup – If you really need to share files and folders, you should just set up Homegroup, which is much more secure and easier to configure. If you’re in trouble, just read HomeGroup Troubleshooting Guide.
Now expand All networks if you are using Windows 8 or Windows 10. There are some other settings here.
Share folder publicly – I recommend disabling this feature unless you specifically need to share data with another computer. That’s because it’s very easy to accidentally save files to these public shared folders without realizing it, which can then be accessed by anyone on the network. A very useful feature when you need it, but otherwise a huge privacy risk.
Streaming online – This is another option that you should turn off until you need to use it. This essentially turns your computer into a DLNA server so you can stream music, movies, and pictures to other devices on the network like Xbox One, etc. When enabled, it also opens some port in your firewall.
File sharing connection – This should always be set to Use 128-bit encryption unless you need to share files with a Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows 2000 computer.
Password protected sharing – I strongly recommend enabling password protected sharing as it will force the user to enter the username and password for the account on your computer to access any data.
New Network Setup & Troubleshooting
The next part I want to talk about is the bottom part Change your network settings. In Windows 10, you can establish a new connection or fix a problem.
To establish a new connection, you only have four options in Windows 8/10: Connect to the Internet, Set up a new network, manually connect to a WiFi network, or connect to a VPN. Note that creating special networks is no longer possible in Windows 10.
If you click Troubleshootyou will get a list of troubleshooting links for Internet, network adapters, Homegroup, Shared Folders, Printers, etc.
These are not just troubleshooting guides, they are actual programs that run and fix problems with various network related services. I’ve found Network connections and Adapters Troubleshoot to be most helpful.
Change adapter configuration
Finally, let’s talk about Change adapter configuration link on the left side. You probably won’t use it too often, but it’s very useful when troubleshooting network problems.
Here you will see a list of all the network adapters on your computer. If you have an Ethernet port and a WiFi card, you’ll see both listed. You may also see other network adapters, but they are usually always virtual, which means they are created by a software application such as a VPN client or virtual machine program.
If you are having connection problems, you can simply right click on the adapter and select Diagnose. This will usually fix any problems with a misconfigured network adapter. If you right click and select Characteristicyou can configure your computer to use a static IP address instead of obtaining an IP address from a DHCP server.
As mentioned, this is not something you need to do often, but you should know to troubleshoot. For the technically savvy, there are plenty of other advanced settings you can modify here, but this guide is for the newbies.
Hopefully, this article will help you navigate the Network & Sharing Center settings without feeling overwhelmed. This is the easiest way to troubleshoot network problems and make your computer more secure by disabling many automatic sharing modes that are enabled by default. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment. Interesting!