Network and Sharing Center in Vista

Before you start

Objectives: learn what can you do with Network and Sharing Center in Vista.

Prerequisites: no prerequisites

Key terms: sharing, location, device, discovery, center, file, folder, share, media

Network and Sharing Center

This is a centralized location to control all aspects of networking. We can use it to check the status of network connections, connect to a network, view a graphical representation of network connections, and diagnose and repair network connectivity issues. There are four main areas. One is Common Network Tasks, the second is the Network Map, the third is Network Connection Customization, and the fourth is the Sharing and Discovery Control. Sharing and Discovery area allows us to enable or disable many features of networking. For example, Network Discovery.

Network Discovery

Network Discovery allows our computer to discover others and others to discover our computer. When Network Discovery is on, our computer can see other network computers and devices, and it is also visible to other computers and devices. We can also specify if we’re going to allow Printer Sharing, File Sharing, or Media Sharing. When Printer Sharing is on, people with network access can use printers attached to our computer. When File Sharing is on, files stored on our computer are accessible to people on the network. We should use this method of sharing if we prefer to share files directly from any folder on our computer without copying or moving them to the Public folder, and if we require more control over who we share files with on the network. The thing is that there are two ways of sharing files on our network. One way is using standard File Sharing, where we can set shared folders and appropriate permissions. A new feature in Vista, designed to make it easier for end users to share their information is called Public Folder Sharing.

Public Folder

Public Folder Sharing is a way to share files with other people on the network. These files are stored in one central location on our hard drive, in C:\Users\Public. We should use this method of file sharing if we prefer the simplicity of sharing files from a single location on our computer (in the Public folder) and if we want everything we share to be kept in a separate location from the rest of our files. Everyone can access our public folder so we don’t have to worry about sharing permissions for individuals.

There are some restrictions that we can set. We can set that users can only open files, or we can set that users can open, change, and create files. We can also turn off sharing.

Media Sharing

When Media Sharing is on, computers and network devices can access music, pictures, and videos on our computer that have been added to the Media Player’s library. Typically those files are located in C:\Users\user_name\music, \pictures, and \videosfolders. Also, when Media Sharing is on, our computer will be able to find those types of files on other computers within the network.

Network Location Types

When we first connect our machine to the network, Vista will do its best to figure out our network location type. There are three network location types. Also, we choose a network location by ourselves. The network location identifies the type of network we are connecting to, controls Firewall settings, security settings and enabled certain services. Network location types are: private, public and domain.

Domain Network Location

Domain is the most simple, because if our computer is a member of Active Directory domain, we are in the Domain network location type. Security settings are controlled through Group Policy.

Private Network Location

If our connection type is set to Private, our computer will be able to discover other devices on the network and other devices will be able to discover our computer. Network Discovery is enabled by default. Even in a private network situation we should have up-to-date Firewall and antivirus software enabled on our computer.

Public Network Location

If our network location type is set to Public, our computer will not be able to discover other devices nor will other devices be able to discover us. We’re basically invisible to other computers on the network. A Public network is an untrusted network (such as when we are in an airport or library). Default settings keep our computer from being visible (Network Discovery is turned off) or sharing files. When connecting to a public network we should have up-to-date Firewall and antivirus software installed and running on our computer to avoid viruses, malicious hackers, and unwanted software. Also, when we connect to an unsecured wireless network, all that we do on the Internet can be monitored by someone with the correct equipment, including websites that we visit, online documents we work on, user names and passwords we use.

Windows firewall configures itself differently depending on our location type. There si also new protocol that comes with Vista that helps us discover other computers on the network. It is called Link Layer Discovery Topology or LLDT. This is a new way to browse for computers on the network. It is not like the old broadcast based method for creating the browse list. For LLTD to function correctly network discovery must be enabled. LLDT will send WMI queries to discover other devices and also discover their capabilities. LLTD Responder responds to requests from other Vista machines. By using all this information from the queries, LLTD can create a network map. This is a full summary of information that LLTD has discovered in a graphical format. LLTD keeps everything up-to-date through a version control system.

Example Configuration

To open Network and Sharing Center, go to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center.

Network and Sharing Center

Image 236.1 – Network and Sharing Center

In our example we can see that we are connected to the private network. On the network map we can see our computer (ivancic-v), the network that we are in (Home Network), and we can see that we are connected to the Internet. Below the map we can wee we have local and Internet access and that we are using Local Area Connection. To change the name or network location we can click on the Customize link.

Customize Network

Image 236.2 – Customize Network Settings

If we go back to our Network and Sharing Center, we can see that in the Sharing and Discovery section we have various options to share our resources and to secure our computer. For example, in our case we have Network discovery turned on. This enables our computer to be visible on the network and let’s us find other devices as well. This will be set based on network location that we are in. File sharing is off, so we are not able to share our files in our case. Public folder sharing is turned off. Public folder sharing is a new way to share files for end users, in which we share only one folder (/users/public). To contrast Public folder sharing with File sharing, with File sharing we can have multiple shares. Printer sharing is turned off since we don’t have any printers installed. We are password protecting our sharing and media sharing is turned off.

Let’s see computers and devices on our network. To do that click on the ‘View computers and devices‘ from the menu on the left or simply click on the network icon in the network map (Home Network in our case).

Network Devices

Image 236.3 – Visible Devices on the Network

In our case we can see some network devices, but also notice the warning that File sharing is turned off. Now, let’s try to turn off Network discovery.

 Network Discovery Turned Off

Image 236.4 – Network Discovery Turned Off

When we do that and try to see devices on our network, we won’t be able to.

 Network Devices

Image 236.5 – No Devices Since Discovery is Turned Off

The list of devices is now gone. We can click on the notification to change Network discovery back to ‘on’.

There are other things that we can do in Network and Sharing Center. We can connect to another network, set up new connection or network, manage existing network connections and troubleshoot network problems.


We can configure various network settings using Network and Sharing Center. To change the name of network, or to change network location, we can click on the Customize link. In the Sharing and Discovery section we have various options to share our resources and to secure our computer on the network. To see computers and devices on our network we can click on the ‘View computers and devices’.

Paths that are mentioned in this article
  • Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center – path to the Network and Sharing Center
  • C:\Users\user_name[\music] [\pictures] [\videos] – typical locations which are added to the Media Player’s library.

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