Most families own a computer this day and time. The computer is becoming a staple appliance in the home and many families are using computers to accomplish more and more tasks. Computers have become an integral part of getting things done effectively and efficiently. Many families have more than one computer, either in different rooms, or a mix of laptops and desktops. Most will find that at some point they will want to be able to share information between their computers. This leaves many with the question of How can I transfer files from one computer to another?
Some may feel that it is a daunting task to wire computers together and learn how to configure them to be able to share pictures, music, a printer, or an internet connection. Actually, if you have the ability to read and follow directions, the process of connecting multiple computers together to allow them to share files, isn’t that difficult. You will find that as you go through the steps required to make your home computers communicate, that aside from not being that difficult, you will wonder why you haven’t networked them together before now!
How will you be benefited by being able to transfer files from one computer to another?
Being able to transfer files from one computer to another will create many possibilities for you. You can share your documents that you create with other users in your home on another computer. You can copy music from one computer to another, you can have a computer designated as a server computer that acts as a central storage point to store all your documents or media files (We will get more into setting up a home server a bit later). You can share your broadband Internet connection. There are many possibilities that you can take advantage of with a home network.
STEP 1 – Cabling and Physical Hardware
To set your computers up to transfer files from one computer to another, the hardware requirements are an important first step. For the purpose of this article and tutorials we will be discussing a wired network. Many home users use a wireless connection especially for laptops. Wireless networks have their own standards and sets of terminology, however, wireless and wired networks are extremely compatible and usually work well together in a mixed and matched scenario.
Most wired networks rely on Category 5 Unshielded Twisted Pair copper cabling as the medium by which information is communicated. To setup a home network with your computers, you will need a CAT5 cable for each computer that you will be networking. Both computers also will need to have a Network Card installed.
Network Cards have an RJ-45 connector jack built in that mates with the Category 5 cable. You will easily recognize the network card. The network jack looks like an overgrown phone cable jack.
Notice in the picture of the network card what the jack looks like.
You will of course only be able to see the back of the card as the card will be installed in your computer.
Aside from the network card and the CAT5 cabling, you will need a switch. Network switches have multiple RJ-45 jack connectors built into them. They control network traffic and allow network devices to communicate with each other.
The Netgear switch is a common home network switch used to connect network devices together.
Physical Hardware – Broadband Connections
Most home computer users these days have a Broadband Internet connection of some variety. These usually fall within two categories – DSL and Cable. Satellite Internet is also becoming more of a feasible option as prices have come down considerably and many are building in areas that may not have access to DSL or cable connections.
DSL and cable connections will have a modem that interfaces with either Coax for cable Internet or an RJ-11 phone cable for DSL. The modem will have another RJ-45 connection that is used for your computer. Most home users these days use a home router of some sort that allows them to have wireless capabilities also.
A home router interfaces with the Internet connection that is live from the modem and provides some firewall capabilities as well as does what is called NAT’ing the device addresses on the internal side of things in your home. We will get more into IP addressing in the next part. the NAT (Network Address Translation) piece translates your public IP address from your Internet Service Provider to a private IP address that allows you to have multiple devices connected to one outside IP address.
So far we have:.
1) Network adapter in computer
2) Category 5 cables from the network cable in your computer to a network switch
3) An Uplink cable from the switch to the modem connection (note most switches now have an “uplink port” which can utilize a straight through cable to enable communication between devices)
STEP 2 – IP Addressing and DNS
How are different devices on a computer network distinguished from one another? Computers utilize a technology called Transport Control Protocol – Internet Protocol or TCP/IP for short. Most people just refer to a computer’s address as its “IP.” IP Addresses are much like the numbers in a phone book. Someone’s phone number is unique to them. No one else has their phone number and it defines them on the telephone network. IP Addresses are much the same. They are unique on the particular network that your network devices reside. No other computer can have that particular address.
When it comes to home networks, most people utilize the router for assigning IP addresses. The router handles this part of the work so you don’t have to worry about it. Most of the time, the IP addresses that your router assigns will be fine for home network purposes.
To check the IP address that is assigned to your computer, for Windows you can issue the ipconfig command at a command prompt. For Linux users, you can get your IP address details by using the ifconfig command.
The results from an ipconfig output will look similar to the following:
Ethernet adapter Local Area Connection 1:
Connection-specific DNS Suffix . : somedomain.com
IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . : 192.168.1.150
Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . : 255.255.255.0
Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . : 192.168.1.1
The format is always similar to the above notation. The subnet mask is also important. It tells your computer what subnetwork your computer resides on. The above subnet mask is probably the most common to home users. It is referred to as a Class C network. It is the smallest subnet and provides you with addresses from 1-255. However, two of those are not usable since the .0 address and the .255 address are reserved for the network address and broadcast address respectively.
DNS – What is it and Why is it important?
DNS or Domain Name Service is the heart of what makes the Internet work and allows most computer network users to simply be concerned with the “names” of the computers as opposed to their specific IP address. For instance when you type www.google.com you don’t want to have to know the IP address of Google, you want to just have to remember the name of the URL. This is possible because of DNS. In our analogy of the phone number where the IP address is the actual phone number, DNS is like the phone book. DNS matches the names with numbers so you don’t have to remember the numbers, you can simply look up the name and translate that name to the number you want.
STEP 3 – Getting Windows ready to share files
Starting with Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft implemented a software firewall inside the box that blocks vulnerable ports. To configure your computer to allow it to host shared files, the firewall has to be configured to allow that traffic through. Windows file sharing uses TCP ports 139 and 445 and UDP ports 137 and 138.
The Windows firewall has exceptions already built in that you can simply flag on to allow certain traffic to pass through. Once you flag “File and Printer Sharing” on, the above mentioned ports will be opened and you will be allowed to connect to that particular Windows host to copy or transfer files. Note – this only has to be done on the computer that is hosting files.
There is also a feature that will save you some headaches if you go ahead and turn this off, it is the Use Sharing Wizard feature which is on by default. The Sharing Wizard supposedly makes things easier to be able to share files, however, you can run into problems when this is on if you want to restrict your folders and files by password. It is better to turn this off and use the advanced sharing that takes its place. You can find this under Computer > Organize > Folder and Search Options > Use Sharing Wizard.
Simply uncheck this box as it is checked by default.
So to summarize where we are now:
We have talked about the physical hardware and cabling that is required to make the physical connections between devices.
IP Addresses are required to give the devices an address on your network.
DNS resolves names to IP addresses.
Windows firewall must be configured to open the ports required for file sharing.
Disable the “Use Sharing Wizard” flag in the folder options
STEP 4 – Creating a share on a computer
Now that we have Windows setup to actually host files and allow traffic through the firewall, we are at the point of actually creating the share.
To create a share in Windows, simply create a folder anywhere you would like to have the folder located. This could be the root of the CDRIVE or a subdirectory underneath another folder. Just for example purposes a folder has been created on the CDRIVE called “New Folder.”
If you “right-click” and go to the “Properties” button at the bottom of that menu you will see this dialog box. It will be titled “New folder Properties” which will be whatever you named your folder. Click on the sharing tab as you see below, and then go to “Advanced Sharing.” Then you will see the “Advanced Sharing” dialog box. Click the box to “Share this folder” and then edit the share name. This part confuses a lot of people, because they assume that a share name has to be the name of the folder. No, the share name can be ANYTHING. You are not restricted by the actual name of a folder. You could have a folder named DOG and then the share name could be CAT. Windows doesn’t care what this name is.
Next, click on permissions and then assign the “Change” permission to the Everyone Group. This will make sure that the folder is shared so that everyone will be able to access it. However, there is another set of permissions that we need to setup in order to finalize our share. This is called the NTFS permissions on the folder. So sharing controls permissions that users/groups have over the share, and the NFTS permissions control the permissions on the actual folder even if it isn’t being accessed through the network.
The security tab screenshot shows what the “Security” tab where we assign the NTFS permissions looks like. For most home shares that you will be creating you would just want “Authenticated Users” to have “Modify” permissions.
STEP 5 – Mapping Network Drives
After you have completed the hardware requirements, IP addressing, and Windows preparation, and creating your share, you are now ready to start connecting to resources on your host computer where the share resides.
There are a couple of ways to do this. You can use the GUI “Map Network Drive” tool, which is the most common way, or you can use the command line either entering commands directly or creating a batch file that does the work for you. We will start with the GUI tool.
The Map Network Drive option is available from Computer in Vista and Windows 7, then on the menu bar at the top, the “Map Network Drive” button. In Windows XP, open My Computer, click Tools on the menu bar and then “Map Network Drive. You will see the box below appear in Vista and Windows 7.
Drive – This is the drive letter that you want the networked folder to show up as. This can be any available letter that Windows shows you. You won’t see drive letters that are already in use like “C” for instance. Your letter choice here doesn’t really matter that much unless you are mapping some type of program to a specific letter that it will depend on. Most of the time, if you are just sharing files, you are good to just use a free letter.
Folder – This is where we actually tell Windows the share path to the shared folder on the hosting machine. As the example they give shows it must be in the UNC path format of \\server\share to work. Keep in mind this can also be the IP address of the computer so: \\192.168.1.150\share for example.
Reconnect at Logon – This option tells Windows that this is a share you would like to make persistent. So the next time you logon it will attempt to remap the connection.
Connect using different credentials – If you are attempting to map a drive to a share that requires a different set of credentials than the one you are currently logged in as, this option allows you to enter a different username and password to be able to map the drive.
Using the command line
In order to use the command line to map a network drive, simply open a command prompt by going to the run menu and then typing cmd.
The syntax for mapping a network drive is as follows:
net use z: \\servername\sharename /user:computername\user password
The command above will map the z drive to the fictitious computer “servername” and the share “sharename.” The /user:computername \user password section tells the host what user you are wanting to use and the password.