Thursday, October 21, 2010

Network Locations Explained

Posted by OurTech Team | Thursday, October 21, 2010 | Category: , , |

I will continue our series of articles on Windows 7 networking with an article about network locations. These were introduced first with Windows Vista but they somehow managed to feel half-baked and confusing. Windows 7 refines this feature quite a lot and, this time, it proves to be more useful.

In this article I will explain what network locations are, what choices the user has and how to switch between them, depending on the network you are connected to.
What is a Network Location

A network location in Windows 7 is a profile which contains a collection of network and sharing settings which get applied to the network you are connected to. Based on the network location which is assigned to your active network connection, features such as file & printer sharing, network discovery and others might be turned on or off.

These network locations are very useful to people who are very mobile and connect their computers to many networks. For example, you could use your work laptop to connect to your company network, take it home at the end of the day, connect to your home network and, during the weekend, go to a friend's place and connect to his network. Each time you connect to a new network, Windows 7 will assign a network profile. With one choice, you get the entire set of network settings correctly changed. This way you won't compromise your security and you have enabled only the network features you actually need on each network.
Network Locations: Home vs. Work vs. Public

Windows 7 allows you to choose between three types of profiles/network locations:

* Home network - choose this location when you are connected to your home network or a network with people and devices you fully trust. By default, network discovery will be turned on and you will be able to see other computers and devices which are part of the network. Also, this will allow other computers from the network to access your computer. On home networks you will be also allowed to create or join a HomeGroup.
* Work network - this profile is good when connecting to your work place network. This profile shares the same settings with Home network. The only difference is the fact that it won't allow you to create or join a HomeGroup.

Network Locations
* Public network - this profile is perfect when you are in a public place like an airport, pub or coffee shop. When this profile is used, network discovery and sharing are turned off. Other computers from the same network will not be able to see yours. This setting is also useful when your computer is directly connected to the internet (direct cable/modem connection, mobile internet, etc.).

The default settings can be changed for all profiles. To learn how to do this, check our article called How to Customize Network Sharing Settings in Windows 7. Personally, I don't recommend changing them, at least not for the Public network location. The default settings for this profile definitely give you the best security.

There's also a fourth network location profile called Domain network. This one cannot be set by a normal user. It is available for enterprise workplaces and it is set by the network administrator. Under this profile, the settings applied are the one set by your company and you cannot change them.
How to Change the Network Location

Open the Network and Sharing Center. There you will see your active networks. For each of them you will see the name and currently assigned network location. Click on the link which has the name of the current location.

Network Locations

The 'Set Network Location' wizard will now start. Choose the desired location, based on the type of the network you are connected to and the recommendations given in the previous section.

Network Locations

Windows 7 will inform you that the network location has been changed. Click on Close and you are done.

Network Locations

The network and sharing settings corresponding to your network location will now be applied.

As you can see from this tutorial, this feature is quite useful. With just a few clicks, you get to change a whole set of network settings and keep enabled only those which are useful. Personally, I like how this feature was implemented in Windows 7 and would like to know your opinion about it. Therefore, don't hesitate to leave a comment.

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