Share files and printers across your network

Published Date
22 - Feb - 2007
| Last Updated
22 - Feb - 2007
Share files and printers across your network

Step 1: Getting started
Now that you have a computer for nearly every room, can a printer for every PC be far behind?

Though sharing broadband is the primary purpose of a home network, sharing files and printers is equally useful. Even if you have more than one printer for different purposes--say, a laser for fast text printing and an inkjet for photos--all of your computers can have access to any one of them. Best of all, it doesn't matter which operating system the computers are running, and you don't need a network printer. Here's how to set it all up.

Step 2: What you'll need

Before you get started with this project, we recommend that you have the following:

  • Home network
  • Printer server (if your printer is network-capable)
  • Printer
Step 3: Create a workgroup

Each computer in a workgroup must have a unique name, but the workgroup name must remain consistent.
Before you can interact with the other computers in your home, you need to create a workgroup--essentially, a group of computers connected to one another over a network. Here's how to do it.

  • 1. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel > Network Connections > "Set up a home or small office network."
  • 2. When asked for a connection method, choose "This computer connects to the Internet through another computer on my network or through a residential gateway."
  • 3. Unless you're networking only Windows XP systems, choose "Create a network setup disk" when prompted. This creates a floppy you can use to run the wizard on non-XP systems if you have any on your network.

Now run the wizard on each additional system on your network. On non-XP systems, browse the floppy and run the file netsetup.exe. When configuring each system, assign each computer a different name, but use the same workgroup name. It can be any name you desire. Now that you've created a workgroup, you can begin sharing files and folders among the computers.

Step 4: Allow file sharing
You can elect which files or folders to share on each computer, but only the individual user who has administrative privileges can apply the settings. To check who has these privileges, go to Start > Settings > Control Panel > User Accounts. If you're the only user, then you're the Administrator.

To share a specific folder, right-click its icon in My Computer and select Sharing And Security. Click the Sharing tab and select Share This Folder. After you give the folder a name, all the computers in your workgroup can see its contents.

By default, users will have read-only access to these files and won't be able to save any changes or create new files of their own. To let users make changes to the files, right-click a file, select Sharing And Security, then the Sharing tab, and this time hit Permissions. In the new window, check Full Control, Change, or Read.

Selecting Full Control lets users in your workgroup modify or delete shared files.

Step 5: Share a network printer
Enabling printer sharing can be almost as easy, depending on your hardware. If you have a network printer, just follow the network setup instructions that came with the printer.

If your printer is network-capable but you never splurged for its print server, peruse the manufacturer's Web site for an external or internal print server for your model. The HP JetDirect EW2400, for instance, is compatible with any of HP's network-capable USB printers.

If you can't find a compatible print server, don't worry; most third-party print servers work with any printer, as long as both devices share either a USB or parallel port. Connect the print server between your router's Ethernet port and your printer.

Print servers such as the HP JetDirect EW2400 let you share a printer across a network.
If you have a Wi-Fi network, you can also buy a wireless print server, which connects via USB or parallel port to your printer and to your router wirelessly. It's a little trickier to configure, but it lets you put the printer and print server anywhere you want within range of the router.

Step 6: Share a standalone printer
Unless your home doubles as an office, it's doubtful you have a network printer, and that's OK, too, because you can share a standalone printer across a network as long as the computer it's connected to is part of the workgroup you set up earlier. The best part: You don't have to spend a dime on any additional equipment.

Just go to Control Panel > Printers And Faxes, select the printer you want to share, and, on the File menu, click Sharing. (If you're adding a new printer, the Add Printer wizard lets you set up sharing.)

You don't have to change the name of the printer, as long as it's different from the names of the other devices in the workgroup and the workgroup name itself. If you do change it, give it a name that makes it easy to identify, such as the manufacturer name or location. But keep in mind that you'll now see both names listed when you print from the computer it's attached to. It doesn't matter which one you choose. Other computers will see only the share name.

Print servers such as the HP JetDirect EW2400 let you share a printer across a network.

Step 7: Add the printer to the other PCs
Now you can give the other printers in the group access to the shared printer, but each computer must use the drivers for its own operating system. First, make sure the printer and the PC it's attached to are on. Then start the Add Printers wizard, which you'll find under Printer Tasks in Printers And Faxes.

Within the wizard, select "A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer," then browse to the shared printer and select it. When you're done, you'll be able to print to the shared printer from any of the computers in the workgroup the same way you would to a local printer.

You need to run the Add Printer wizard on each computer before it can recognize the shared printer.
If you have a Wi-Fi network, your shared files and printers are only as safe as your whole network is. Ensure that your Wi-Fi network is properly protected behind a firewall. For extra security, make sure any server or printer you add supports Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) encryption, and be sure to add the device's Media Access Control (MAC) address to the list in your router's security settings.

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