There are several ways you can connect your computers, but the main models are peer-to-peer and server-client structures. A server-client setup is usually much more costly and not necessary if you have a small home office. Peer-to-peer models make it more convenient to share files, but you generally have much less security. However, you don’t normally need to worry about security when you have a group of computers in your home. If you want to share files between your computers on a small home network, Windows has a way to manage folders without requiring you to know too much about complex networking and security.
Windows 7 and Vista come with a peer-to-peer networking solution called “HomeGroup.” You can also share folders, files and printers in the same way you could share these resources before HomeGroup. You share resources one-by-one and anyone who has access to browse your computer’s resources can connect to the folder or printer. Windows HomeGroup has a bit more security than the second method, so you have to decide if you need at least some security before you begin your setup.
Differences between Peer-To-Peer and Client-Server Architecture
- Client-Server setups are more secure with all users and hardware given access at a central server called the domain controller. Peer-to-peer networks have no central server or security set up.
- A Windows domain stops people from accessing desktops as well as the server. In a peer-to-peer network, anyone can get to the desktop and there is no server to access.
- A Windows domain server controls access to all elements of the network. With peer-to-peer networking, you set local security and each computer is responsible for its own security.
- A Windows domain or server-client network is much more scalable. As a peer-to-peer network grows, the reduction in security and disorganization can be a problem when the network gets too big.
Before You Begin
Before you begin, you need a few hardware and software settings set up. You can set up a peer-to-peer network using a hub, but most home networks have a router connecting all machines in the home. If your cable or DSL company doesn’t give you a router with Wi-Fi, then you need to set up a hub or Wi-Fi router that connects all computers on the network and then funnels traffic to the cable or DSL router. This is the general setup for most networks to allow all computers to access the Internet.
Next, you need access to all computers. Assuming this is a small home or office network, you should have access to each machine. You need access to share each folder or printer. If any computer doesn’t have access to the Wi-Fi router, you’ll need to connect them. You can also connect with a hardwire connection, but most people network machines with Wi-Fi, because it’s much more convenient. Also, you can connect your tablets and smartphones with a wireless network.
Sharing Files Across a Network with No HomeGroup
You can set up a HomeGroup, but it’s not necessary if you just want to share some folders and printers. It’s also not necessary if you never plan to allow anyone else to have access to your network. If you have several people who randomly access, you probably want to go with a HomeGroup, but let’s show you how to share a folder without the extra setup requirements.
Right-click your Windows folder and select “Properties.” Click the “Sharing” tab. Click “Share” and choose who you want to share the folder with. Click “Apply” and that’s it! You can browse your current computer from another and see this share in the list of available resources. The same goes for any file or printer you choose to share over the network.
Setting Up a HomeGroup
For a little more security and some added sharing convenience, the next peer-to-peer option is a Windows HomeGroup. You can find the settings in the Windows Control Panel. Type “HomeGroup” into the search text box to find the preferences window.
The first step is to create a HomeGroup. After it’s created, you’ll get an alphanumeric key that identifies your network. Make sure you keep track of this key. You’ll need it for your other computers. Incidentally, if Windows detects that you’re already a part of a HomeGroup or that one is already created, you’re prompted to join the HomeGroup instead.
Repeat the above steps except instead of creating a HomeGroup, join the one you just created. That’s pretty much all it takes to create a HomeGroup for you home network.
Sharing Folders and Other Resources
Now that you have the network set up, you can share your folders, printers, scanners and any other network resources. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder or other computer resource you want to share.
Notice now that you don’t need to open the properties window. Instead, you have a “Share with” option in the Windows Explorer toolbar. In the drop-down, you have the option to share with no one (Nobody), share with the HomeGroup with read or read and write access, or you can share with specific people. The people listed are also a part of the HomeGroup.
There is a significant security difference between the read access level and read and write access. With read, users can only read the content of the folder or file. They cannot edit any of the content and save it to your hard drive. This is useful if you want to share a file with network and just have them read it without accidentally changing the file content.
The next option is read and write access. This option essentially gives the user full access to the file including the ability to change the file’s content.
You can also take the added step to share with just specific people. In a small home network, you probably don’t need to take such granular security. However, it’s good if you have some people on your network that you don’t want to see or change files. For instance, if your kids use your computer, you probably don’t want them to access private financial and medical files.
Unlike a domain, you have to go computer to computer to set up your shared folders and printers. You can share your printers in the same way you share a folder with the same security options. Remember, just like folders, if you share a printer with specific people, only those people can print to your printer. If you don’t need the security, it’s probably best to just share a printer with everyone on the network to make it easier to print for everyone.
While peer-to-peer networks are not the best for security, they are very convenient for the small home or office network. If your business grows, you’ll need more effort with security, which is where a Windows domain comes in handy. However, a domain is much more expensive to run, because you need the physical hardware and server set up to run the server software. Additionally, the Windows domain software for servers and enterprise solutions are very expensive.
If you’re new to computer networking, you might want to learn from scratch, and Udemy has several online courses that can get you started with computer networking and hardware maintenance.