Tips for Troubleshooting Windows File and Printer Sharing

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This checklist describes typical issues encountered when setting up peer-to-peer file sharing on a Microsoft Windows network. Follow the steps below to troubleshoot and resolve these Windows file sharing problems. Many items in the checklist are especially crucial on networks that run multiple versions or flavors of Windows. 

Name Each Computer Correctly

On a peer-to-peer Windows network, all computers must possess unique names. Ensure all computer names are unique and each follows the Microsoft naming recommendations. For example, consider avoiding spaces in computer names: Windows 98 and other older versions of Windows will not support file sharing with computers having spaces in their name. The length of computer names, the case (upper and lower) of names and the use of special characters must also be considered.

Name Each Workgroup (Or Domain) Correctly

Each Windows computer belongs either to a workgroup or a domain. Home networks and other small LANs utilize workgroups, whereas larger business networks operate with domains. Whenever feasible, ensure all computers on a workgroup LAN have the same workgroup name. While sharing files between computers belonging to different workgroups are possible, it is also more difficult and error-prone. Similarly, in Windows domain networking, ensure each computer is set to join the correct named domain.

Install TCP/IP on Each Computer

TCP/IP is the best network protocol to use when setting up a Windows LAN. In some circumstances, it's possible to use the alternative NetBEUI or IPX/SPX protocols for basic file sharing with Windows. However, these other protocols normally don't offer any additional functionality beyond what TCP/IP provides. Their presence also can create technical difficulties for the network. It is strongly recommended to install TCP/IP on each computer and uninstall NetBEUI and IPX/SPX whenever possible.

Set up Correct IP Addressing and Subnetting

On home networks and other LANs having a single router or gateway computer, all computers must operate in the same subnet with unique IP addresses. First, ensure the network mask (sometimes called "subnet mask") is set to the same value on all computers. The network mask "" is normally correct for home networks. Then, ensure each computer possesses a unique IP address. Both the network mask and other IP address settings are found in the TCP/IP network configuration.

Verify File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks Is Installed

"File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks" is a Windows network service. This service must be installed on a network adapter to enable that computer to participate in file sharing. Ensure this service is installed by viewing the adapter's properties and verifying that a) this service appears in the list of installed items and b) the checkbox next to this service is checked in the 'on' position.

Temporarily or Permanently Disable Firewalls

The Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) feature of Windows XP computers will interfere with peer-to-peer file sharing. For any Windows XP computer on the network that needs to participate in file sharing, ensure the ICF service is not running. Misconfigured third-party firewall products can also interfere with LAN file sharing. Consider temporarily disabling (or lowering the security level of) Norton, ZoneAlarm, and other firewalls as part of troubleshooting file sharing problems.

Verify Shares Are Correctly Defined

To share files on a Windows network, ultimately one or more network shares must be defined. Share names that end with a dollar sign ($) will not appear in the list of shared folders when browsing the network (although these can still be accessed). Ensure shares have been defined on the network appropriately, following the Microsoft recommendations for share naming.