What is a Mapped Drive?

Definition of a Mapped Drive

Illustration of a man and woman each using a computer device and accessing information in the cloud
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What is a Mapped Drive?

A mapped drive is just a shortcut to a drive that's physically located on a different computer.

The shortcut on your computer looks just like one for a local hard drive (like the C drive) with its own letter assigned to it, and opens as if it were, but all the files in the mapped drive are actually physically stored on another computer.

A mapped drive is similar to a shortcut you may have on your desktop, like one used to open a picture file in your Pictures folder, but is instead used to access something from a different computer.

Mapped drives can be used to reach resources on a different computer on your local network, as well as files on a website or FTP server.

Local Drives vs Mapped Drives

A file stored locally on your computer may look something like C:\Project_Files\template.doc, where a DOC file is stored inside a folder on your C drive.

To give other people on your network access to this file, you would share it, making it accessible through a path like this: \\FileServer\Shared\Project_Files\template.doc (where "FileServer" is the name of your computer).

To make it even easier to access the shared resource, you could have others create a mapped drive to your computer using the above path, like P:\Project_Files, making it look identical to a local hard drive or USB device when on that other computer.

In this example, the user on the other computer could simply open P:\Project_Files to have access to all the files in that folder instead of having to browse through a large collection of shared folders to find the files they want.

Advantages of Using Mapped Drives

Because mapped drives provide the illusion of data being stored locally on your computer, it's perfect for storing large files, or large collections of files, somewhere else that has more hard drive space.

For example, if you have a small tablet computer that you use a lot, but have a desktop computer on your home network with a much bigger hard drive, storing files in a shared folder on the desktop PC, and mapping that shared location to a drive letter on your tablet, gives you access to far more space than you would otherwise have access to.

Some online backup services support backing up files from mapped drives, which means you can back up data not only from your local computer but also any file you're accessing through a mapped drive.

Another benefit to mapped drives is that multiple people can share access to the same files. This means files can be shared among co-workers or family members without the need to send emails back and forth when they're updated or changed.

Limitations of Mapped Drives

Mapped drives depend entirely on a working network. If the network is down, or your connection to the computer that's serving the shared files isn't working properly, you won't have access to whatever is being stored via the mapped drive.