When you first setup a network under Windows, you are asked at one point to select a location for that network. Available for selection then are a Home Network, Work Network or Public Network. The explanations offered on the selection page are not that helpful in making an educated decision. The problem here is that the impact of the decision is not made clear.
How is Windows distinguishing between the different network types? Which features or functionality are blocked or available under each network?
Here is what the network set up screen reads:
Home network: If all computers on this network are at your home, and you recognize them, this is a trusted home network. Don't choose this for public places such as coffee shops or airports.
Work network: If all the computers on this network are at your workplace, and you recognize them, this is a trusted work network. Don't choose this for public places such as coffee shops or airports.
Public network: If you don't recognize all the computers on the network, for example, you're in a coffee shop or airport, or you have mobile broadband), this is a public network, and is not trusted
Whenever you connect to a network, a network location needs to be selected. Windows based on this selection assigns a network discovery state to the network. To make it simple: Network discovery affects if a computer can be seen and see other computers on the network.
Windows supports three different network discovery stages: On, Off or Custom.
Next to seeing and being seen in a network, network discovery handles file sharing, public folder sharing, printer sharing and media sharing in the network. Users who select the custom option can enable or disable specific sharing and discovery features.
Microsoft notes that "network discovery requires that the dnscache, fdrespub, ssdpsrv, and upnphost services are started, that the Windows Firewall exception for network discovery is enabled, and that other firewalls are not interfering with network discovery".
Network Discovery is only enabled on Home and Work networks, and not on public networks. The selection here has an impact on which services and features are available.
But what is the difference between home and work networks then, if both support network discovery? Home networks support the Homegroup feature, making it possible to create and join Homegroups if supported by the operating system edition. Work networks on the other hand cannot create or join Homegroups.
The safest choice, when it comes to networking, is the public network. But this is only the best choice if the sharing options are not needed, and if the computer does not need to be connected to (or create) a Homegroup.
You can check your current network location type under Windows 7 the following way:
Click on the start orb and select Control Panel from the Windows Start Menu. Click View Network Status and Tasks.
You see a list of all networks the computer is currently active on, and whether that network location is set to home, work or public.
You can change the network location at any time. Just click on the current location in the Network and Sharing Center listing in the Control Panel to open the Set Network Location screen again.
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