Computers on a network can be part of a workgroup or a domain. The difference between them is how resources are managed on the network. While domains are fit for enterprise networks, home networks and small business networks can work very well using a workgroup. In this article we will explain what is a workgroup, what's different about it when compared to a network domain, how to access the workgroup setting and how to change the workgroup, both in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.
What is a Workgroup? How is it Different from a Network Domain?
Workgroups are small peer-to-peer local area networks, where each computer has its own set of rules and settings, managed by administrator of that device. As a result, workgroups are used mostly in home or small-business networks. In order to easily access another computer from the same network and share resources with it, both computers must be part of the same workgroup. Also, you need to have a user account defined on the computer you want to access. If you want to avoid that, users can share resources from their computers and set them so that they don't require authentication from others. If you need some help with that, read this guide: How to Share Libraries & Folders with the Sharing Wizard in Windows.
The workgroup name cannot use the following characters: /\ [ ] " : ; | + = , ? * _ (caret, square brackets, quotation marks, colon, semicolon, pipe, less-than, greater-than, plus, equals, comma, question mark and underscore). Also, the workgroup name cannot have more than 15 characters and Windows will not allow you to type more than that. However, the workgroup name can include spaces.
In contrast, domains are used in big networks that include servers alongside desktop computers, laptops, network printers and many other devices. In network domains, everything is managed and configured by the network administrator(s). The domain has a standard set of rules and settings that apply to all network computers and devices. In order to access a computer from a domain, you don't need a user account defined on that specific computer. You need a user account created for that domain, assigned to you by the network administrator. Therefore, you can log to any computer from the domain, using the same domain user account.
How to Access the Workgroup Settings in Windows 7 & Windows 8.1
Viewing the currently assigned workgroup is done from the same location, both in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.
The old-school way is to go to "Control Panel -> System and Security -> System".
There you will find a section named "Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings". It has an entry named Workgroup, displaying the current workgroup for your Windows computer or device. If you press on Change settings, you will be able to change the workgroup that is set for your device.
Alternatively, you can use search: on the Windows 8.1 Start screen, type the word workgroup and click or tap "Change workgroup name"
In Windows 7, go to the Start Menu and search using the word workgroup. Click "Change workgroup name".
How to Change the Workgroup in Windows 7 & Windows 8.1
Next, let's learn how to change the existing workgroup for a new one. The procedure is the same in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. In this guide we are using screenshots from Windows 8.1.
In the System window, click or tap "Change settings" or use the other methods we mentioned in the previous section for accessing the System Properties window.
The System Properties window opens. In the Computer Name tab, click or tap the Change button.
The "Computer Name/Domain Changes" window opens. In the Workgroup field, type the name of the workgroup you want to join and click or tap OK.
You will receive a welcome note, informing you of this change. Click or tap OK.
Now you are notified that you must restart your computer in order for the changes to be applied. Click or tap OK.
You are back to the System Properties window. On the bottom of the window, you will see a note, reminding you that the computer must be restarted in order for the workgroup change to take effect. Click or tap Close.
Windows asks if you want to restart your computer now or later. Before you click or tap Restart Now, close any applications or work that you have opened.
After the computer is restarted, it will join the newly assigned workgroup and it will be able to interact with other computers and devices that are part of the same workgroup.
As you can see, changing the workgroup in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 is not complicated. Having a different workgroup on the computers that make up your network is, most often, the root cause of many networking issues. With a simple change they can be solved and you can easily share folders, libraries and devices.
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