Network locations were first introduced in Windows Vista. At that time, they somehow managed to feel half-baked and confusing to users. They were improved in Windows 7 and later on in Windows 8. Now they have a simple implementation and they are a very useful way to manage network connections and network sharing. Let’s learn together what they are, how they work and why they are useful.
What is a Network Location in Windows
A network location is a profile that includes a collection of network and sharing settings that get applied to the network you are connected to. Based on the network location assigned to your active network connection, features such as file & printer sharing, network discovery and others might be turned on or off.
These network locations (or profiles if you would like to call them that way) are useful to people who are very mobile and connect their computers to many networks. For example, you could use your work laptop to connect to your company network, take it home at the end of the day, connect to your home network and, during the weekend, travel and connect to free Wi-Fi’s in hotels and coffee shops.
Each time you connect to a new network, Windows will ask you to assign a network profile. With this choice, you set the network and sharing settings that are appropriate for that network connection. This help you maintain the security of your system and turn on network and sharing features only when they are useful to you.
Network Locations in Windows 7: Home vs Work vs Public
Windows 7 allows you to choose between three types of profiles/network locations:
- Home network - choose this location when you are connected to your home network or a network with people and devices you fully trust. By default, network discovery will be turned on and you will be able to see other computers and devices which are part of the network. Also, this will allow other computers from the network to access your computer. On home networks you will be also allowed to create or join a HomeGroup.
- Work network- this profile is good when connecting to the network from your workplace. This profile shares the same settings with Home network. The only difference is the fact that it won't allow you to create or join a HomeGroup.
- Public network - this profile is perfect when you are in a public place like an airport, pub or coffee shop. When this profile is used, network discovery and sharing are turned off. Other computers from the same network will not be able to see yours. This setting is also useful when your computer is directly connected to the internet (direct cable/modem connection, mobile internet, etc).
The default settings can be changed for all profiles. To learn how to do this, check our article named How to Customize Network Sharing Settings in Windows 7. Personally, I don't recommend changing them, at least not for the Public network location. The default settings for this profile give you the best security.
There's also a fourth network location profile named Domain network. This one cannot be set by a normal user. It is available for enterprise workplaces and it is set by the network administrator. The settings applied to this profile are those set by your company and you cannot change them.
Network Locations in Windows 8: Private vs Public
Windows 8 further simplifies the concept of network locations, reducing them to only two choices:
- Private network - This profile should be applied to your home network or to the network from your workplace. When this profile is assigned to a network connection, network discovery is turned on, file and printer sharing are turned on and homegroup connections are allowed.
- Public network - This profile is also named Guest. It is the more secure of the two because network discovery is turned off as well as file and printer sharing. This profile should be used when connecting to public networks you don’t trust, like those found in airports, coffee shops, bars, hotels, etc.
There's also a third network location profile named Domain network. This one cannot be set by a normal user. It is available for enterprise workplaces and it is set by the network administrator. The settings applied to this profile are those set by your company and you cannot change them.
How to Change the Network Location in Windows 7
Open the Network and Sharing Center. There you will see your active network connections. For each of them, Windows 7 displays their name and assigned network location. Click on the link with the name of the network connection you want to edit.
The "Set Network Location" wizard is now opened. Choose the new location, based on the type of the network you are connected to and the recommendations shared by us earlier in this article.
Windows 7 will inform you that the network location has been changed.
Click on Close and you are done.
How to Change the Network Location in Windows 8
The procedure for changing the network profile is different in Windows 8. You can no longer change it from the Network and Sharing Center. Open the Settings charm. If you are not familiar with the charms concept, read this tutorial: Introducing Windows 8: What are the Charms?.
On the bottom, there is a section with many buttons. The first button on the top left shows the name of the network you are connected to. In my case it is named Network. Click or tap this button.
This opens the list of networks available in your area. If you are connected to the network via cable, only one connection is listed as available - the active one. If you have virtualization software installed, you might also see some virtual network connections being displayed.
If you are connected via wireless, you will see the active network connection as well as other wireless networks available in your area.
Another way to open the list of networks is to go to the Desktop and click or tap the Network icon found in the notification area of your taskbar.
If you are on a tablet or a laptop, this icon will be a Wi-Fi icon.
Let's get back to the Networks list: right click or press and hold your active network connection. A menu is displayed with several options, depending on the network type.
Click or tap "Turn sharing on or off" (the only option common to both wired and wireless networks). For wired networks you will see less options being displayed din the contextual menu.
You are asked if you want to turn on sharing between PCs and connect to devices on this network.
Selecting "No, don’t turn on sharing or connect to devices" is the equivalent of applying the Public profile. Selecting "Yes, turn on sharing and connect to devices" is the equivalent of applying the Private profile.
Make your choice and the appropriate settings are applied.
Network locations are a useful feature of Windows 7 and Windows 8. With only a few clicks or taps, you change the whole set of network sharing settings applied to the active network connection. If you have any more questions about how it works of if you encounter problems when working with this feature, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.