, a shared resource
or network share
is a device or piece of information on a computer that can be remotely accessed from another computer, typically via a local area network
or an enterprise Intranet
, as if it were a resource in the local machine.
Examples are shared file access (also known as disk sharing and folder sharing), shared printer access (printer sharing), shared scanner access, etc. The shared resource is called a shared disk (also known as mounted disk), shared drive volume, shared folder, shared file, shared document, shared printer or shared scanner.
A few years ago the term file sharing was for shared file access in a local network, but that is today often associated with peer-to-peer file sharing over the Internet. Shared file and printer access is typically based on the client-server paradigm, rather than such models as peer-to-peer communication or onion routing. In client-server communications, a client process on the local user computer takes the initiative to start the communication, while a server process on the file server or print server remote computer passively waits for requests to start a communication session.
A network share is typically made accessible to other users by marking any folder
or file as shared, or by changing the file system permissions
or access rights in the properties of the folder or file. The exact procedure varies by platform. In Windows XP Home Edition
operating system, shared files and folders must be placed in the Shared documents
folder, typically with the path C:Documents and SettingsAll usersShared documents
A network share can become a security liability when access to the shared files is gained (often by devious means) by those who should not have access to them. Network shares relies on a fixed network access, and would consume extensive communication capacity in non-broadband network access. Because of that, shared printer and file access is normally prohibited in firewalls from computers outside the local area network or enterprise Intranet. However, by means of virtual private networks (VPN), shared resources can securely be made available for certified users outside the local network.
Naming convention and mapping
The share can be accessed by client computers through some naming convention, such as UNC
(Universal Naming Convention) used on DOS
PC computers. This implies that a network share can be addressed according to the following:
is the WINS
name or IP address
of the server computer, and ShareName
may be a folder or file name, or its path
. The shared folder can also be given a ShareName that is different from the folder local name at the server side. For example serverc$
usually denotes a drive with drive letter C:
on a Windows machine.
A shared drive or folder is often mapped at the client PC computer, meaning that it is assigned a drive letter on the local PC computer. For example, the drive letter H: is typically used for the user home directory on a central file server.
Common file systems and protocols
Shared file and printer access require an operating system
on the client that supports access to resources on a server, an operating system on the server that supports access to its resources from a client, and an application layer
(in the four or five layer TCP/IP reference model
) file sharing protocol and transport layer
protocol to provide that shared access. Modern operating systems for personal computers
include distributed file systems
that support file sharing, while hand-held computing devices sometimes require additional software for shared file access.
The most common such file systems and protocols are:
The "primary operating system" is the operating system on which the file sharing protocol in question is most commonly used.
On Microsoft Windows, a network share is provided by the Windows network component "File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks", using Microsoft's SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. Other operating systems might also implement that protocol; for example, Samba is an SMB server running on Unix-like operating systems and some other non-MS-DOS/non-Windows operating systems such as OpenVMS. Samba can be used to create network shares which can be accessed, using SMB, from computers running Microsoft Windows.
Shared resource access can also be implemented with Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV).
Centralized and decentralized architecture
In large enterprise networks, the network share is typically a resource on a centralized file server
or printer server, made available to user client computers. In home and small office networks, a decentralized approach is often utilized, where every user may make their local resources available to others. This approach is sometimes denoted a peer-to-peer network, since the same computer may be used as client as well as server.
Difference from file transfer
Shared file access should not be confused with file transfer using the file transfer protocol
(FTP), or the Bluetooth
or IRDA OBject EXchange
(OBEX) protocol. Shared access involves automatic synchronization of folder information whenever a folder is changed on the server, and may provide server side file searching, while file transfer is a more rudimentary service.
Shared file access is normally considered as a local area network (LAN) service, while FTP is an Internet service.
Shared file access is transparent to the user, as if it was a resource in the local file system, and supports a multi-user environment. This includes Concurrency control or locking of a remote file while a user is editing it, and file system permissions.
Difference from synchronization
Shared file access involves but should not be confused with file synchronization
and other information synchronization. Internet based information synchronization may for example use the SyncML
language. Shared file access is based on server side pushing of folder information, and is normally used over an "always on" Internet socket
. File synchronization allows the user to be offline from time to time, and is normally based on an agent software that polls synchronized machines at reconnect, and sometimes repeatedly with a certain time interval, to discover differences. Modern operational systems often includes a local cache
of remote files, allowing offline access
and synchronization when reconnected.
- Michael W. Graves (2004), "The Complete Guide to Networking And Network +", Cengage Learning, ISBN:140183339X
- Michael Meyers, Scott Jernigan (2004), "Mike Meyers' A+ Guide to Operating Systems", McGraw-Hill Professional, ISBN:0072231246