Open and shut

You can, of course, only create 20-something mapped drives – one for each letter of the alphabet, minus one for each logical drive (floppy disks, hard disks, CD and DVD drives) in your PC. Removable storage devices like USB flash drives, cameras and music players may also eat up some of the available drive letters. Say your computer has a floppy drive, two hard disks, and a CD/DVD combo drive, and you plug in a flash drive and a camera at the same time, you would need to reserve A, C, D, E, F, G and H for those devices, so you would only have 19 drive letters left to map as network drives. This should be more than enough for most people, but it is a limitation that could cause problems for some with large networks.

Open and shut

If you have written down the name and path of a file stored on a mapped drive and want to open that file again, you will need to have the same drive mapped to the same place it was when you wrote down the filename. If it is just you accessing that file and your x drive mapping was set up to reconnect every time you log on, you will probably be okay. If, however, it was only a temporary mapping, you are going to have to remember which server and share was mapped to x and then reconnect it to there before you can access the file. And if you are trying to tell someone else where to find the file, they will have to have the same drive mapping as you – if you are lucky, the network administrator will have set up login scripts to create some common mappings for this purpose.

Network Places

Just below My Computer on the Start menu on most computers running Windows XP connected to a network, you should see My Network Places. (If you do not, you can customise the Start menu by right-clicking on it and choosing Properties from the pop-up menu. The setting to show My Network Places is halfway down the list on the Advanced tab.) There are also links to My Network Places, My Computer, My Documents and so on in the Other Places group in the blue Helper bar on the left of all Explorer windows.

You can set up shortcuts to commonly used network shares and folders in your My Network Places folder, and such shortcuts can be to any share or folder on any server to which you have access. To set one up, you can use the Add Network Place Wizard or you can just drag folders from other Explorer windows into the My Network Places folder. These shortcuts will stay in your My Network Places folder until you delete them and you can create as many or as few as you like – you are not restricted to 20-odd, and unlike mapped drives you do not need to set up anything on your computer or have it set up for you by the network administrator.

Network Places refers to shared folders using UNC paths. UNC stands for Universal Naming Convention, which, when applied to files, means addressing a file via the server and share where it is stored in the format \\server\share\folder\file.ext; for example, \\opal\finance\accounts\forecast2006.xls. If you specify a UNC path to a file, you do not need any drive mappings for it to work, and it will work for all users (subject to them having the appropriate access rights), whatever drive mappings they have or have not got on their own computer.

If you write a full UNC file path in an email or document, the application you are writing in may helpfully turn what you have typed into a clickable hyperlink – if the recipient of that document/email double-clicks on such a link, that file or folder will be opened on their computer just as if they would navigated to it using an Explorer window. If there are spaces in a UNC folder or filename, it may get misinterpreted as ending at the space, but you can avoid this happening by typing a ‘less-than’ sign before the path and a ‘greater-than’ sign after it – that is, you enclose the full file path in angle brackets as in .

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