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What is a Network Drive?

A network drive, also referred to as a mapped drive, is a server share, network access server, or storage device that is connected to another computer or network, such as a LAN (local area network). For instance, when utilising a corporate network, users can access company or customer information via a network drive. A network drive functions similarly to a local disc drive in that it may be accessed, but it transports data from a remote computer to a local machine over a network connection.

What is a Network Drive?

A network drive is a shared storage device in a local area network (LAN) at home or the office. Users are able to store and access files from numerous devices linked to the same network using this device, which can be actual or virtual.

In an enterprise setting, the network drive is frequently found on a server, storage area network (SAN), or network-attached storage (NAS) device. It might also be hosted by a cloud storage platform like Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Storage Gateway, or Microsoft OneDrive. The network drive is typically found on a networked computer, dedicated server, NAS device, or external hard disc in a home environment.

What is a Network Drive?

SANs, or specialist, high-speed networks that permit access to storage devices, are hardly utilized in residential networks due to their complexity and high cost. Small and medium-sized organizations (SMBs) frequently use the same factors to choose NAS equipment. SANs provide more functionality and storage space but frequently need a certified administrator.

Many people now utilize cloud storage services like Dropbox due to the popularity of cloud computing and the rise in the number of people working from home.

Drives that are local, networked, and mapped

Drives come in the form of local, network, and mapped drives. They all differ in some ways, though.

A local drive is any internal or external disc connected to your computer. Even though they could be shared, by default, only the computer's owner has access to these CDs. Below is an example of a local drive path for the Windows directory on the C: drive (the primary hard disc).

Any drive that can only be accessed through a network is a network drive. The network disc can only be accessed with the help of entering the path if it still needs to be mapped (more on that below). A network path on a Windows PC might resemble the illustration below. In the illustration, "assist" refers to a shared folder on the server with "peace" as the server name.

A networked drive, given a drive letter, is a mapped drive. We could map a network disc to Windows' H: drive. After the drive has been mapped, users will notice an H: drive that resembles all other drives on your computer when viewing the list of accessible drives. Opening the network path would require access to the H: drive.

How can one access a network drive?

  • Utilising file access protocols like Network File System (NFS) or Common Internet File System (CIFS), a network drive can be accessed similarly to a local disc drive. CIFS can only transfer files between Windows systems; NFS can transmit files across Windows, Unix, and Linux systems.
  • To access the files on the network drive, a user must have the necessary rights. Therefore, managing access privileges for various users is necessary, independent of the type of network drive being used. Either the network drives itself, or the server that manages the drive is where the access policy is established.
  • A network drive can only be accessed using the network path, which is a string that consists of the network path of the storage device followed by the path to the desired file, for example, servernamesharedfolder unless the network drive has been mapped. The network drive's path is determined by the server's configuration of the network drive.

How does mapping a network drive work?

Making a disc available to other network users is what is meant by "mapping" a drive. It entails mapping data on a computer, such as files, folders, or a full storage drive. Also, mapping can be done for OneDrive or other cloud storage folders.

The storage device's network route is given a local name through mapping, where the local name adheres to local drive naming rules. For instance, a drive letter like E can map a network drive on a Windows PC. Users and programs can access files on the shared drive by prefixing the path name of the files with E once the network drive has been mapped. Furthermore, drive mapping must be done on each device using the network drive while access control is configured on each network drive or a central server.

What are a network drive's benefits?

The benefits of utilising a network drive over a local drive are listed below.

  • Many users can access the files on a network drive.
  • The persons you want to be able to read or edit the files can be specified using permissions.
  • They are simpler to back up and mirror because network drives serve as a central storage location.
  • Adding storage may be simpler with the help of NAS and SAN (storage area network) technologies.

What drawbacks does a network drive have?

Even though network drives have more benefits than drawbacks, some are given below.

  • A network is required for network drives. All files on the network disc are inaccessible if your network goes down.
  • There is a higher chance of accidental deletion, modification, hacking, or infection in a central area with many users.
  • The drive's data might be copied or moved to another location by anyone accessing the disc.

How to use Windows to map a network drive

Users can easily access shared network files and folders by mapping a network disc. Depending on the OS being used, there are different steps for mapping a network drive.

Follow these steps to map a network disc on a Windows 10 computer:

  1. Click on This PC in Windows File Explorer after launching it from the taskbar or Start menu.
  2. Select Map network drive in the toolbar at the top of the screen.
  3. Choose the drive letter for the network folder that has to be mapped from the drop-down option.
  4. Select the appropriate network folder from the list of directories that appears after clicking Browse. You can also enter the shared network folder's path here, for example, hostnamesharename, where hostname denotes the network device's name or IP address, and sharename denotes the shared network folder's name.
  5. At sign-in, choose the Reconnect checkbox. File Explorer now shows the mapped drive.

What distinguishes cloud storage from a network drive?

Thanks to the widespread popularity of cloud storage services, users can now easily share data and applications from virtually any location, not restricted to those with a local area network (LAN) connection. However, in cases where all users of networked devices are essentially part of the same LAN, often facilitated by a virtual private network (VPN), some small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and home users opt for network drives.

While network drives and cloud storage share similar purposes, they exhibit several notable distinctions:

Storage Location:

  • A network drive is a storage device directly connected to a local network and is typically assigned a specific letter or path within the computer file system. These network drives can be found within a workplace or on a private network established for a specific user group.
  • On the other hand, cloud storage operates quite differently. It offers customers access to remote storage space hosted on distant servers maintained by third-party cloud storage providers like AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure. This remote storage is accessible from any device with an internet connection. Common applications of cloud storage include collaboration, file sharing, and remote data backup.


  • Organizations that maintain and control their own network infrastructure and require regular access to shared files often rely on network drives for data access and sharing.
  • Conversely, cloud storage is accessible from any location with an internet connection. This makes it an excellent choice for distributed teams or individuals who need access to their data from various locations.

Privacy and Control:

  • Network drives can be used to create a private cloud environment, affording greater data privacy and control over data management and access policies. This level of control might not be achievable through external cloud providers.

Setup and Maintenance:

  • Users employing network drives are responsible for configuring the hardware, connecting devices to the network, and managing any necessary maintenance or upgrades.
  • In contrast, cloud storage requires minimal setup beyond installing the necessary applications on the devices.

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