Become a Network Guru in 10 Easy Steps
Part 3—Network Software: Sharing Files (and feelings) With Others
Errata From Last Month’s Article
A portion of the Performa model listing from last month’s article was in error. The Performa models 6205, 6210, 6214, 6216, 6218, 6220, 6230, 6260, 6290, and 6300 should be listed as having Comm Slot and LC PDS slots, rather than Comm Slot II and PCI slots. Sorry about the confusion. For an updated list, check out this page.
We check out the most common use for computer networks, sharing access to one or more files among multiple computers. We also profile the different pieces of software that you use to configure and control Macintosh File Sharing.
Before We Begin
Since computer networking involves some of the “under the hood” features of your Mac, it helps to know something about controlling its basic functions (the system software). System software, including the networking software, resides primarily in the System Folder of your hard drive. Just because your Mac turns on, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ready to use a network. The networking functions are a specialized part of the system software that you may need to install or enable before you’re ready to go. Installing software involves inserting the System disks or Mac OS CD-ROM that came with your Mac and running one or more of the Installer programs found there. Enabling networking software involves opening the Extensions Manager control panel and making sure the network-related control panels and extensions are turned on. If you haven’t used the Extensions Manager or a system software installer before, familiarize yourself with them in case you need to them to add software referred to later in this article. After enabling or installing software, make sure to restart your Mac. Another way of installing network-related software, the Network Software Installer application, is in the Software Updates section of the Apple.com site. Search for it by name and download the most recent version. This is especially useful for owners of older Macs who don’t have the original system disks anymore.
What is File Sharing?
File Sharing is the process of making Mac files available to a network for opening, editing, or any other purpose. While it’s technically called File Sharing, it might be more accurately called folder sharing, since you actually make a folder (or hard disk) available to the network, rather than individual files. Sharing files on a network serves a number of purposes. It allows everyone to work with the same file, so you don’t end up with out-of-date copies. It’s also easy to make backups. A single file only resides on one computer, saving space on the others.
For whatever reason you want to share files with your networkers-in-arms, the process is fairly straightforward: decide which files you want to share, put them in a folder (new or extant), and choose the Sharing... command. In Mac OS 8.5 and later versions, Sharing... is in the submenu of Get Info. In 8.1 or earlier versions, it’s in the File menu. You can share documents or applications, although sharing an application on the network puts quite a strain on your own Mac when someone uses the application remotely, so is typically something to avoid. Although the general process of sharing files is simple, there is a supporting cast of software to handle the picky details. The rest of this article profiles this software, including where you’ll find it and how to use it. (All control panels, for example, are found in the Control Panels folder in the Apple menu.) If a given piece of software isn’t where you expect it to be, you may need to enable it or reinstall your networking software.
AppleTalk (or Network) Control Panel
This control panel selects the port your Mac will use for its network connection. All currently available choices (such as Ethernet, printer port, etc.) will appear here. While all Macs using at least Mac OS 7.6 will have the AppleTalk control panel, some Macs with 7.5.5 and below will use the Network control panel. Both control panels serve the same purpose.
Technical Note: If your connection list is missing a networking option that it should have (such as Ethernet), it probably means that the proper Ethernet software isn’t installed or enabled. If you’re using Ethernet on your Mac through an added adapter (such as a PCI or Nubus card), you may need additional software specific to your Ethernet adapter to make it work. Check with the card’s manufacturer (usually their Web site) to obtain this software (also known as a driver).
Installed in your Apple menu by default, you use the Chooser to select the active printer and (more significantly for our purposes) browse any servers on the network. Until the release of Mac OS 8.5 (with the Network Browser), the Chooser was the primary method of network access. The Mac OS file sharing software includes the AppleShare extension, which places an AppleShare icon in the Chooser. When you select this icon, your Mac searches the network for file servers and lists them in the right hand window. To access one of them, just double-click on its name and enter your name and password (if required). You can also enable and disable AppleTalk from the Chooser, using the provided buttons.
File Sharing Control Panel
You access the primary file sharing functions (on/off and name/password) from this control panel. For inquiring minds who want to know, the Program Linking feature is for programs with special built-in network features, such as a spreadsheet that retrieves data from elsewhere on the network. It doesn’t refer to the ability to directly open programs on other Macs, which is part of File Sharing. In Mac OS 8.0 and up, this control panel can also monitor connection activity, should your computer have shared files. Earlier OS versions allow monitoring from the File Sharing Monitor control panel instead.
Over time, using the Chooser to access shared files became somewhat cumbersome as the Mac OS interface changed. Included in Mac OS 8.5 and higher, the Network Browser allows you to look at the available shared computers and files in a more “Finder-like” way. You can create lists of servers for later use or drag individual items to the desktop to create an icon for direct access.
Users & Groups Control Panel
If you plan to share files from your Mac, you’ll need to create an account for people who will be accessing it, or at least enable the Guest account (which is anonymous and will allow anyone on your network to access your shared files). Creating an account entails giving the account a name and password, which someone will need to enter when they access your shared files. You can also create a Group of accounts to manage many accounts under a single name (for example, to give the Marketing department access to a specific group of files).
Tying it all together
At this point you may ask yourself, “Self, how do I combine all this information into a coherent whole that gets me started sharing files?” I’m glad I asked.
- Install and enable your networking software.
- Open the Chooser and enable AppleTalk.
- Open the AppleTalk/Network control panel and select the network port.
- Open the File Sharing control panel, and enter your name. Your name becomes the “owner” of the Mac. Newer versions of the Mac OS ask for this information as part of the installation process, so there may already be a name here.
- Choose a password. If you access a networked Mac using the owner’s name and password, it gives you complete access to that Mac’s files (unless otherwise specified in step #9).
- Choose a network name for your Mac. When your Mac appears in a list of file servers, it will use the name you choose. Close the File Sharing control panel.
- Open the Users & Groups control panel, open the Guest icon, and check the box that lets Guests access your Mac.
- Select (or create) a folder to share and select the Sharing... command to share it. In Mac OS 8.5 and later versions, Sharing... is in the submenu of Get Info. In 8.1 or earlier versions, it’s in the File menu.
- Give everyone Read access to the folder, then close the access window.
Now, when another Mac looks at the network through the Chooser or Network Browser, your Mac will appear. When someone opens it (with an account name and password or Guest access), they’ll see the contents of the shared folder. As many as ten different network users can access your computer at a time and a single user can access as many as ten different Macs at a time. To remove (or “unmount”) a networked Mac, just go to the Finder and drag the icon to the trash.
Frequently Asked Questions about File Sharing
Q Is there any way around the ten-user limits on viewing or sharing files?
A Not that I’m aware of, although you can work around this somewhat by moving some of the shared files to another Mac, thus increasing the number of servers.
Q Can I share files between different system versions? Like 7.1 and 8.5?
A Yes, you can share files between Macs with any system version past 6.0.
Q How do I share files between Macs and PCs?
A The short story is Macs and PCs can’t “talk” directly to each other, so you need to get software to translate for them. The most used are Miramar Systems’ PC MacLAN and Thursby’s TSSTalk or DAVE. The long story will be addressed in a later article.
Also in This Series
- Mac to Windows: Troubleshooting the “No Logon Servers Available” File Sharing Error · October 2004
- Using WEP Security on an AirPort Network · July 2004
- Whatever happened to…Threemacs.com? · September 2003
- Clandestine Wireless Networking and MacStumbler · July 2003
- Learning to Share With Others: Sharing Preferences Overview · April 2003
- Serving Files Using FTP in Mac OS X · December 2002
- Switching Between Networks in Mac OS X · November 2002
- The Audio/Video Quadras (660av, 840av) · September 2002
- Thoughts on Apple’s Xserve · July 2002
- Complete Archive