Windows Vista in a Nutshell: Networking

How to set up, connect to, manage and configure networks in Vista

The following article is excerpted from Windows Vista In A Nutshell with permission of O'Reilly Media Inc.

Windows Vista includes many tools, screens and features for setting up, connecting to, managing and configuring networks. This section covers all of Windows Vista's features for doing that, and it includes basic information for setting up and connecting to networks and network connections.

Change Workgroup or Domain

Change the workgroup or domain to which a PC is attached.

To open

Control Panel → [System and Maintenance] → System → Change Settings → Computer Name tab


The Networking and Internet Control Panel and the Network and Sharing Center both have one surprising shortcoming: They do not offer a way to change the workgroup or domain to which your PC is currently attached or to easily connect to a new domain or workgroup. So you may think that there is no way to perform both tasks.

In fact, though, they're both easy to do, as long as you know where to look. And you'll have to look in a surprising place—on the Computer Name tab of the System Properties dialog box (Figure 7-8). You can also reach it via Control Panel → [Network and Internet] → Network and Sharing Center → Network Discovery → Change Settings.

Figure 7-8. The System Properties dialog box, which lets you connect to a domain or workgroup and change your domain or workgroup

Click Network ID to launch a wizard that will allow you to join an existing domain or workgroup. Click Change and the dialog box shown in Figure 7-9 appears. Select either Domain or Workgroup, and enter the name of the domain or workgroup to switch to a new one.

Figure 7-9. Switching to a new domain or workgroup

Connect to a Network

Connect to a network or the Internet.

To open

Click the network icon in the System Tray → Connect or disconnect

Control Panel → [Network and Internet] → Connect to a network

Control Panel → [Network and Internet] → Network and Sharing Center → Connect to a network


Once you've set up a network connection (see "Set Up a Connection or Network" later in this chapter), use the "Connect to a network" screen (Figure 7-10) to connect to any network—wired, wireless, VPN or dial-up.

Figure 7-10. Choosing a network to which you want to connect

Connecting is straightforward: Double-click the network to which you want to connect, or highlight it and click Connect. When you're connected to a network, disconnect from it by clicking Disconnect.

This screen is primarily designed for wireless, dial-up and VPN connections. If your only connection to a network is via an Ethernet cable, you won't even get to the screen shown in Figure 7-10 when you choose to connect. Instead, you'll be told that you're already connected to the network. Want to disconnect? There's a simple, physical solution for you -- unplug your Ethernet cable.

Making the wireless connection

The "Connect to a network" screen has really been designed for wireless connections, not wired ones. It's a way to quickly and easily make a connection to a wireless network, not only when you're at home or work, but also when you're at a public hotspot.

To connect to a wireless network, click the network icon in the System Tray, and you'll see the screen shown in Figure 7-11.

Figure 7-11. Screen indicating that wireless networks are available

Screen indicating that wireless networks are available

Click "Connect to a network," and a list of all nearby wireless networks will appear, as shown in Figure 7-12. You may see multiple networks on the "Connect to a network" screen that are unfamiliar to you. That's because Windows Vista finds any wireless networks within range. For each wireless network, in addition to seeing the name of the network, you'll also see whether it is secure and protected by encryption, or unsecured. At the far right of the listing for each network, you'll also see the strength of the network's wireless signal. For more details about any network, hover your mouse over it. You'll be shown, for example, whether the network is 802.11b, 802.11g or some other Wi-Fi standard.

Figure 7-12. Browsing through the list of available networks

To connect to a network, highlight it and click Connect. If it's not protected by encryption, you'll see a warning. If you want to connect anyway, click Connect Anyway. Once you make the connection, you'll be asked whether you want to save the network, and if so, whether you want to connect to it automatically whenever you're in range (Figure 7-13). If it's a network to which you often connect, it's a good idea to save it and connect to it automatically. Later on, you'll also be able to manage this wireless network, if you save it now. (For details, see "Manage Wireless Networks" later in this chapter.)

Figure 7-13. Configuring the network to connect automatically

Next, a screen appears, asking you what type of settings should be applied to the network—whether it is a home, work, or public location (see Figure 7-14). This will determine the kind of security that will be applied to the network; home and work network connections require less security than public connections.

Figure 7-14. Choosing the type of network

Choose which type of network it is (you can always change this later; see the upcoming section, "Manage Wireless Networks"). You're now connected, and you can use the network.

Manage Network Connections: \windows\system\ncpa.cpl

Configure and manage your network connections.

To open

Control Panel → [Network and Internet] → Network and Sharing Center → Manage network connections

Command prompt → ncpa.cpl


Manage Network Connections (Figure 7-15) is actually a specialized folder that lists and provides details about all of your network connections, and lets you configure and manage them. Click any network connection and a toolbar appears that lets you take a variety of actions on the connection, including connecting it, disabling the network device, renaming the connection, viewing the status of the connection, changing the connection's settings and diagnosing problems with the connection.

Figure 7-15. Manage Network Connections, a specialized folder that lets you configure and manage all your network connections

You can also right-click any connection to perform several of those tasks, or delete the connection, rename it, and create a shortcut to it.

The folder is also useful for bridging separate networks. When you do this, you allow data to be transferred between two (or more) different networks. In effect, a bridge turns your computer into a hub of sorts, but with the advantage of allowing you to combine two otherwise incompatible networks. Select at least two connection icons, right-click, and select Bridge Connections to create a network bridge between the connections.


  • You can't bridge any network connection that Internet Connection Sharing is using to share an Internet connection with several PCs.

  • You can create only one network bridge on your PC, but you can add multiple networks to a single bridge.

See also

"Manage Wireless Networks"

Manage Wireless Networks

Configure and manage wireless networks.

To open

Control Panel → [Network and Internet] → Network and Sharing Center → Manage wireless networks


Many people regularly connect to more than one wireless network—one at home, one at work, and possibly more than one public hotspot. When you create a wireless connection, you have the option of saving that network as a connection; any networks that you've saved will show up on the Manage Wireless Networks screen (Figure 7-16).

Figure 7-16. Managing multiple wireless networks

Manage and configure your networks using the toolbar. Clicking Add will let you add a new network—either within or outside your wireless range. If it's inside your wireless range, follow the usual steps for adding a wireless connection. (See "Connect to a network," earlier in this chapter, for details.) If it's outside your wireless range, you can manually create a network profile so that the next time you're near that network, you can automatically connect to it. To do this, you'll need to know the network name (SSID), and its security key if it uses security. You can also create an ad hoc network, a temporary direct connection with another nearby wirelessly equipped PC, rather than with an access-point-based network.

The network list shows you the order in which Windows Vista will attempt to connect. So if you have two or more networks within range of each other, move your preferred network to the top of the list, your least preferred network to the bottom, and so on. To move a network up and down the list, highlight it and choose either "Move up" or "Move down."

Click "Adapter properties" to launch the Wireless Network Connection Properties dialog box, which lists all the services and protocols associated with a network and lets you add, configure or remove more protocols and services. (See the next section, "Network Connection Properties (Includes Wired and Wireless Connections)," for details.)

Profile Types lets you choose whether the networks can be accessed by anyone using the PC, or whether you want to allow each user to create her own connections. By default, all accounts can access the networks. If you change that to a per-user basis, the PC may lose network connectivity when users log off or when switching user accounts.

See also

"Manage Network Connections"

Network Connection Properties (Includes Wired and Wireless Connections)

Configure network services associated with a network connection.

To open

Control Panel → [Network and Internet] → Network and Sharing Center → View Status → Properties


The Network Connection Properties screen (Figure 7-17) lists all the installed protocols and services associated with a network connection (both wired and wireless). It provides you with basic information about your wireless connection to help with troubleshooting, and it helps you configure your network and its connection. You can selectively choose which protocols and services are supported by any specific connection by using the checkboxes in the list.

Figure 7-17. The Network Connection Properties screen, which lists all the services and protocols associated with a network connection

The Network Connection Properties screen, which lists all the services and protocols associated with a network connection

If you need to add support for a protocol or service not shown on the list, click Install to add it. If a protocol or service is shown but you're certain it's not used by any of your connections, you can uninstall it by clicking Uninstall. If you install or uninstall a protocol or service, the change will take effect for all existing connections.

Probably the most useful button, however, is Properties. Depending on the service or protocol currently selected, Properties allows you to set many of the advanced options for a connection. The following list shows common services and protocols available in Windows Vista:

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