In my previous blog posts
, I covered the various methods Microsoft has provided to use SharePoint as a decentralized file server. Because the documents live in the cloud, and not on a network share on a local domain, a VPN isn’t required to access the files while away from the network. In fact, all you need is a browser and an internet connection, and SharePoint takes care of the rest.
While Microsoft’s intended method for interacting with SharePoint Online is through a web browser, sometimes it is necessary to have access to the files locally on a PC, which is why most people synchronize Document Libraries to their PCs using the OneDrive for Business sync engine
As I discussed in my previous blog
, however, this sync tool is not without its own headaches and inevitable issues. So I want to wrap up this series by offering one last method of accessing files in SharePoint without having to use a web browser or
having to synchronize thousands of documents to gain access to one.
Oh Say Can You C:\
You are probably familiar with the fact that the main hard drive on your PC is labeled C:\. (Those of us old enough to remember know that A:\ and B:\ were assigned to the floppy. Mac and Linux users are confused by the need for drive letters.) Technically, if you add more hard drives (or maybe a CD/DVD drive) to your PC, it will be assigned another drive letter. But Windows also allows you to connect to a shared folder on your network, and assign it a drive letter as if it were a hard drive in your PC.
So the marketing department in your company may have a network shared folder for branding materials, and it can be mapped as the M:\ drive to all PCs in the company, so everyone has access to the current letterhead. We can use this same feature to trick the PC into connecting to a Document Library in SharePoint online and mapping it to a drive letter on your PC.
1. Launch Internet Explorer. This is a very important step, as this system won’t work in other browsers, not even the new Windows 10 browser, Edge. In Windows 10 you’ll need to search for IE by hitting the Windows key and typing in “Internet Explorer”. Once it is launched, you’ll need to log into Office 365 by visiting http://portal.office.com
2. Once you are logged in, click on the “waffle” icon in the top left of the screen and select Sites
. From here you’ll need to click on the Team Site and then navigate to the specific Document Library you wish to map.
3. Once you are in the correct Document Library, you can click the LIBRARY
tab at the top of the screen, and then click Open with Explorer
. If this option is grayed out, it’s likely because you’re using a browser other
than Internet Explorer.
4. Once File Explorer launches on your PC, click in the address bar and copy the URL to the clipboard.
5. Next, while still in File Explorer, click on This PC
, and then Map Network Drive
from the Computer tab at the top of the screen. This screenshot is in Windows 10 and may look a little different if you’re using Windows 7 or 8.
6. Pick an available drive letter from the Drive drop-down list, and then paste in the address in the Folder field, and make sure Reconnect at Sign In
is checked, and then hit OK.
7. Repeat steps 3 through 6 as for as many Document Libraries as needed.
8. The last thing to do is save a shortcut on your desktop that will launch SharePoint in Internet Explorer to re-establish credentials if you ever get logged out. Simply drag the SharePoint favicon (the icon in the address bar) from Internet Explorer to your desktop.
Of course, this method isn’t perfect. In fact, there are four main issues with mapping Document Libraries to network drives.
The first is quite obvious; you’ll need to have a persistent internet connection to access files on the network drive. If you’re on the road, or somewhere with poor internet service, you won’t be able to edit or view documents stored in SharePoint Online (hence the “online” part).
The second issue is related; if you have a slow internet connection, it will be slow navigating your folders in File Explorer. For some people, this will be barely noticeable, but for others it may be painfully slow. The third issue is that your PC only has a limited amount of letters in the alphabet available to assign to Document Libraries, so if you need to connect to more than fifteen or so, this may present a problem!
And lastly, as I mentioned above, this method relies on Internet Explorer remaining logged in to your Office 365 account. If you log out in IE, or if your log in times out after a few days, your network drives will disconnect. This problem is easily remedied, however, by simply logging back in using the desktop icon trick.