Editorial note: After publishing this post, a lot of people have complained to me that this is simply bad practice. I disagree. Here’s why.
SharePoint offers some great functionality improvements over using your hard drive, a shared drive, or a flash drive to store files—think version history, metadata, permissions, co-authoring, alerts, and the like—but I’ll be the first to admit that I do love me some easy access to my files via my File Explorer.
File Explorer provides a simpler, more convenient, and frankly more comfortable experience when bouncing around between storage locations. And luckily for me (and many people I’ve worked with), we can access our SharePoint content through File Explorer, too.
By using SharePoint to store our stuff, and File Explorer to access it more easily, we get the best of both worlds. There’s a small hurdle in the setup process, but it’s so worth it. Here’s how.
Map your library as a network drive
You’ll need to have at least Visitor/read access to the library to map the drive, in case that wasn’t already obvious. Once you get to that point, here are your steps.
1. Using Internet Explorer or Edge, browse to the SharePoint library you want to map to as a drive. This process will not work in Chrome or Firefox.
2. In the Ribbon, click the Library tab > Open with Explorer.
3. Mouse over the folder path at the top of the Explorer window. Click to the right of the library name. The path turns into a web address and highlights. Right click and copy the URL.
4. In the Ribbon in File Explorer, click the Home tab > Easy access > Map as drive.
5. In the Map Network Drive pop-up, choose an available drive letter (your preference), paste the URL you copied in step 3, and leave the other options as shown below.
6. Click Finish. The SharePoint library is now available as a drive in File Explorer.
Unfortunately, Windows gives the drive a default name, but you can make it whatever you’d like. Simply right click the drive name, click Rename, and enter what you prefer.
This process is very prone to errors and the most common one I’ve seen is this:
The mapped network drive could not be created because the following error has occurred: Access Denied. Before opening files in this location, you must first add the web site to your trusted sites list, browse to the web site, and select the option to login automatically.
You have a few things to check to ensure the connection is correct. If none of the linked suggestions work, you’re going to have to talk to your IT department for help with troubleshooting. Sorry, it can be complicated and sometimes local settings affect whether this works.
Sure, accessing your SharePoint files via your File Explorer makes getting to your files super easy. But like any set of IT solutions you’ll ever experience, each option has its pros and cons.
File Explorer offers a familiar, convenient interface that gives you immediate access to your content once the library has been mapped. It also provides support for easy drag-and-drop uploading, copying, and moving (even between libraries), which SharePoint in the browser can’t do. File Explorer also ensures that when you open a file, it opens in its native app rather than download the file to be opened later like SharePoint would do for, say, zip files.
What File Explorer can’t do is give you access to SharePoint search, custom metadata, version history, alerts, or many of the other built-in tools that SharePoint offers. Also, it doesn’t mean this content is synced to your computer; your access is simply a highway to the SharePoint content which remains in SharePoint.
But, as long as you store your files in SharePoint and access them via File Explorer when it makes sense, you’ll be a superstar SharePoint user and end up saving a lot of little bites of time, which can really add up.
For these reasons, I make heavy use of mapped SharePoint libraries in my own life. I recommend trying it out in yours too.
- While this post is written for SharePoint 2013, 2016, and Online users, this should work in SharePoint 2007 and 2010, though I admittedly haven’t done it with SharePoint 2007 in more than five years nor have I ever done it with SharePoint 2010. If you’re on 2007 or 2010, I’d do more research elsewhere.
- I used Windows 8 in my screenshots. Not all versions of Windows will have the same options in File Explorer, so you may have to poke around a bit for the right buttons in other versions.
- It’s smart to make sure your SharePoint environment is already on the list of trusted sites in Internet Explorer/Edge. See the link in the troubleshooting section above for more details on that. This is the most likely issue you’ll run into when doing this, so checking ahead of time could help you avoid some frustration.