Whenever you connect to a wired or wireless network in Windows, the operating system will register it as either a Public or Private. Think of them as the default security and sharing settings for the networks that your computer is connected to.
The names of these two settings are self-explanatory. Private networks are home and work networks that can be trusted, while Public networks are everywhere else — like restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, airports, and shopping malls.
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All this is obvious to most people that have set up and used the Internet on their computers.
But how does Windows 10 treat public and private networks differently? What settings should you use? What if you change your mind about how you treat a network and want to switch? Are these two the only network types available on Windows?
We answer these questions, and more, in this article.
Network types in Windows 10
Like previous versions of the OS, Windows 10 allows you to categorize the network connections on your PC into different types. The two main ones are Public and Private, and these determine how your computer interacts with other devices in the network.
There is also a third network type, known as Domain.
Each of these three types of networking in Windows 10 determines the type of options available to you. We’ll briefly take a look at the differences between these and then get down to how you can switch and change between the public and private profiles.
When you connect to any network in Windows, it typically categorizes it as Public. This is also the default choice when you do not select any network when setting things up on your computer — that is to say, Windows will automatically configure it using firewall settings and network rules set to public.
Since this type of network is sort of an open network, the rules for public networks are the most restrictive to minimize the risks of hacking and phishing attacks. You get access to the Internet, but Windows disables the shared use of printers and places restrictions on file-sharing as well. Network discover is also disabled here, meaning others will not be able to locate your PC.
Public networks are most suitable when you only have one computer and have no need to communicate with other devices and users.
This is the network for the connection you trust. It could be the home network you set up or the work network that your office or business has set up for you. Private networks are the networks where all the functions present in your networking work correctly.
Meaning, your device will be discoverable on the network and others will be able to see it. If you are using HomeGroups, you will be able to share printers and files with other computers in this network, and firewall restrictions are laid back.
Goes without saying that you should only select any network as a private network only when you know and trust that connection. Hackers can target your computer and malware attacks may occur if you choose the wrong network as a private one.
Not everyone is familiar with this type of network in Windows, and that is because this is usually used in the workplace and enterprise scenarios. Domain network is a network that gets detected automatically when your computer becomes a member of the Directory Domain.
Domain networks provide more security and administration control over your computer. That is to say, it is possible for IT and system administrators to use and change your configurations using the Active Directory service.
Your computer is added to this network directly via network controllers, and it will ask for permissions before gaining access to this secure network.
Which network type is safer?
Probably the first question in your mind after reading the above is, which network is safer between the two main ones, Private and Public. Should you go with the public at all times? Or will any issues arise when setting certain open connections as private? For example, when you are on the road or traveling.
Well, the short answer is that private connections are always the safest.
Windows automatically sets up the necessary network security settings and disables the sharing of resources when you have a connection set to private. Windows 10 behaves much more conservatively on public networks than it does on the home network that you have set up — boosting your security.
On private networks, Windows enables the network discovery features that lets other devices see and locate your computer on the network. While this allows for easier file sharing and networking capabilities, including the fan-favorite HomeGroup feature, it also opens up your computer to certain security risks.
Ultimately, it’s all simple, really.
Windows assumes that your private networks — the ones you have set up in your home, or at your workplace — are trusted networks full of devices that you want to connect to. And since the opposite is true for public networks, Windows uses different settings for when you hop onto these open networks that are full of devices from other people that you don’t want to connect to.
Identifying the Network Profile of your PC
If you don’t know what your network connection is currently labeled as then Windows 10 lists it in a convenient location. You can find out the current network type on your computer by following the below steps.
- Fire up the Settings app.
- Head to the Network & Internet panel.
- Now, make sure you are on the Status tab on the sidebar, and you will see your active network connection listed on the right.
You can also glean this information from the Control Panel. It is available for your view pleasure from the Network and Sharing Center section of this traditional control panel. Simply click on it, and you should see a screen like below that lists your network type.
In this case, it’s showing it as a Public network.
It is important to have an idea of what you have set up on your system before you proceed to switch the network types. This is what we will get to right next, detailing a few different ways you can change between the two different types of networks.
Changing the type of network in Windows 10
When you first connect to a network in Windows 10, it will ask you what kind of network it is and what settings you want to use. Most people breeze through this and don’t remember what they set up. Or they change their mind about how they want to treat a network and want to switch.
And not just that. Every now and then, Windows may detect a private network as a public one, in error, and vice versa. This only happens when your Network Location Awareness makes a wrong guess and changes the network properties.
In cases like these, you will have to manually make the change to ensure that you are not accidentally sharing too much on a public network.
There are a few different ways to go about it.
The first one being the simplest way to change between public and private networks, right from the Settings app. But we will also detail more advanced options using the Registry and PowerShell, for when you cannot open Settings, or the option to change it from there is disabled.
Change network from Public to Private
The process of changing your network type in Windows 10 is simple and straightforward. You just need to know whether you are connected to a wired connection via Ethernet, or are using WiFi on your device via a wireless card.
You start by the first location and connecting to your network.
- Open Settings.
- Go to Network & Internet.
- In the Status panel, make sure your currently connected network is active.
- Click on the Change connection properties link.
- This will quickly take you to a page that will list your network, which will flash for a second, and then the Network section will open.
- Here, under the Network profile section, choose either Public or Private.
You can even configure additional firewall and security settings by clicking the Configure firewall and security settings link, which will open Windows Security. Only edit these settings if you comfortable and familiar with what they do.
Change network type via PowerShell
If for some reason, the option to change your network is missing or not possible through the user interface, you can get around to it using PowerShell. You will, obviously, need administrative privileges to make these changes.
- Press Win + X to open the Power Menu.
- Click on PowerShell (Admin).
- If the UAC dialog box appears, click on the Yes option.
- Then execute the Get-NetConnectionProfile command to get the index number that identifies your network.
- Now, we need to change the profile of your network. To do this, type the following command, changing the <index number> in the process to the one you receiver earlier:
Set-NetConnectionProfile -InterfaceIndex <index number> -NetworkCategory Private
This will instantly change your network category to Private.
Change network profile using the Registry
While the above PowerShell trick works fine, you might also want to give the Windows Registry a try to accomplish this. As always, this process is not for novices, only for those who understand how to edit the registry. Be sure to backup, in case things go south.
- Press Win + R to open the Run prompt.
- Type regedit and hit OK to open the Registry Editor.
- Navigate to the following key:
- When you expand the Profiles key folder in the left pane, you may see one or more folders. These are the network connections that are set up on your device.
- Expand them and look for a subkey called Description, which should have a matching name with your network name.
- Once you find your network name, find another subkey called Category.
- Double-click to open it.
- Now, change the value from 0 to 1 in order to change the network type from Public to Private.
And vice versa.
Change your network type using Local Security Policy
Finally, you also have the option of changing your network type from the Local Security Policy panel in Windows 10. Not all versions of the operating system have this feature. But this is a neat, hidden panel that lets you change the network name and type, among other things.
- Press the Win + R keys together to bring up the Run dialog.
- Type secpol.msc and hit OK.
- This will bring up the Local Security Policy panel.
- In the sidebar to the left, click or tap on Network List Manager Policies.
- All your network connections will be listed on the right side of the applet. Double-click your network to open its panel.
- In the Network Properties panel that pops up, click on Network Location.
- And finally, in the Location type section, make your selection from the three options listed.
Click on OK, then close the panel.
Your network type will be changed for that particular network connection.
Change Public network to Work
Another point worth a mention here is that some people want to turn their public network to the one they use for work. In other words, they want to join a Domain Network. As mentioned above at the start, this is an enterprise setup where an IT admin handles proceedings.
The only way to join this network is when your system administrator adds you in.
Customize Public and Private network settings
Switching between public and private networks is one thing, but what if you want to customize the various settings that are available for each network type? Well, the good news is that Windows lists them in a convenient location from where you can modify these settings easily.
For this, we will go to the good old classic Control Panel.
- Open the Control Panel.
- Go to Network and Sharing Center to open that panel.
- Click on the Change advanced sharing settings link.
- Here, you will find options for three network profiles, one for Private, another for Guest or Public, and finally, for All Networks.
- Simply choose the radio boxes for the desired options, like turning off network discovery or file and printer sharing across HomeGroup connections, and then click on the Save changes button.
These come in handy when you want to make your computer discoverable on public networks — which is something that is not recommended but may be necessary when you want to share something. Furthermore, if you want to, you can disable file or printer sharing on private networks.
Switching between your networks is the easiest way to protect or give others access to your network connections. Windows handles everything at the backend, including security allowances and firewall settings.
The OS also provides plenty of handy options to change what gets shared and how. Only, sometimes, Windows mysteriously messes up the connection type. But it’s an easy fix.
Shawn is a WindowsChimp Staff writer, who is a fan of making lists and does the same on this site. He has a Contemporary Writing degree and been in technology niche since last 3 years.