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Troubleshooting wireless connection – unable to see other PCs or share files

I have a desktop connected via Ethernet to my wireless router. I have a laptop with a wireless connection to the router. Both can reach the Internet, but I can't get them to see each other, so I can't share files. I have the same workgroup name, I've tried the Windows XP network setup, I've enabled sharing on both computers. On my laptop, in Network Neighborhood there are local shared folders, but nothing else. On my desktop, I just see my router in Network Neighborhood.

You've already checked some of the basics required by Microsoft file sharing: both hosts should be in the same workgroup, on the same LAN, with "Client for Microsoft Networks" and "File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks" both enabled. Based on your description, here are a few more things to check:

  • Can your desktop ping your laptop and vice versa? For example, suppose your desktop is 192.168.1.50 and your laptop is 192.168.1.51 (you can find their current IP addresses by looking at Connection Status, or using Start / Run "ipconfig"). If the hosts can ping each other, look for a NetBIOS-specific problem. Otherwise you have a general network reachability problem.
  • If hosts can't ping each other, does either have a Personal Firewall or Microsoft Windows Firewall enabled? If so, the firewall may be blocking incoming or outgoing ICMP messages -- and NetBIOS messages. To check for Microsoft Windows Firewall, go to Network Connections, right-click and open the Properties panel, then click on the Advanced tab. You'll be able to check firewall settings here. For debugging, you may want to temporarily disable the firewall, then later reconfigure it to allow NetBIOS only.
  • If the hosts aren't firewalled but still can't ping each other, check your wireless router for a setting that blocks all traffic between LAN hosts. Depending on your router, you may or may not have this kind of option -- look for it on any configuration page that discusses the "firewall" features of your router. A few wireless routers treat Ethernet and wireless as two separate subnets -- if this is true for your router, look at your router's documentation to learn how to permit routing between those two subnets.
  • Once your hosts can ping each other, make sure firewalls are not blocking NetBIOS only (see above). Then start digging for other NetBIOS-specific problems. You've already verified workgroup name and Microsoft Network client, so poke around with the "NET" command. Launch a Command Window (Start / Run / Cmd) and type "NET -H" to see the arguments that can be used. For example, "NET VIEW" is similar to looking at Network Neighborhood. "NET USE \PCNAMESHARENAME" will try to directly open the named share on the named PC, returning error information in case of failure that may help you debug your problem. For more information, see this Microsoft documentation.

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