What’s the Difference Between Private and Public Networks in Windows?

Windows lets you set each network you connect to as either a “Private” or “Public” network. When you connect to a network the first time, Windows 10 asks if you want your computer to be discoverable or not by other computers.

This option helps Windows understand the type of network you’re connecting to so it can select the correct settings. For example, Windows will behave much more conservatively on public networks than it will on your home network, boosting your security.

Public vs. Private

You can customize how Windows treats Private and Public networks, but here’s how it works by default.

On Private networks, Windows enables network discovery features. Other devices can see your Windows computer on the network, allowing for easy file sharing and other networked features. Windows will also use the Homegroup feature to share files and media between your PCs.

On Public networks–like those in coffee shops–you don’t want your computer to be seen by others, though, or share your files with them. So Windows turns off these discovery features. it won’t appear to other devices on the network and won’t try to discover them. Even if you’ve set up a Homegroup on your PC, it won’t be enabled on a public network.

It’s simple, really. Windows assumes that your private networks–like your home or work networks–are trusted networks full of other devices you may want to connect to. Windows assumes that public networks are full of other people’s devices you don’t want to connect to, so it uses different settings.
How to Switch a Network From Public to Private or Private to Public

You normally make this decision the first time you connect to a network. Windows will ask whether you want your PC to be discoverable on that network. if you select Yes, Windows sets the network as Private. If you select No, Windows sets the network as public. You can see whether a network is private or public from the Network and Sharing Center window in the Control Panel.

On Windows 7, you can click the link right below the network’s name here and set the network to either “Home Network,” “Work Network,” or “Public Network.” A Home network is a Private network, while a Work network is like a Private network where discovery is enabled but Homegroup sharing isn’t.

To switch a network to public or private on Windows 10, you’ll need to use the Settings app.

If you’re using a Wi-Fi connection, first connect to the Wi-Fi network you want to change. Launch the Settings app, select “Network & Internet,” select “Wi-Fi,” scroll down, and click “Advanced options.”

If you’re using a wired Ethernet connection, connect to that network. Launch the Settings app, select “Network & Internet,” select “Ethernet,” and click the name of your Ethernet connection.

You’ll see a few options for whichever Wi-Fi or Ethernet network you’re currently connected to. The “Make this PC discoverable” option controls whether a network is public or private. Set it to “On” and Windows will treat the network as a private one. Set it to “Off” and Windows will treat the network as a public one.

It’s a bit confusing because the Control Panel still refers to “Public” and “Private” networks, while the Settings app just refers to whether a PC is “discoverable”. However, these are the same setting–it’s just worded and exposed in a different way. Toggling this switch in the Settings app will switch a network between Public and Private in the Control Panel.

How to Customize Discovery and Firewall Settings

Windows 10 is clearly trying to simplify things by omitting any further options from the Settings app and just referring to whether a network is “discoverable” or not. However, there are still a variety of options in the Control Panel that take effect differently on public and private networks.

To adjust discovery settings, open the Control Panel, select “View network status and tasks” under Network and Internet, and click “Change advanced sharing settings.” From here, you can control network discovery, file sharing, and Homegroup settings for public and private networks. You could even enable discovery on public networks, if you wanted to do this for some reason. Or, you could disable discovery on private networks. By default, older-style Windows “file and printer sharing” is disabled on both types of networks, but you can enable it on either or both.

The Windows Firewall also has different settings for private and public networks. In the Control Panel, you can click “System and Security” and then click “Windows Firewall” configure the built-in firewall’s options. For example, you could have Windows disable the firewall on private networks but enable it on public ones, if you liked–but we definitely don’t recommend this. You can also click “Allow an app or feature through Windows Firewall” and you’ll be able to adjust firewall rules to behave differently on public networks or private ones.

Set publicly accessible networks to public and ones at your home or workplace to private. if you’re not sure which–for example, if you’re at a friend’s house–you can always just set the network to public. You’d only need to set a network to private if you planned on using network discovery and file-sharing features.
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