Expertise

Accessing Shared Files

Revit Best Practices and Configuration

Accessing shared files on computers

Objectives

  1. Unify how the users access shared files on servers.
  2. Avoid the access of the same file with different paths.

Prerequisites

  1. User is familiar with the Windows Explorer for file browsing.
  2. User is working in a Microsoft Windows environment. Linux and OS X users can follow this guideline but should adjust the procedures for their operating system.

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Description

1 Server names

A computer attached to a network (a local network or internet) can be referred in different but equally functional ways. In this section we will show the four most common ways to refer to a computer.

1.1 IPv4

Internet Protocol (IP) is a protocol to identify and connect computers (or devices) in a network. IP version 4 uses a 32 bit number to identify each computer in a network. This number is referred as IP address. This number can be expressed in a number of forms, but it is commonly expressed in the following way:

xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx

Where each group of xxx is a number in the range [0,255]. However take into account that not every combination of numbers is a correct IP address. For instance, 0.0.0.0 or 255.255.255.255 cannot be assigned to any device.

Real examples of IPv4 addresses are the following:

        192.168.1.254

        37.11.139.100

        125.25.36.15

1.2 IPv6

Believe it or not, we are close to have more network attached devices than IPv4 addresses available. To address this issues IP version 6 was developed. IPv6 uses a 128 bit number to identify each computer (or device) in a network. The following is the most common way to represent an IPv6 number:

hhhh:hhhh:hhhh:hhhh:hhhh:hhhh:hhhh:hhhh

Where each hhhh group is a group of four hexadecimal digits. As in IPv4 not every combination of numbers is a valid IPv6 address, some combinations cannot be used.

It should be taken into consideration that there are some simplification rules to allow IPv6 addresses to be written with less effort:

  • Leading zeroes can be omitted
  • Consecutive sections of zeroes can be replaced with a double colon character but can only be used once in an address.

This rules make the following IPv6 addresses equally the same in all ways:

2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:ff00:0042:8329
        2001:db8:0:0:0:ff00:42:8329
        2001:db8::ff00:42:8329

1.3 NetBIOS or WINS name

NetBIOS names are an almost outdated way to assign user friendly names to computers. Windows environments are still supporting this feature and it is still used in network environments without Microsoft Active Directory services.

The following characters are allowed in a NetBIOS name, with a limitation of 15 bytes (can be up to 15 characters if using non unicode characters):

  • Unicode characters
  • Numbers
  • White space
  • Symbols: ! @ # $ % ^ & ' ) ( . - _ { } ~

Taking into account the allowed characters it would be possible to use non English characters, like Ñ or á but its use is discouraged. It is a better option to restrict to the DNS name rules (explained in the following subsection).

Here are a few examples of NetBIOS names:

        Heracles

        Tantalo

        Sisifo

1.4 DNS name

Domain Name System (DNS) is a naming system currently in use on the internet. It can also be used in local network environments. It follows a hierarchical structure:

subsub.sub.top

Where:

  • top represents the top level domain, like .com, .mil, .gov, etc.
  • sub represents the domain name
  • subsub represents a subdomain of the previous domain


Domain names can have the following characters:

  • "A" to "Z"
  • "a" to "z"
  • "0" to "9"
  • The hyphen character (-)

Below are some examples of DNS names:

        modelical.com

        computer.spaces.com

2 Types of paths

In this section we will explain two different ways to refer to resources (mainly files) in a computer. This two ways are not equally functional or interchangeable as each one have a different purpose.

2.1 Local paths

Local paths refer to local files or folders on a computer you are interacting directly through its user interface. On Windows computers, local paths always follows this form:

LETTER:[\Folder][\File]

Where:

  • LETTER
  • A letter from A to Z
  • Uppercase is preferable.
  • LETTER is mandatory.
  • LETTER and the rest of the path are separated by a colon and a solidus character ( :\ ) which are always mandatory. Note that in Windows environments we use the reverse solidus character ( \ ) instead of the solidus character ( / ) (used in the web or Linux environments).
  • Folder
  • Any number of folders can be used to organize the resources.
  • Folder names are case insensitive.
  • After each folder name the reverse solidus character ( \ ) must be used.
  • File
  • A file name may be referenced in the last part of a path.
  • File names are case insensitive in Windows environments.
  • File names have two parts, name and extension, separated by the dot character ( . ).
  • File names can have no name or no extension but must have one of them.

In the following lines you will find some real examples of local paths:

C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts

C:\Program Files

D:\

2.2 UNC paths

UNC paths are used to access remote resources on all kind of environments. Also, when a computer has a resource shared it can also access that resource with the UNC path even if it is a local resource.

UNC paths should have the following structure:

\\ServerName[\SharedResource][\Folder][\File]

UNC paths originated on Windows platform and thus it uses the reverse solidus character ( \ ). However in Linux environments a solidus character ( / ) can be used instead.

Where:

  • ServerName
  • The server name expressed in one of the forms explained in section 1
  • SharedResource
  • The name of a resource in that computer. Can be a folder, a printer, etc.
  • Folder
  • As in previous section
  • File
  • As in previous section

Below are some examples of UNC paths:

        \\tantalo\E\Temporal\index.txt

        \\Sisifo\e\Dropbox\MODELICAL

        \\HERACLES\PDFCreator

3 Network mapped drives

In Windows environments it is possible to bind a network shared folder to a (virtual) local drive, that is, a drive letter. This way, it will appear as if the contents of the network share are located in the local computer on a local drive.

In the past this was the preferred way to connect to network shares, as it would improve compatibility with applications, as many of them were not ready to use UNC paths.

Nowadays it is not recommended anymore, because current applications are aware of UNC paths, and using mapped drives can introduce a level of indetermination as each user can use different drive letters for the mapped drive.

4 Considerations

Taking into consideration the previous sections we can conclude that it may be possible to access the same file or folder on a computer using different UNC paths, as you can use different ways to refer to a computer. The following paths could all be equivalent, i.e. referring to the same folder or file:

\\192.168.1.1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:ff00:0042:8329\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\2001:db8:0:0:0:ff00:42:8329\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\2001:db8::ff00:42:8329\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\PC1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\Pc1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\pc1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt

Z:\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt

All of those examples are using a different ServerName but they may be referring to the same computer.

Also, taking into consideration the different ways a resource can be shared, the following paths could also be equivalent:

        \\PC1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\PC1\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\PC1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt

        Z:\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt

4.1 Revit central files access

As a file can be accessed with different paths, files that remembers their binding with other files can give some issues if they are created using different paths.

When working in a collaborative way with Revit files, the way users access central files while they are worksharing is a critical issue.

As the path to the file is used to recognize the central file from the user local copies, it is very important that every user access the central file with the same path. This meaning, accessing the same resource through the same path, expressed in the same way:

As we previously explained, the following paths could all be equivalent, i.e. referring to the same folder or file:

\\192.168.1.1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\2001:0db8:0000:0000:0000:ff00:0042:8329\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\2001:db8:0:0:0:ff00:42:8329\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\2001:db8::ff00:42:8329\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\PC1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\Pc1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt
        \\pc1\Vertedero\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt

Z:\Carpeta1\Carpeta2\Archivo.txt

Revit users accessing a same central file should choose (or configure) one of this ways to get to the central file to create the local files from the different user computers.

Otherwise if a central file is accessed from a local computer through a path, and other user tries to access it through a different path, it will end up in the second user not being capable of creating the local file, as the central file is actually not considered a central file when being opened through the second path.

That is: a headache.

5 Best practices

Reach an agreement on your workplace on how to access to network shared files and keep using that same method. Doing this will avoid issues with applications that rely on paths and filenames to recognize file binding.

Tips&Tricks

Bottom-line

  • Follow the guidelines established by your IT department regarding paths to file servers.
  • Access remote files using UNC paths where possible without mapping them to local drives.
  • Use NetBIOS or DNS names to access remote computers.
  • In case a server has several names (NetBIOS or DNS) reach an agreement with your coworkers on which one to use.
  • In case a file or folder can be accessed using different paths you should reach an agreement with your coworkers on which one to use.

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