As the name implies, a file server is a server that provides access to files. It acts as a central file storage location that can be accessed by multiple systems. File servers are commonly found in enterprise settings, such as company networks, but they are also used in schools, small organizations, and even home networks.
A file server may be a dedicated system, such as network attached storage (NAS) device, or it may simply be a computer that hosts shared files. Dedicated file servers are typically used for enterprise applications, since they provide faster data access and offer more storage capacity than non-dedicated systems. In home networks, personal computers are often used as file servers. However, personal NAS devices are also available for home users that require more storage capacity and faster performance than a non-dedicated file server would allow.
File servers can be configured in multiple ways. For example, in a home setting, a file server may be set to automatically allow access to all computers on the local network (LAN). In a business setting where security is important, a file server may require all client systems to log in before accessing the server. Others may only grant access to a specific list of machines, which can be defined by MAC address or IP address. Internet file servers, which provide access to files over the Internet, often require an FTP login before users can download files.
NOTE: When you connect to a file server on a local network, it usually appears as a hard disk on your computer. You can double-click the hard disk icon to view the contents and browse through directories on the server, just like local folders. If you want to copy a file from the server to your computer, simply drag the file to your desktop or another folder on your local disk. If the file server has write permissions enabled, you can also copy local files to the server by dragging them to a directory on the server. When you copy files to or from the file server, it may appear that they are simply being transferred from one local folder to another. However, the files are actually being transferred across the network.
Updated: May 27, 2011