About network browsing and connected servers in Mac OS X v10.5 and earlier

Learn about network browsing and connected servers in Mac OS X v10.5 and earlier.


This article has been archived and is no longer updated by Apple.

There are two ways to connect to servers in the Finder. You can browse the Network view, or you can use the Connect to Server dialog.

Choosing a connection method

The Network view and the Connect to Server dialog each have different strengths. One may be better suited to your situation.

Tip: In this document, any computer that offers any type of file sharing service is called a "server." Some may be literally branded as servers, such as Mac OS X Server, but it could be any computer.

The Network view shows any server that is browsable on your local network. It lists the servers by name. You select the one you want without typing an address. Simply click the Connect button, and complete the connection dialog.

The Network view is most convenient when you don't know a server's address, or you simply want to see everything that is browsable on the network.

Most accessible servers are not browsable by name because browsing is a mainly a tool for locating nearby resources (more on what is browsable below). When you need to connect to a server that is farther away, or isn't browsable for another reason, use the Connect to Server dialog. Servers located in different buildings on a campus are often not browsable, for example, and servers located in different geographic regions are very rarely browsable.

To use Connect to Server, you must first know the server's complete address, or "URL" (uniform resource locator). You can get the URL from the person who administers the server. From the Go menu, choose Connect to Server. Type the server's address, click Connect, and complete the connection dialog. (Note that clicking the Browse button takes you back to the Network view described above.)

As pictured here, the complete URL should be led by the protocol you want to use for the connection ("afp://" or "smb://", for example). If you do not specify the protocol, the Connect to Server dialog assumes you want an Apple File Service (AFP) connection.

You can also use the Connect to Server dialog to connect to local servers if you prefer it to browsing the Network view. For convenience, you'll see a list of servers you recently connected to. You can also save shortcuts to your favorite servers.

What you see in the Network view

Folders or server names?
When you look at the Network view, you either see folders or a list of servers.

Both of these views are normal. Which you see depends on what types of services are on your network, and how your computer is set up (more on this in the section below, "When is a server browsable?"). The Local folder normally shows servers that are announcing themselves via Rendezvous, and the WORKGROUP folder shows Windows file sharing (SMB) servers. Other folders might bear the names of AppleTalk zones or service location protocol (SLP) scopes, both of which are determined by your network administrator.

View not instantaneous
You can browse these folders like any other folder in the Finder, but there is one important difference to remember, the view is not updated instantaneously. The first time you browse the Network view or one of its folders, it will appear to be empty, and "0 items" will appear at the bottom of the window. This is because your computer cannot list a server until it has had time to announce itself. Under best circumstances, servers start to appear within a second, but you may have to wait 5 seconds or more. Some types of servers do not announce very often and might take a long time to appear.

Tip: If your Network or one of its folders initially appears empty, just wait a moment.

Identifying connected servers

In Mac OS X v10.3.3 and later, connected servers appear in the Computer directory. It may also appear in the Finder Sidebar and on the desktop, according to your selection for the "Connected servers" Finder preference.

Behavior differed in versions 10.3 to 10.3.2. Update to 10.3.3 or later for the best experience.

When is a server browsable?

What you see in the browsable Network view is the result of these factors:

  • Which network(s) your computer is connected to
  • Discovery offered by servers
  • Routing on the network
  • Your Network preferences settings
  • Your Directory Access settings

Networks you're connect to

Your network ultimately determines what you can browse. If a network is set up to prevent browsing, nothing else listed here will make it happen. You can usually browse nearby servers in a school or business setting, but you often cannot browse into other households on an Internet service provider's residential network, for example.

If you travel between locations with a portable computer, you can only browse servers that are at your current location (after waking from sleep, it may take a moment for previously accessible servers to disappear from the Network view).

If you are connected to both a wired Ethernet and AirPort network, what you see is a union of the two networks. If you cannot browse when two or more networks are available, be sure you are connected to the correct network.


Discovery is a sophisticated technology that is simple in concept. When a server is sharing something, it may broadcast a discovery message to all other computers within "shouting distance," so to speak. The discovery message is sent out periodically, or after a particular network event triggers it. Basically, the message says: "I'm over here. This is what I'm offering. My address is XXXX, and my name is XXXX." Rendezvous is an example of a discovery service.

If that message reaches your computer, it gets added to the list you see in the Network view (contingent upon your Directory Access and Network preferences settings).

This explanation is simplified. There are many variations on this theme. A server might also register with a directory that is maintained by a third computer. When discussing Mac OS X, the concept of discovery may be encompassed in a larger group of technologies known as Directory Services. Servers that do not use a discovery or directory service are not browsable in the Finder.


Routing determines the "shouting distance" on your network, and thus whether that discovery message ever reaches your computer. Routing is beyond your control, unless you are the network administrator. 

Pieces of your network are separated by routers. In the default setting for any router, discovery messages are not likely to be broadcast beyond your subnet, which is good. Imagine what would happen if you got these messages from every computer on the Internet. In simplest terms, your "subnet" is any part of the network that your computer can reach without going through a router.

Suppose there are 500 computers sharing in the building where you work, but you can only browse 50 of them. Chances are that these 50 computers are the ones on your subnet.

In some cases, network administrators may choose to route discovery traffic between subnets. Some discovery methods lend themselves to this. Others don't. With proper routing and service configuration, it is possible to browse servers scattered throughout buildings, on the other side of a city, or even around the world. The points to remember are that your network administrator controls how far you can browse (via routers and directory services), and that there are practical limitations involved in browsing across great distances or with large numbers of servers.

Network preferences settings

Your Network preferences affect what appears because it is where you can turn ports on and off and adjust their priority. If you cannot connect over a particular port, be sure it is turned on.

Ports are listed from highest to lowest priority (top to bottom). Internal modem and infrared (IrDA) ports are listed first for computers that have them. If you don't use these two ports, drag Built-in Ethernet and AirPort to the top of the list. Placing the port that you actually use the most at the top of the list can result in best performance under certain circumstances. You can even turn off the ports you are not using, as pictured here.

Directory Access

Finally, the types of service that appear when browsing the Network on your computer are set in the Directory Access application. It's in the Utilities folder (/Applications/Utilities). If something is not selected in Directory Access, your computer is not "listening" to the "shouts" for that type of service.

For example: You may notice that AppleTalk servers and zones do not appear when you browse the Network. This is because AppleTalk is turned off by default in Directory Access (a behavior that differs from Mac OS X 10.2.8 and earlier). To change Directory Access, follow these steps:

  1. Click the lock button to authenticate.
  2. Click the checkbox next to a directory service to turn it on or off.
  3. Click the Apply button.

Additionally, your choices in Directory Access affect which folders appear in the Network view, if any. Examples: The Local folder usually contains servers available via Rendezvous, and the WORKGROUP folder typically contains those offering Windows file sharing (SMB). Additional folders may appear when you select additional services, and they may have names that are specific to your network.

Summary of what is browsable

In short, you can browse a server when these things happen:

  • The server "shouts" that it's available (discovery or directory service).
  • The shout has a route to your computer.
  • Your computer is "listening" (Directory Access).

Using AppleTalk

To browse via AppleTalk, you must select AppleTalk both in Directory Access and in Network preferences.

AppleTalk can only be active on one port at a time.

Selecting AppleTalk in Network preferences does not automatically turn it on in Directory Access, and vice versa.

AppleTalk is turned on by default in Directory Access in Mac OS X v10.3.3 and later.

Ejecting connected servers

To eject (or disconnect) a server, you can:

  • Drag it to the Trash.
  • Select it in the Finder, then choose Eject "<server name>" from either the File menu or the Action menu.
  • Control-click the server and choose Eject from the shortcut menu.

If you have any difficulty ejecting servers in versions Mac OS X v10.3 to 10.3.2, update to Mac OS X v10.3.3 or later.

Issues Browsing Windows (SMB) Servers

Be sure to specify a WINS server if there is one on your network. When there is no WINS server, leave this field blank. To access the field:

  1. Double-click the SMB service in Directory Access.
  2. Type your WINS server address.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Click Apply.

Differentiating services in Network View

When displaying a list of servers, the Network view does not differentiate them by service type. When folders appear, the names of the folders may suggest what type they are, but that is not an absolute indication.

Likewise, you could turn off all but one service in Directory Access, and see what remains in the Network view. (Obviously this test only applies to services listed in Directory Access.

Date & Time Issues

Some servers may not appear if your computer is set to a date earlier than 24 Mar, 2001. Be sure that your Date & Time settings are correct in System Preferences.

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