Solving Disconnected Folders Over Wi-Fi

Avoid the First Default Setting for Share Caching

I’m starting to realize that the Offline Files feature in Windows causes more problems than it solves when it comes to unreliable network connections.

In 2016, I described how to minimize the effects of an occasionally high ping when the slow-link mode goes into effect: Offline Files Stay Disconnected

But that doesn’t solve the problem.  Fine-tuning or even disabling the slow-link mode forces the Client Side Cache (CSC) to use its “Action on server disconnect” configuration any time the network isn’t performing perfectly.  The default behavior, “Work offline”, treats each affected (meaning cache-enabled) share as being totally unavailable and then the CSC attempts to retrieve cached copies.  This happens even if the server is still available but failed a single ping check.

Why is this still a problem?  Well, in practice, most files don’t need to be available offline.  By default, the Windows file server is configured, and the Windows client is designed to allow each user to select individual files as “Always available offline” from the file context menu.  When a user selects this option, that one file is copied to the CSC, and in theory that one file is always available.  This allows for targeted use and minimal sync time.  The problem arises with all the other files.  When the CSC goes offline and marks the shared folder as disconnected, it effectively blocks access to all the files that were never cached, even if the server and its files are still available.

At this point, you and I now understand the situation that needs to be avoided.  We don’t want to have a large number of files under the unnecessary clutches of the CSC, regardless of network quality.

Update 08/17/2018

At first, I thought the solution was to change the file server’s default configuration of allowing users to decide which files are cached.  I changed folders that needed maximum online availability to be set to “No files or programs from the shared folder are available offline.”  This server setting automatically disables the CSC.

Unfortunately, the result was that the folders configured for offline caching worked great, but the folders configured for no offline caching only worked until some network error or server reboot.  In this configuration, once a path became disconnected, an Offline Files message is logged in the Event Viewer, and even though no files are being cached the entire path becomes unavailable.  At that point, the workstation persistently throws Error 0x80070035 any time that particular path is accessed, until the workstation is rebooted.

The only solution I’ve found that works now is to completely disable the Offline Files feature on the workstation.  With Offline Files disabled from the Control Panel, the network and server errors are now transient and I am not having any problems with disconnected paths or persistent errors.

Offline Files is ultimately broken and does not improve the Windows experience.

Offline Files Stay Disconnected Over Wi-Fi

Configure Slow Link ModeEver since my move to a new apartment, I was frustrated by some of my network files going offline randomly and staying offline for 5 minutes or up to an hour or two.  The weirdest part was that it would only happen to the network files that were in a path with Offline Files enabled.  As a result, I would periodically lose access to files that were not marked “Always available offline”, and I would get frequent synchronization conflicts for any files that were still available offline.

Another symptom of this problem was that I could map a separate drive letter to the same or deeper path, not enable Offline Files for the networked drive, and then have no trouble with the files when I try to use the drive letter.  I could even browse shared folders using the server’s UNC path at the same time as my Offline Files cache seemed to be stuck offline.

I had several suspicions about why this was happening.  First of all, I had started using Wi-Fi networking on my desktop computer as a convenience until I could knock some holes in the apartment walls to run proper Ethernet cables.  The signal quality seemed good enough that I shouldn’t have persistent connection problems, yet the Offline Files system seemed central to the problem.  I eventually discovered that the Client Side Cache “slow link” mode was at fault for this whole mess.

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Offline Files and Access Errors

Offline Files Folder
The Offline Files detail view shows limited information about permissions.

Another great Windows XP feature with another great set of problems: Offline Files.  If you have a laptop or unreliable inter-site connectivity, then you know of the necessity of keeping a local copy of your shared files to make them available at all times.  The Offline Files feature automatically keeps track of which files need to be synchronized for you, making that offline experience very slick.

Try to do this in a multi-user environment, however, and it will blow up spectacularly.  The most common symptoms appear when double clicking a document icon in offline mode.  Windows loads the program associated with that type of document, and that program instantly crashes or throws a file error.  This happens any time more than one user tries to use the same file offline on the same computer.

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