Archive for February, 2013

DFS mapping error: Refers to a location that is unavailable

February 20, 2013 2 comments

Last week I experienced some strange behaviors with offline files in combination with DFS. In most environments is DFS really common and used for network mappings, roaming profile, homedrive,.. .

The initial issue was that users experienced random access issues to DFS mappings which solved themselves after some time.

Users get an error like: Drive x refers to a location that is unavailable. It could be on a hard drive on this computer, or on a network. Check to make sure that the disk is properly inserted, or that you are connected to the Internet or your network, and then try again. If it still cannot be located, the information might have been moved to a different location.


In the beginning I thought that this was an issue with one of the DFS Namespace servers. Mostly are random access denied issues caused due a permission difference on one of the DFS roots.

When the issue occurred I started trying to access the DFS share through different locations:

  • client could not connect to “\\\dfsroot”
  • client could connect to “\\domain\dfsroot”
  • client could connect to “\\DCA\dfsroot”
  • client could connect to “\\DCB\dfsroot”

Apparently only the “\\\” was not accessible. So I also enabled show hidden files and protected files and then I saw that only the Homedrive of the user was available because this was made offline. But what I really found strange was that “\\domain\dfsroot” was just working. I discovered that on desktops the access issue was not happening because offline files were not enabled on the desktops.

After some research on the Internet that Offline Files does not distinguish DFS paths from UNC paths:  Technet blog

So what happens on Windows 7 client: Offline files sync in the background and there is by default a slow-link detection mechanism.

  • If the offline file feature discovers that the network is slow it will work offline (Slow-Link mode)
  • Offline file feature thinks that \\ is the fileserver so it will break the communication to \\
  • All other DFS mappings based on \\ become unavailable
  • The DFS mappings will become online again if the offline file feature detects fast network again

There is not really a nice solution for this but here are some possible solutions:

  • Disable Slow-Link mode via Group Policies (it will not solve mapping issue when the client really lose it’s connection for a short time)
  • Use UNC paths as network mappings
  • Map network drives as \\Domain\dfsroot (A bit cheating with DFS : so without .com)

I don’t know yet if the offline file feature on Win8/Server 2012 can work with DFS paths.