Domain, workgroup or homegroup: what's the difference?

PCs running Windows on a network must be part of a domain or a workgroup. PCs running Windows on home networks can also be part of a homegroup, but it's optional. Belonging to a homegroup makes it easier to share files and printers on a home network.

PCs on home networks are usually part of a workgroup and possibly a homegroup, and PCs on workplace networks are usually part of a domain.

Note

  • PCs running Windows RT or Windows 8 can't join a domain. You can only join a domain if your PC is running Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise.

In a domain:

A domain is a group of PCs on a network that share a common database and security policy. A domain is administered as a unit with common rules and procedures, and each domain has a unique name.

  • One or more PCs are servers. Network administrators use servers to control the security and permissions for all PCs on the domain. This makes it easier for administrators to make changes because the changes are automatically made to all PCs. Domain users must provide a password or other sign-in info each time they access the domain.

  • If you have a user account on the domain, you can log on to any PC on the domain without needing an account on that PC.

  • You can probably only make limited changes to a PC's settings because network administrators often want to make sure that network PCs are consistent.

  • There can be thousands of PCs in a domain.

  • The PCs can be on different local networks.

In a workgroup:

A workgroup is a group of PCs that are connected on a non-domain network and share resources, such as printers and files. When you set up a network, Windows automatically creates a workgroup and gives it a name.

  • All PCs are peers; no PC has control over another PC.

  • Each PC has a set of user accounts. To log on to any PC in the workgroup, you must have an account on that PC.

  • There are typically no more than twenty PCs.

  • A workgroup isn't protected by a password.

  • All PCs must be on the same local network or subnet.

In a homegroup:

A homegroup is a group of PCs on a home network that can share pictures, music, videos, documents and printers. A homegroup is protected with a password.

  • PCs on a home network must belong to a workgroup, but they can also belong to a homegroup. A homegroup makes it easier to share pictures, music, videos, documents and printers with other people on a home network.

  • A homegroup is protected with a password, but you only need to enter the password once, when adding your PC to the homegroup.

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To find out if your PC belongs to a workgroup or domain

  1. Open System by swiping in from the right edge of the screen, tapping Search (or if you're using a mouse, pointing to the top-right corner of the screen, moving the mouse pointer down, then clicking Search), entering System in the search box, tapping or clicking Settings, then tapping or clicking System.

  2. Under Computer name, domain and workgroup settings, you'll see either the word Workgroup or Domain, followed by the name.

    The Computer name, domain and workgroup settings
    The Computer name, domain and workgroup settings

To find out if your PC belongs to a homegroup

  1. Open Network and Sharing Center by swiping in from the right edge of the screen, tapping Search (or if you're using a mouse, pointing to the upper-right corner of the screen, moving the mouse pointer down, and then clicking Search), entering network and sharing in the search box, tapping or clicking Settings, and then tapping or clicking Network and Sharing Center.

  2. If you see the word Joined next to HomeGroup, your computer belongs to a homegroup.

    HomeGroup status in Network and Sharing Center
    HomeGroup status in Network and Sharing Center

Note

  • If there's a homegroup available on your network, you can join it by tapping or clicking Available to join.

For more information about workgroups, see Joining a domain, workgroup or homegroup. For more information about homegroups, see HomeGroup from start to finish.

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