You can share files and folders in several different ways. The most common way to share files in Windows is to share them directly from your computer. Windows provides two methods for sharing files in this way: you can share files from any folder on your computer or from the Public folder. Which method you use depends on where you want to store the shared folders, who you want to share them with, and how much control you want to have over the files. Either method allows you to share files or folders with someone using your computer or another computer on the same network. If you're looking for additional ways to share files, this article also outlines several other methods that you can use.

Share files from any folder on your computer

With this method of sharing, you can decide who will be able to make changes to the files you share, and what kind of changes (if any) they can make to them. You do this by setting sharing permissions. Sharing permissions can be granted to an individual or to a group of users on the same network. For example, you might allow some people to only view your shared files, while allowing others to both view and change them. People you share with will be able to see only those folders that you have shared with them.

You can also use this method of sharing as a way to access your shared files when you are using another computer, since any files you share with other people are also visible to you from another computer.

For instructions on how to share files in any folder on your computer, see Share files with someone.

Note

  • If your computer is on a workgroup, you have the option of turning password protection on or off. If password protection is turned on, the person you are sharing with must have a user account and password on your computer in order to access the files and folders you are sharing. You can turn password protection on or off in the Network and Sharing Center.

Share files from the Public folder on your computer

With this method of sharing, you copy or move files to your Public folder and share them from that location. If you turn on file sharing for the Public folder, anyone with a user account and password on your computer, as well as everyone on your network, will be able to see all the files in your Public folder and subfolders. You cannot restrict people to just seeing some files in the Public folder. However, you can set permissions that either restrict people from accessing the Public folder altogether, or that restrict them from changing files or creating new ones.

If you are not on a domain, you can also turn on password-protected sharing. This limits network access to the Public folder to people with a user account and password on your computer. By default, network access to the Public folder is turned off unless you enable it.

For instructions on how to share using the Public folder, see Share files with someone and Sharing files with the Public folder.

Picture of the Public folder
The Public folder

Which sharing method to use

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to share files from any folder or from the Public folder.

Use any folder for sharing if:

  • You prefer to share folders directly from the location where they are stored (typically in your Documents, Pictures, or Music folders) and want to avoid storing them in your Public folder.

  • You want to be able to able to set sharing permissions for individuals rather than everyone on your network, giving some people more or less access (or no access at all).

  • You share a lot of digital pictures, music, or other large files that would be cumbersome to copy to a separate shared folder. You might not want these files taking up space in two different locations on your computer.

  • You frequently create new files or update files that you want to share and don't want to bother copying them to your Public folder.

Use the Public folder for sharing if:

  • You prefer the simplicity of sharing your files and folders from a single location on your computer.

  • You want to be able to quickly see everything you have shared with others, just by looking in your Public folder.

  • You want everything you are sharing kept separate from your own Documents, Music, and Pictures folders.

  • You want to set sharing permissions for everyone on your network and don't need to set sharing permissions for individuals.

For more information, see Sharing files with the Public folder.

Other ways to share files

There are several other ways to share files that do not require that you share files from specific folders. You can also share files using:

  • A computer-to-computer (ad hoc) network. If you want to share files between two computers that aren't already on the same network but are in the same room, you can create a computer-to-computer network, also known as an ad hoc network. An ad hoc network is a temporary connection between computers and devices used for a specific purpose, such as sharing documents during a meeting. For more information, see Set up a computer-to-computer (ad hoc) network.

  • Removable media. You can copy files to any sort of removable media, including portable hard disks, CDs, DVDs, and flash memory cards. Then you can insert or plug that media into another computer and copy the files to that computer or give the removable media to the people you want to share the files with and let them copy the files themselves. For more information, see Copy files to another computer.

  • E‑mail. If you only have one or two files to share and they are not very large, you might find it simplest to share them by attaching them to an e‑mail message. For information on how to send attachments with Windows Mail, see Send an attachment in a Windows Mail message.

  • Windows Meeting Space. This feature of Windows allows you to set up a session where you can share documents, programs, or your desktop with other session participants. For more information, see Windows Meeting Space: frequently asked questions.

  • A Windows-compatible file-sharing program. There are many programs available designed to help people share files.

  • The web. There are many websites devoted to sharing photos and other types of files.

  • Instant messaging. Most instant messaging programs allow you to share files with people while you are chatting online with them.