Windows 7 makes it easier than ever to share documents, music, photos, and other files with people at home or at the office.

If you're new to file sharing, this article will help you understand why it's useful and—broadly—how it works in Windows 7. For step-by-step instructions, see Share files with someone.

Introducing homegroups: easy sharing at home

The easiest way to share files on a home network is to create or join a homegroup. A homegroup is a group of computers that share pictures, music, videos, documents, and even printers. The computers must be running Windows 7 to participate in a homegroup.

When setting up or joining a homegroup, you tell Windows which folders or libraries to share—and which to leave private. Windows then works behind the scenes to toggle between the appropriate settings. Other people can't change the files you share unless you give them permission. You can also protect your homegroup with a password, which you can change at any time.

Homegroups are available in all Windows 7 editions. However, in the Home Basic and Starter editions, you can only join a homegroup, not create one. Computers that belong to a domain can join a homegroup, but they can't share files. They can only access files shared by others.


  • Homegroups aren't available on Windows Server 2008 R2.

Sharing with everybody, somebody—or nobody

Homegroups offer a fast and convenient way to automatically share music, pictures, and more. But what about files and folders that aren't automatically shared? Or what do you do when you're at the office?

That's what the new Share with menu is for.

Picture of the Share with menu
Share with menu

You can use the Share with menu to select individual files and folders and share them with others. The options you'll see in the menu depend on what type of item you've selected and what type of network your computer is connected to. (If you're not sure what type of network you have, see What is the difference between a domain, a workgroup, and a homegroup?)

The most common menu options are:

  • Nobody. This option makes an item private so only you have access.

  • Homegroup (Read). This option makes an item available to your homegroup with read-only permission.

  • Homegroup (Read/Write). This option makes an item available to your homegroup with read/write permission.

  • Specific people. This options opens the File Sharing wizard, so you can choose particular people to share with.


  • If a file or folder isn't shared and you choose to share it with Nobody, you'll be asked if you want to stop sharing. Don't worry, the file or folder wasn't initially shared. In this case, you're simply confirming that you want to continue not sharing the file.

The purpose of permissions

In Windows, you can decide not only who gets to see a file, but what recipients can do with it. These are called sharing permissions. You have two options:

  • Read. The "look, don't touch" option. Recipients can open, but not modify or delete a file.

  • Read/Write. The "do anything" option. Recipients can open, modify, or delete a file.

What have I shared?

In Windows 7, it's easy to tell what's shared by looking at the details pane in Windows Explorer. (To open Windows Explorer, click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click your user name.)

Click any file or folder. The details pane at the bottom of the window will show you whether it's shared and who it's shared with.

Picture of the details pane in Windows Explorer
Windows Explorer shows you files you've shared—and files others have shared with you.

Public folder sharing

The Share with menu offers the simplest and easiest way to share things in Windows 7. But there's another option: Public folders.

Think of these folders like drop boxes; when you copy a file or folder into one, you make that file or folder immediately available to other users on your computer or to people on your network.

You'll find a Public folder located in each of your libraries. Examples include Public Documents, Public Music, Public Pictures, and Public Videos. Public folder sharing is turned off by default, except on a homegroup. For instructions about turning it on, see Share files with someone.

Picture of Public folders
Public folders are included in Windows libraries.

You might be wondering why you would use the Public folders.

They're handy if you want to temporarily share a document or other file with several people. It's also a handy way to keep track of what you're sharing with others; if it's in the folder, it's shared.

The downside: You can't restrict people from seeing only some files in the Public folder. It's all or nothing. Also, you can't fine-tune permissions. But if these aren't important considerations, then Public folders offer a convenient, alternative way to share.

Article ID: MSW700052

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