Here are answers to some common questions about file and printer sharing in Windows Vista.

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What are the different file sharing options in Windows?

Windows provides two main ways to share files directly from your computer: Public folder sharing and "any folder" sharing.

The advantage of the Public folder is simplicity. Every computer running Windows has one Public folder. To share a file, you only need to copy or move it into the Public folder (or one of its subfolders). Now everybody with a user account and password on that computer can access it. The downside? Precisely that. Everybody has access to it.

For more control over who can access a particular file or folder, use "any folder" sharing. This type of sharing requires slightly more effort to set up, but it enables you to control specifically who can see or modify your files or folders. With this method, there's also no need to spend time copying or moving files; you can share them from wherever they reside on your computer.

For more information about each option, see File sharing essentials.

How do I share files stored in any folder?

Sharing files from any folder on your computer requires two basic steps. First, you have to turn on file sharing in Windows. Second, you need to specify who can access your files and how much access each person can have. (You can also share entire folders this way.)

Here's how to turn on file sharing:

  1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

  2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button‌ next to Network discovery, click Turn on network discovery, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. Click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button‌ next to File sharing, click Turn on file sharing, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Here's how to specify who can access your files and how much access each person can have:

  1. Right-click the file or folder you want to share, and then click Share.

  2. In the File Sharing dialog box, do one of the following:

    • If you're connected to a network domain, click the arrow to the right of the text box, and then click Find. Type the name of the person you want to share files with, click Check Names, and then click OK. Alternatively, click Everyone to share the files with everyone on your network, and then click Add.

    • If you're using a workgroup (at home, you are most likely connected to a workgroup), click the arrow to the right of the text box, click the person's name in the list, and then click Add. If you don't see the person you want to share with, click Create a new user to create a new user account for this person.

  3. Under Permission Level, click the arrow next to each person or group and select sharing permissions.

    • Readers can view shared files or folders, but cannot alter, delete, or add to them.

    • Contributors can view or add shared files, but can only alter or delete ones to which they have contributed.

    • Co-owners can do anything to a shared file or folder.

  4. When you're finished, click Share. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

How do I share files stored in the Public folder?

Public folder sharing is turned off by default. Follow these steps to turn it on:

  1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

  2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Network discovery, click Turn on network discovery, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. Click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Public folder sharing, click Turn on sharing so anyone with network access can open files or Turn on sharing so anyone with network access can open, change, and create files, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Now you just need to copy the files or folders you want to share to the Public folder on your computer.

To find the Public folder, click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click Documents. In the Navigation pane, under Favorite Links, click Public.

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

What is printer sharing and how do I do it?

Printer sharing enables multiple computers on a network to use a single printer.

If you want to share a printer, go to the computer that the printer is plugged into, and follow these steps to turn on printer sharing:

  1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

  2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Printer sharing, click Turn on printer sharing, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. If you're connected to a workgroup (if you're at home, you most likely are), click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Password-protected sharing. If password-protected sharing is turned on, only people with a user account and password for this computer can access the printer. Turn this off to give everyone on your network access. Once you've chosen, click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Note

  • Printer sharing won't work if password-protected sharing is turned on and your user account has a blank password. You must choose a password.

Now you need to share the printer itself. Here's how:

  1. Open Printers by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Hardware and Sound, and then clicking Printers.

  2. Right-click the printer you want to share, and then click Sharing.

  3. Select the Share this printer check box.

Other people on your network can now connect to this printer.

Why can't I share files or printers with other computers on my home network?

In theory, sharing files or printers among multiple computers on a home network is easy. In practice, the complexity of individual networks can make it a challenge.

The first thing to do is make sure your network is set up properly and all the computers on it are "talking" to each other. For help, see Troubleshoot network connection problems and Troubleshoot file and printer sharing. If you're still having trouble sharing with other computers on your home network, it could be for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Network discovery is turned off.

    Network discovery enables your computer to "see" or locate other computers on the network and vice versa. Here's how to turn it on:

    1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

    2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Network discovery, click Turn on network discovery, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  • Not all of the computers are in the same workgroup.

    When you set up a home network, Windows automatically configures it as a workgroup and gives this workgroup a name. In Windows Vista, the default name is WORKGROUP. But in Windows XP Home Edition, the default is MSHOME. It's much easier for Windows to find and share files if all the computers on your home network have matching workgroup names. Follow these steps to check or change the workgroup name in Windows Vista:

    1. Open System by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking System.

    2. Under Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings, you can see the workgroup name. If you would like to change it, click Change settings. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

    3. On the Computer Name tab, click Change.

    4. In the Computer Name/Domain Changes dialog box, type the new workgroup name in the Workgroup box, and then click OK.

    5. Click OK, and then click Close. When you are prompted to restart the computer, click Restart Now.

  • The person trying to access shared files on a network computer doesn't have a user name and password on that computer.

    By default, anyone who wants access to shared files on a computer running Windows Vista must have a user account on that computer. For more information, see Create a user account.

    If you trust everyone on your home network, you could opt to turn off password-protected sharing, which is turned on by default in Windows Vista. This will prevent the need to create identical user accounts on all the computers on your home network.

    You can turn off password-protected sharing by following these steps:

    1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

    2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Password-protected sharing, click Turn off password-protected sharing, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  • You need to restart your router or computers. Occasionally, shutting down and restarting your router and all the computers on your network can solve sharing problems.

For more information about file and printer sharing, see File and Printer Sharing in Windows Vista on the Microsoft TechNet website.

Can I share files with computers on my home network that are running Windows XP?

Many people now have home networks that include computers running both Windows Vista and Windows XP. While both versions of Windows are designed to share files and printers with each other, problems can occur. Here are some steps you can take to ensure hassle-free sharing on a mixed network:

  • Make sure all the computers on your home network are in the same workgroup.

    When you set up a home network, Windows automatically configures it as a workgroup and gives this workgroup a name. In Windows Vista, the default name is WORKGROUP. In Windows XP Home Edition, it's MSHOME. File sharing works more smoothly in Windows if you give all your computers the same workgroup name. Here's how:

    1. Open System by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking System.

    2. Under Computer name, domain, and workgroup settings, you can see the workgroup name. If you would like to change it, click Change settings. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

    3. On the Computer Name tab, click Change.

    4. In the Computer Name/Domain Changes dialog box, type the new workgroup name in Workgroup, and then click OK.

    5. Click OK, and then click Close. When you are prompted to restart the computer, click Restart Now.

  • Make sure everyone who wants to access shared files on a Windows Vista computer has a user account on that computer.

    By default, computers running Windows XP don't require a user name and password to share files and printers. But computers running Windows Vista do. For more information, see Create a user account.

    If you trust everyone on your home network, you could opt to turn off password-protected sharing, which is turned on by default in Windows Vista. This will prevent the need to create identical user accounts on all the computers on your home network.

    You can turn off password-protected sharing by following these steps:

    1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

    2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Password-protected sharing, click Turn off password-protected sharing, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  • While not essential for sharing, if you want a computer running Windows XP to show up on the Windows Vista network map, you might need to install something called Link-Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD). Windows Vista uses LLTD to detect devices on a network and position them on its network map. To learn how to install LLTD on a computer running Windows XP, see Network Map Does Not Display Computers Running Windows XP on the Microsoft TechNet website.

Why do I get asked for a user name and password when I try to share files on my home network?

By default, Windows Vista (unlike Windows XP) requires anyone who wants to access shared files to have a user name and password on the computer. You have two options:

  • The most secure option is for everyone in your household to create a user account (user name and password) for each computer on your home network. For instructions, see Create a user account.

  • Or, if you trust everyone on your home network, you could opt to turn off password-protected sharing, which is turned on by default in Windows Vista. This will prevent the need to create identical user accounts on all the computers on your home network. But keep in mind that turning off password-protected sharing makes your network less secure because anyone can gain access to the shared contents of your computer. Here's how to turn off password-protected sharing:

    1. Open Network and Sharing Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center.

    2. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow button Picture of the arrow button next to Password-protected sharing, click Turn off password-protected sharing, and then click Apply. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.