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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
See all support pages for files, folders, & online storage.
Ask a question in the