How to Use Windows HomeGroup

Take advantage of these built-in Windows sharing capabilities

windows Home Group logo

 Microsoft

HomeGroup is a networking feature of Microsoft Windows introduced with Windows 7. HomeGroup provides a method for Windows 7 and newer PCs (including Windows 10 systems) to share resources including printers and different types of files with each other.

Workgroups have been removed from Windows 10. These instructions are intended for previous Windows versions.

HomeGroup Versus Windows Workgroups and Domains

HomeGroup is a separate technology from Microsoft Windows workgroups and domains. Windows 7 and newer versions support all three methods for organizing devices and resources on computer networks. Compared to workgroups and domain, home groups:

  • Are optional. Windows computers must either belong to a workgroup (often the default WORKGROUP) or domain, but networks are not required to use HomeGroup.
  • Are password protected. HomeGroup requires each computer that joins the group to provide a matching shared password, while workgroups do not (and network administrators add computers to domains rather than users doing so).
  • Do not require users to have accounts on other computers, unlike workgroups. Home groups instead utilize a common system account (called HOMEGROUPUSER$) so that users can connect to any computer in the group transparently, as with domains.
  • Do not configure certain computers as network servers, and do not extend beyond one local network, unlike domains. HomeGroup PCs communicate using peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, similar to workgroups (but using different network protocols).

Create a Windows Home Group

To create a new home group, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Windows Control Panel.

    Windows 7 Control Panel
  2. Choose Network and Internet.

  3. Select HomeGroup.

    Windows 7 Network and Internet controls
  4. Select Create a homegroup to start the homegroup wizard.

    Windows 7 start homegroup creation
  5. Select the types of resources on this PC to be shared with the home group from among the available choices: Pictures, Music, Videos, Documents, and Printers. These choices can be changed later.

    Windows 7 select homegroup sharing
  6. Select Next.

    

  7. Write down the automatically-generated password (a combination of letters and numbers) shown on the last page of the wizard, and select Finish to exit the wizard.

    Windows 7 homegroup created with password

By design, a Windows 7 PC cannot support creating home groups if it is running Home Basic or Windows 7 Starter Edition. These two versions of Windows 7 disable the capability to create home groups (although they can join existing ones). Setting up a home group requires the home network to have at least one PC running a more advanced version of Windows 7 such as Home Premium, or Professional.

Home groups also cannot be created from PCs which belong to a Windows domain.

Join and Leave Home Groups

Home groups become useful only when two or more computers belong to a home group. To add more Windows 7 PCs to a home group, follow these steps from each computer to be joined:

  1. Open the HomeGroup sharing window from inside Control Panel (steps 1 and 2 above).

  2. Confirm the home group name listed is correct, and select Join Now.

  3. Select which resources (Pictures, Movies, Videos, Documents, and Printers) on this PC are to be shared with the home group, then select Next.

  4. Enter the homegroup’s password, then select Next to complete the process.

  5. Select Finish to exit.

Computers can also be added to a home group during the Windows 7 installation. If the PC is connected to the local network and Windows discovers a home group during the install, the user is prompted to join that group.

To remove a computer from a home group, open the HomeGroup sharing window and click the Leave the homegroup link near the bottom.

A PC can belong to only one home group at a time. To join a different home group than the one a PC is currently connected to, first, leave the current home group then join the new group following the procedures outlined above.

Use Home Groups

Windows organizes the file resources shared by home groups into a special view in Windows Explorer. To access home group shared files, open Windows Explorer and, in the Folder pane, navigate to the Homegroup section located between the Libraries and Computer sections. Expand the Homegroup icon to show a list of devices currently connected to the group, and expand each device icon, in turn, to access the tree of files and folders that the PC is currently sharing (under Documents, Music, Pictures, and Video).

Files shared with HomeGroup can be accessed from any member computer as if they were local. When the hosting PC is off the network, however, its files and folders are unavailable and not listed in Windows Explorer. By default, HomeGroup shares files with read-only access. Several options exist for managing folder sharing and individual file permission settings:

  • To change the categories of resources being shared, right-click the Homegroup icon in Windows Explorer and choose Change HomeGroup settings.
  • To manage permissions of local files being shared with the home group, open Windows Explorer, select the Libraries section, navigate to the desired folder or file level, and select Share with to change permissions for those specific resources.

HomeGroup also automatically adds shared printers into the Devices and Printers section of each PC connected to the group.

Change the Home Group Password

While Windows automatically generates a home group password when the group is first created, an administrator can change the default password to a new one that's easier to remember. This password also should be changed when permanently removing computers from the home group or when banning individual people.

To change a home group password:

  1. From any computer belonging to the home group, go to Control Panel and open the HomeGroup sharing window.

  2. Scroll down, and select Change the password.

    To view the password currently in use, click the View or print the homegroup password link.

  3. Enter the new password, select Next, then select Finish.

    Windows 7 Change Workgroup password
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 for each computer in the home group.

To prevent synchronization issues with other computers on the network, Microsoft recommends completing this procedure across all devices in the group immediately.

Troubleshoot Home Group Issues

While Microsoft designed HomeGroup to be a reliable service, it may be necessary to troubleshoot technical issues with either connecting to the home group or sharing resources. Watch especially for these common problems and technical limitations:

  • PCs that belong to a Windows domain (common for laptops used in a corporate office) cannot share their files or printers with home groups, although they can join and access the shared resources of others.
  • IPv6 must be running on the local network for HomeGroup to work. Windows 7 enables IPv6 by default.
  • PCs may fail to join a home group if they have an enabled Trusted Platform Module (TPM). See Microsoft support article 2521416 for details.

HomeGroup includes an automatic troubleshooting utility designed to diagnose specific technical issues in real-time. To launch this utility:

  1. Go to Control Panel and open the HomeGroup sharing window.

  2. Scroll down and select Start the HomeGroup troubleshooter.

Extend Home Groups to Non-Windows Computers

HomeGroup is officially supported only on Windows PCs starting with Windows 7. Some tech enthusiasts have developed methods to extend the HomeGroup protocol to work with older versions of Windows or with alternative operating systems like Mac OS X. These unofficial methods tend to be relatively difficult to configure and suffer from technical limitations.