Introduction to Network File Sharing in Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows 8
Microsoft Windows 8. Mario Tama / Getty Images

Each major version of the Windows operating system (O/S) released during the past 15 years has incorporated some different and improved features for sharing files between computers over a network. While the newer features are powerful, they can’t always be used when sharing with devices running older versions of Windows (or non-Windows devices).

SkyDrive

The Microsoft SkyDrive service enables Windows computers for personal cloud storage from which files can be shared with others.

Windows support for Skydrive varies depending on O/S version:

  • Windows XP and older - do not support
  • Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 – support SkyDrive via an installed client application
  • Windows 8.1 – has SkyDrive support integrated directly into the operating system

SkyDrive requires registering an account with Microsoft for file storage. A free account provides only a limited amount of storage space, but the storage limit can be increased for a recurring fee.

HomeGroup

Introduced first in Windows 7, HomeGroup optionally allows a local group of computers running Windows 7 or newer to associate with each other for sharing. Each local network can be set up with one homegroup that computers join by knowing the group’s name and password. Users control which individual files and folders they wish to share with the homegroup, and they can also share local printers. Microsoft recommends using HomeGroup for sharing on home networks unless some home PCs are running Windows XP or Windows Vista.

More - How to Use HomeGroup in Windows 7

Windows Public Folder Sharing

Introduced first in Windows Vista, Public is an operating system folder specially configured for file sharing. Users can copy files and folders into this location and, in turn, share them with other Windows (Vista or newer) computers on the rest of the local network.

Users can also allow others to update these files or post new ones into the same location.

Public folder sharing can be enabled or disabled from the Windows Advanced Sharing Settings page (Control Panel -> Network and Sharing Center -> Change advanced sharing settings).

More - What Is the Public Folder in Windows?

Windows File Sharing Permissions

Windows 7 and newer Windows computers offer two basic permission levels for sharing files:

  1. Read: recipients can open the file and view its contents but cannot change the file without making a separate copy
  2. Read/Write: recipients can both view and also optionally change the file contents and save (overwrite) the file at its current location

Windows 7 and newer additionally give the option to restrict sharing to specific people - either a specific list of people (network account names) or a Windows homegroup - or to anyone on the local network.

On all modern versions of Windows, so-called Advanced Sharing options also exist, configurable under the Sharing tab of file/folder properties. Advanced Sharing supports three permission types:

  1. Read: same as the basic Read permission above
  2. Change: same as the Read/Write permission above
  3. Full Control: allows setting an extra level of advanced permissions for systems running the NT file system (NTFS), generally of interest only on legacy business networks

    Mechanics of Windows File Sharing

    With the exception of Public folders that involve moving or copying a file to a new location, sharing files in Windows involves taking a specific action in the context of the given file or folder. Right-clicking on a file or folder in Windows Explorer, for example, reveals a “Share with” option on the context menu. In the modern UI on Windows 8 and newer, sharing can be done through the Share charm or Skydrive app.

    File sharing can fail due to permissions issues, network outages, and other technical glitches. Use the troubleshooting wizards in Control Panel (under Network/Internet or Network and Sharing Center) to diagnose problems with network connections, shared folders or the homegroup.

    Non-Windows and Third-Party Sharing Solutions

    Besides the sharing facilities built into Microsoft Windows, some third-party software systems like Dropbox also support file sharing between Windows computers plus other non-Windows devices on the network. Consult the documentation for these third-party packages for additional details.

    Turning Off Windows File Sharing

    Users can turn off file and printer sharing on a computer from the Windows Advanced Sharing Settings page. If the computer had previously joined a homegroup, leave that group through Control Panel. Any files in the Public folder should also be removed to prevent that form of sharing. Finally, uninstall any third-party sharing software that may be present on the device.

    More - How To Enable or Disable Windows File and Printer Sharing