Network File Sharing in Microsoft Windows

Learn the different options in Windows to share files with others

Each major version of the Windows operating system released since 2006 has incorporated some different and improved features for sharing files between computers over a network. Although the newer features are powerful, they can't always be used when sharing with devices running older versions of Windows or non-Windows devices.

Instructions in this article apply to Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, and Windows 7. Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7.

Share Files in the Cloud With OneDrive

The Microsoft OneDrive service provides Windows computers with personal cloud storage, enabling you to share files with others. Windows' support for OneDrive is limited to Windows 10 and above, which have the program built right into the operating system.

To share a file or folder through OneDrive, right-click the file or folder you want to share, then select Share a OneDrive link. A link to your file or folder is created. You can paste this link into an email or text message and share it with others.

OneDrive requires registering an account with Microsoft for file storage. A free account provides limited storage space. However, you can purchase more storage for a recurring fee.

Use Windows Public Folder Sharing

The Public folder is an operating system folder configured for file sharing. Users can copy files and folders to this location and share them with other Windows computers on the local network. You can also give permission to update these files or post new ones to the same location.

To enable Public folder sharing, go to the Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change advanced sharing settings > select Turn on file and printer sharing. Save your changes.

Selecting "Turn on file and printer sharing" in Windows 10.

Understand Windows File Sharing Permissions

Windows offers a few methods to establish file-sharing permissions.

Basic Permissions

In Windows 10, 8, 8.1, and 7, there are two basic permission levels for sharing files:

  • Read: Recipients can open the file and view its contents but cannot change the file without making a separate copy.
  • Read/Write: Recipients can view and change the file contents and save the file at its current location.

Restrictive Sharing

To restrict sharing to a specific list of people (network account names) or anyone on the local network, right-click the folder, select Give Access, choose Specific People or Remove access, and follow the prompts.

Giving access to file in Windows 10

Advanced Sharing

On all versions of Windows, Advanced Sharing options exist, configurable under the Share menu of the file or folder properties. Advanced Sharing supports three permission types:

  • Full Control: Recipients can read, write, change, and delete files and subfolders. Users can also change permission settings.
  • Change: Recipients can view and change the file contents and save (overwrite) the file at its current location.
  • Read: Recipients can open the file and view its contents but cannot change the file without making a separate copy.

To access Advanced Sharing, right-click the folder or file and then select Properties > Sharing.

Setting Sharing permissions in Windows 10

Mechanics of Windows File Sharing

Except for Public folders that involve moving or copying a file to a new location, sharing files in Windows involves taking specific action in the context of the given file or folder. In Windows 10, right-click on a file or folder in File Explorer, for example, to reveal a Give access to option.

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

How to Turn Off Windows File Sharing

Users can turn off file and printer sharing on a computer from the Windows Advanced Sharing Settings page. You should also remove any files in the Public folder to stop that form of sharing. Finally, uninstall any third-party sharing software that may be present on the device.

Turning of "File and printer sharing" in Windows 10.

Non-Windows and Third-Party Sharing Solutions

Besides the sharing facilities built into Microsoft Windows, some third-party software systems such as 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.

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