Set Up Your Mac's File Sharing Options

Enable SMB to share files between your Mac and Windows

Even in the early days of the Mac, file sharing was built into the operating system. Using the AppleTalk networking protocols, you could mount drives connected to one networked Mac to any other Apple computer on the network.

Nowadays, file sharing is slightly more complex, but the Mac still makes the process a simple one, allowing you to share files between Macs, or, using the SMB protocol, between Macs, PCs, and Linux/UNIX computer systems.

Instructions in this article apply to Mac OS X Lion (10.7) and later.

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How to Enable File Sharing on Your Mac

To share your Mac's files, you must specify which folders you want to share, define the access rights for the shared folders, and enable the SMB file sharing protocol that Windows uses.

  1. Open System Preferences by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu, or by clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock.

    System Preferences in macOS
  2. Click the Sharing preference pane.

    Sharing category in System Preferences
  3. The left side of the Sharing preference pane lists the services that you can share. Place a checkmark in the File Sharing box.

    File Sharing option in macOS sharing preferences
  4. This will enable either AFP, the file sharing protocol built-in to the Mac OS (OS X Mountain Lion and earlier) or SMB (OS X Mavericks and later). You should now see a green dot next to text that says File Sharing On. The IP address is listed just below the text. Make a note of the IP address; you will need this information in later steps.

  5. Click the Options button, just to the right of the text.

  6. Place a checkmark in the Share files and folders using SMB box as well as the Share Files and folder using AFP box.

    You don't have to use both sharing methods, SMB is the default and AFP is for use with connecting to older Macs.

    Sharing options in macOS System Preferences
  7. Your Mac is now ready to share files and folders using both AFP for legacy Macs, and SMB, the default file sharing protocol for Windows and newer Macs.

How to Enable User Account Sharing

With file sharing turned on, you can now decide if you wish to share user account home folders. When you enable this option, a Mac user who has a home folder on your Mac can access it from a PC running Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10, as long as they log in with the same user account information on the PC.

  1. Just below the Share files and folder using SMB section is a list of user accounts on your Mac. Place a checkmark next to the account that you wish to allow to share files. You'll be asked to enter the password for the selected account. Provide the password and click OK.

  2. Repeat the above steps for any additional users that you want to have access to SMB file sharing.

  3. Click the Done button once you have the user accounts you wish to share configured.

How to Set Up Specific Folders to Share

Each Mac user account has a built-in Public folder the computer shares automatically. You can share other folders, as well as define the access rights for each of them.

  1. Make sure the Sharing preference pane is still open, and File Sharing still selected in the left-hand pane.

  2. To add folders, click the plus (+) button below the Shared Folders list.

  3. In the Finder sheet that drops down, navigate to the folder you wish to share. Click the folder to select it, and then click the Add button.

    Adding a folder to share in macOS
  4. Repeat the above steps for any additional folders you wish to share.

How to Define Access Rights

Folders you add to the shared list have a set of defined access rights. By default, the current owner of the folder has read and write access; everyone else is limited to read access.

You can change the default access rights by performing the following steps.

  1. Select a folder in the list of Shared Folders.

  2. The Users list will display the names of the users who have access rights. Next to each user's name is a menu of available access rights.

  3. Add a user to the list by clicking the plus (+) sign just below the Users list.

    Users in File Sharing preferences
  4. A drop-down sheet will display a list of the Users & Groups on your Mac. The list includes individual users as well as groups, such as administrators.

    You can also select individuals from your Contacts list, but this requires the Mac and the PC to use the same directory services.

    Users in sharing preferences
  5. Click a name or group in the list, and then click the Select button.

    Select button
  6. To change access rights for a user or group, click their name in the Users list, and then click the current access rights for that user or group.

    User permissions in macOS
  7. A pop-up menu will appear with a list of available access rights. Four types of access rights are available, but not all of them are available for every type of user.

    • Read & Write. The user can read files, copy files, create new files, edit files within the shared folder, and delete files from the shared folder.
    • Read Only. The user may read files, but not create, edit, copy, or delete files.
    • Write Only (Drop Box). The user may copy files to the drop box, but won't be able to see or access the contents of the drop box folder.
    • No Access. The user will not be able to access any files in the shared folder or any information about the shared folder. This access option is primarily used for the special Everyone user, which is a way to allow or prevent guest access to folders.
    Permission levels for a user in macOS
  8. Select the type of access you wish to allow.

  9. Repeat these steps for each shared folder and user.

  10. Depending on the type of computer you are trying to share files with, you may also need to configure a Workgroup Name.

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