Set Up Your Mac's File Sharing Options

Enable SMB to share files between your Mac and Windows

File sharing settings in macOS


Sharing files on a Mac seems to be one of the easiest file sharing systems available on any computer platform. Of course, that may just be because we're very used to how the Mac and its operating system work.

Even in the early days of the Mac, file sharing was built into the Mac. Using the AppleTalk networking protocols, you could easily mount drives connected to one networked Mac to any other Mac on the network. The whole process was a breeze, with almost no complex setup required.

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.

Getting Started

The Mac's file sharing system hasn't changed a great deal since OS X Lion, though there are subtle differences in the user interface, and in the AFP and SMB versions that are used.

In this article, we're going to concentrate on setting up your Mac to share files with a Windows-based computer, using the SMB file sharing system.

In order 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.

These instructions cover Mac operating systems since OS X Lion. Names and text displayed on your Mac may be slightly different from what is shown here, depending on the version of the Mac operating system you're using, but the changes should be minor enough not to affect the end result.

Enable File Sharing on Your Mac

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

  2. When the System Preferences window opens, click the Sharing preference pane.

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

  4. This will enable either AFP, the file sharing protocol native 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. Note: You don't have to use both sharing methods, SMB is the default and AFP is for use with connecting to older Macs.

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.

Enable User Account Sharing

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

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

Set Up Specific Folders to Share

Each Mac user account has a built-in Public folder that is automatically shared. 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.

  4. Repeat the above steps for any additional folders you wish to share.

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. You can add a user to the list by clicking the plus (+) sign just below the Users list.

  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, which is beyond the scope of this guide.

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

  6. To change access rights for a user or group, click on his/her/their name in the Users list, and then click on the current access rights for that user or group.

  7. A pop-up menu will appear with a list of available access rights. There are four types of access rights, although 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.
  8. Select the type of access you wish to allow.

Repeat the above steps for each shared folder and user.

That's the basics for enabling files sharing on your Mac and setting up which accounts, and folders to share, and how to setup permissions.

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