What Is the Public Folder in Windows?

An explanation of the Windows "Users\Public" folder

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The Public folder is a folder in the Windows operating system that you can use to share files with other people that either uses the same computer or are connected to the computer over the same network.

The Windows Public folder is located in the Users folder at the root of the hard drive that Windows is installed on. This is usually C:\Users\Public but might be any other letter depending on the drive that's storing the Windows OS files.

Any local user on the computer can access the Public folder at all times, and by configuring specific network access, you can decide whether or not any networked users can open it.

Public Folder Contents

By default, the Public folder does not contain any files until they're added by a user either manually or automatically through a software install.

However, there are default subfolders within the Users Public folder that make it easier to organize files that might be put into it later on:

  • Public Documents
  • Public Downloads
  • Public Music
  • Public Pictures
  • Public Videos

These folders are only suggestions, so it's not required that video files be put into the "Public Videos" folder or images be saved to "Public Pictures."

New folders can be added to the Public folder at any time by any user with the proper permissions. It's treated much like any other folder in Windows except that all the local users have access to it.

How to Access the Public Folder

The quickest way to open the Public Users folder in all versions of Windows is to open Windows Explorer and then navigate through the hard drive to the Users folder:

  1. Hit the Ctrl+E keyboard shortcut to open This PC or My Computer (the name depends on which version of Windows you're using).

  2. From the left pane, find the primary hard drive (it's usually C:).

  3. Open the Users folder and then find and access the Public subfolder.

The above method opens the Public folder on your own computer, not a Public folder from a different computer on your same network. To open a networked Public folder, repeat Step 1 from above and then follow these steps:

  1. Find the Network link from the left pane of Windows Explorer.

  2. Identify the computer name of whichever computer it is that has the Public folder you want to open.

  3. Open the Users folder and then the Public subfolder.

Network Access to the Public Folder

Network access to the Public folder is either turned on so that every networked user can see it and access its files, or it's turned off to prevent all network access. If it's turned on, you need proper permissions in order to access the folder.

How to Share or Unshare the Public Folder:

  1. Access Network and Internet or, if you don't see that option, Network and Sharing Center.

  2. If you chose Network and Internet in the last step, click or tap Network and Sharing Center now, or skip down to Step 4.

  3. Choose the link to the left of Control Panel called Change advanced sharing settings.

    Use this screen to completely disable Public folder sharing or enable or disable password protected sharing.

  4. Turning on "password protected sharing" will limit access to the Public folder to only those who have a user account on the computer. Turning this feature off means that password protected sharing is disabled and any user can open the Public folder.

Remember that turning off Public folder sharing (by enabling password protected sharing) for guest, public, and/or private networks, does not turn off access to the Public folder for users on the same computer; it's still accessible to anyone who has a local account on the PC.