What Is the Public Folder in Windows?

An explanation of the Windows "Users\Public" folder

Files in a stack

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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 who either use the same computer or are connected to the computer over the same network. It's possible to grant or restrict access to your Public folder for any device on a shared network.

Information in this article applies broadly to all versions of the Windows operating system.

Where Is the Windows Public Folder?

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

The Windows Public folder is located in the Users folder at the root of the hard drive that Windows is installed on, which is usually C:\Users\Public.

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 on Your Computer

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. Use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + E (or Ctrl + E in older versions of Windows) to open the File Explorer.

    Use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + E (or Ctrl + E in older versions of Windows) to open the File Explorer.
  2. Select This PC (or My Computer in some Windows versions) in the left pane, then open the primary hard drive (it's usually C:).

    Select This PC (or My Computer in some Windows versions) in the left pane, then open the primary hard drive (it's usually C:).
  3. Open the Users folder.

    Open the Users folder
  4. Open the Public folder.

    Open the Public folder

How to Access Another Public Folder on Your Network

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:

  1. Use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + E (or Ctrl + E in older versions of Windows) to open the File Explorer.

    Use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + E (or Ctrl + E in older versions of Windows) to open the File Explorer.
  2. Select Network from the left pane of Windows Explorer, then select the name of the computer that has the Public folder you want to access.

If Network discovery is not enabled on your device, you must enable Windows file sharing in the Control Panel.

Select Network from the left pane of Windows Explorer, then select the name of the computer that has the Public folder you want to access.

How to Manage 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 still need proper permissions in order to access the folder. To share or unshare the Public folder:

  1. Open the Control Panel and select Network and Internet.

    In some versions of Windows, you'll see Network and Sharing Center as an option. If this is the case, select it and skip to step 3.

    Open the Control Panel and select Network and Internet
  2. Select Network and Sharing Center.

    Select Network and Sharing Center
  3. Select Change advanced sharing settings on the left side of the window.

    Select Change advanced sharing settings on the left side of the window
  4. Select the down arrow next to All Networks to reveal a list of options.

    Select the down arrow next to All Networks to reveal a list of options
  5. Use this screen to enable or disable Public folder sharing.

    • Selecting Turn on password protected sharing will limit access to the Public folder to only those who have a user account on the computer.
    • Selecting Turn off password protected sharing will allow any user on the network to open the Public folder.
    Enable or disable Public folder sharing in the Windows Advanced sharing settings.
  6. Select Save Changes at the bottom to apply the new settings.

    Select Save Changes at the bottom to apply the new settings

Turning off Public folder 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.