How Does Windows File And Printer Sharing Work?

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How To Set Up File And Printer Sharing

A home network isn’t just about Internet access. File and Printer Sharing is one of the main reasons computer networking was invented. Without it, there’s next no reason for our computers to be connected. File and Printer Sharing is the magic potion that gives us the ability to share data files, music, and video, with other devices on our home network.

Unfortunately, Windows File and Printer sharing isn’t set up by default. It requires some setup. This article gives you a detailed step-by-step explanation of how to set up and make the most of Windows File and Printer Sharing.

file and printer sharing

At this point, you should have several devices connected to the Internet with both wired and wireless connections. You can open web pages and watch Internet videos on a whim but how do you watch the video you downloaded in the living room from your laptop in the bedroom?


Technology has taken us to a place where it can be more difficult to access files on a computer in another room of our own homes than files on a server halfway around the world. That is until you have things set up correctly. This chapter covers how to set up your music, data, and video files so they can be accessed from any computer in your home quickly and easily.

Note: This chapter focuses on file sharing on Windows 10. If you’re using Windows 7 you should still be able to follow along. On the surface sharing files in Windows 10 and Windows 7 are almost identical. Under the hood, they don’t always work too well together though.

No time to read right now? Download this article in convenient PDF format.

Microsoft ends support for Windows 7 in 2020. For this reason, I suggest upgrading to Windows 10 unless you have a reason to stay with Windows 7. Contrary to popular belief the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is still free if you download the Media Creation Tool.

Entire books have been written on the idiosyncrasies of file sharing on all the different Windows Operating Systems. They are long and painful to read. The purpose of this course is to get you up and running as quickly and easily as possible. We’ll be exploring simple network file sharing for home users and not Active Directory file sharing like you may have encountered at work.

File And Printer Sharing Basics

A Windows Operating System will allow you to easily access most of the files on the computer you’re sitting at. To access files on another computer, there are all kinds of firewalls, protocols, and file permissions to go through. This set of protocols is called File And Printer Sharing.

You can’t easily see the files and folders on another computer on the network either unless they’re shared out. The act of sharing a folder is easy. The hard part is getting Windows File and Printer Sharing set up correctly to make it all work.

Many variables need to be covered to get file sharing to work. I don’t know where you’re at in terms of those variables. Everyone who reads this could have a different starting point. So first I’m going to demonstrate sharing a folder on one computer and accessing it from another under computer ideal circumstances. Then I’m going to give a brief explanation of how file sharing works and how to ensure the stars are aligned properly on your computers.

Sharing a folder is like opening a window on your computer’s hard drive which only allows certain people to access it.

shared computers on network

The goal is to put whatever files you want to share in a folder and name that folder so you can recognize it easily from across the network. Once that folder is shared you’ll be able to access it by double-clicking on the name of the computer it’s shared from. For example, if you share a folder called “Music” from a computer named “Caesar” you’ll be able to click on the Network icon in Windows Explorer and then double-click “Caesar.”

You’ll also be able to access the “Music” folder on “Caesar” by typing in \\Caesar\Music in the search field.

Sharing A Folder In Windows 10

share folder windows 10
  1. Open Windows Explorer and select the folder you want to share.
  2. Click on the Share tab or right-click on your folder and select “Properties” and then go to the “Sharing” tab.
  3. Use the drop-down list to select who you want to share the folder with.
select users to share with
  • Select who you want to have access to the folder and click “Share.”
shared folder name
  • Make note of the computername/foldername you just created.
  • Click on this link to test your new share.
shared music folder
  • Your new share is displayed.

Sharing A Folder In Windows 7

This process is virtually identical in Windows 7 and Windows 10

sharing in windows 7
  1. Highlight the folder you want to share.
  2. Right-click and select “Properties.”
  3. Go to the “Sharing” tab.
  4. Click on “Share.”
  5. Add the person you want to have access to your share.

View The Shared Folder From Another Computer

Remember or jot down the name of the computer you created the shared folder on and go to another computer.

shared computers on network
  • Open Windows Explorer, click on Network and wait for the machine names to appear in the Explorer window. Click on the computer with the shared folders.
shared music folder
net bios

Alternatively, you can type in the computer preceded by \\ in the search field. The “wack wack” calls up a network protocol that helps identify computer names. Double-click on the computer with the shared folders.

Map a Drive

This will put a convenient shortcut on your desktop for easy access to the file share on your other computer.

drive mapping
  1. Right-click on the shared folder you want to connect to.
  2.  Select “Map Network Drive.”
map network drive
  1. Give the share a drive letter.
  2. Select “Reconnect at sign-in” so you don’t have to type in a password every time you want to connect.
  3. Finish.
image 17
  • Your new drive mapping is displayed
image 18
  1. In Windows Explorer go to “This PC.”
  2. Right-click on the new drive mapping and select “Create Shortcut.”
shared drive
  • A shortcut to your new drive mapping is created and placed on your desktop. You can double-click on this shortcut to access the share you created on the other machine provided the other computer is turned on.

Check Your File and Pinter Sharing Settings

The whole process of sharing a file seems pretty straightforward until you follow the steps perfectly and it doesn’t work. Then you’re left with no idea where you went wrong or what to check. This is where some behind-the-scenes knowledge of File and Printer Sharing can come in handy. Of course, knowing what settings to check will also help. We’ll take care of that here.

The major components of File and Printer Sharing are:

  • Public vs Private Setting
  • Workgroup name
  • File and Printer sharing (Enabled or disabled.)
  • Password-protected sharing (On or off.)

Public vs Private Access

Computers allow other computers to access their files through a service called File and Printer Sharing. If this service is turned off you will not be able to share files. Windows has three preset firewall settings. These are known as “profiles” in Windows 10 and “locations” in Windows 7. The three types are Public, Private, and Domain.

This setting depends on the type of network you’re on. You can easily change this setting if you don’t like the way the computer configures itself automatically.

no access

The default Network location is Public. File sharing is blocked. If you find yourself on the WiFi in a coffee shop or an airport you want to change your network location to Public to protect your personal data. You’ll still be able to access the Internet but your personal data will be behind a firewall that blocks other Windows computers.

file access

You’ll usually find Domain file sharing on a work or corporate network. Instead of logging on to the local computer Domain users log onto a Domain Server and file sharing is controlled by policies and permissions set by a Network Administrator.

The tools used to manage file sharing on an Active Directory Domain Server can be confusing and convoluted. In this course, we’ll be sticking to simple file sharing and avoiding any buttons that say “Advanced.” The advanced features will work but they’ll take longer to set up and are easier to mess up.

file sharing access

You want to use the Private profile/location type on your home network. The word “private” means you are on a trusted network and you’re willing to allow other computers on that network to access the files on your computer. 

To switch network profiles in Windows 10:

change file sharing profile
  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Network & Internet
network and internet settings

Your local area connection is set to Public.

  • Click on “Change connection properties.”
  • Select “Private.”

To switch network locations in Windows 7:

open network and sharing center
  1. Right-click on the Network icon in the lower right-hand corner.
home network
  • Network and Sharing Center opens. Click on “Home Network.”
home network
  • Select “Home Network.” This is the Private Network location.

Workgroup Name

Once all your computers have been set to Private other conditions must be met to share files.  One of these conditions is all computers need to be on the same “Workgroup.” A workgroup is simply a group of computers that all have the same workgroup name. The default workgroup name is “Workgroup.”

There is no need to change the name of your workgroup unless you simply enjoy coming up with clever names.  To change or check the workgroup name of your Windows 10 computer:

go to windows system
  1. Right-click on the Start Button.
  2. Go to “System.”
change workgroup name
  • The “About” property sheet appears. Click on “System Info.”
  • Click on “Change Settings.”
  • Click on “Change” to change the name of your workgroup.
image 22
  • Change your workgroup name in the window that pops up.

In Windows 7:

change domain
  1. From the Start Menu go to “Computer.”
  2. Right-click on “Computer” and select “Properties.”
  3. Click on “Change Settings.”
  • Change your Workgroup name and click on “OK.”

Enabling File and Printer Sharing

Even after all this File and Printer Sharing still needs to be enabled or at least checked up on. Maybe this is why some people just give up and get a NAS or use a cloud service. We’ll be discussing both of those options shortly.

We enable File and Printer Sharing in both Windows 7 and Windows 10 in Network and Sharing Center. We can also check on some other important settings here as well.  

In Windows 10:

change file sharing profile
  1. Go to “Settings.”
  2. Click on “Network & Internet.”
image 23
  • Scroll down and click on Network and Sharing Center.

To get to “Network and Sharing Center” in Windows 7:

open network and sharing center
  • Right-click on the Network icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen and select “Open Network and Sharing Center.”
advanced sharing settings
  • In both Windows 7 and Windows 10 click on “Change Advance Sharing Settings.”

The “Advanced Sharing Settings” Section is slightly different in Windows 7 and Windows 10. In Windows 7 the “Private Network” profile is called “Home or Work.” Windows 10 also has a separate “All Network” section to access settings that are common to all profiles.  For the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on Windows 10 from here on out.

network and sharing center
  1. Open the “Private” section with the drop-down arrow.
  2. Network Discovery allows your computer to see shared folders on other computers. Make sure these settings are on.
  3. File and Printer sharing makes your shared files, folders, and printers visible across the network. Make sure this is turned on.
  4. Sell the “All Networks” settings below.
all networks
  1. Open “All Networks” if you haven’t already.
  2. The “Public Folder Sharing” feature isn’t used much and can be disregarded.
image 24
  • Selecting “Choose Media Streaming Options” opens a dialog that allows you to control which computers have access to your media and even provides a level of parental control.
  • The default 128-bit encryption is fine.
  • The “Password Protected Sharing” section is the most important selection in this list. It determines who can access your files and how.

There are two ways to go with Password Protected Sharing. The easy way and the more secure way.

  • Easy – When you share a folder with “Password Protected Sharing” turned off everyone can access it and they don’t need a password. Your options are simple: Read access or Read/Write access. Read access allows others to open data files and play media files. Read/Write access allows people to add, edit, and delete files.
  • Secure – When you share a folder with “Password Protected Sharing” turned on people will need to use a username and password to access your files. This will only work if they have a username and password set up on the computer that is sharing the files. I’ll get more into this next. 
give file access
  1. From Windows Explorer right-click on the folder you want to share.
  2. Click on “Give Access To.”
  3. Click on “Specific People.”
add users to share
  • Select who you want to give access to and give them Read or Read/Write access.
  • Click “Add.”
  • Click “Share.”

Password Protected Sharing Explained

Earlier I mentioned that only people who have an account on a computer can access its files from across the network. I’d like to elaborate on that.  Here are some scenarios to give you a better understanding of how this works.

image 25
  • Bob has identical usernames and passwords set up on both the Laptop and the PC.
  • The folder on the PC is shared out to Bob, Mike and Sue.
  • Bob is logged on to the laptop as Bob.
  • Bob can access the shared folder without entering a password.
image 26
  • Bob is logged on to the laptop with a Bob account that has a different password than the Bob account on the PC
  • Bob cannot access the folder and will be prompted for a username and password.
  • When Bob enters a username and password that matches the Bob account on the PC he’ll be able to access the share.
image 27
  1. Wanda is logged onto the laptop as Wanda
  2. There is no Wanda account on the PC.
  3. She’ll be prompted for a username and password.
  4. Unfortunately, there is no “Wanda” account on the PC so she cannot access the share.
image 28
  • If Sue gives Wanda the username and password to her account on the PC she’ll be able to access the share.

Creating User Accounts

Windows offers a convenience feature to create a new user as you create shares. Unfortunately, it’s far from actually being convenient because of the new way Windows 10 handles account creation. As you may know, Microsoft would rather you log onto their cloud services than your own local computer. Accessing file shares on your home network with a Microsoft Cloud account will be difficult at best. To simplify things we want to stick to local computer accounts and not Microsoft email or phone accounts.

The normal account creation process is just as pushy as the “convenience feature.” It tries to get you to bypass creating a local account and create an email or phone account instead. The trick is to click on the words “I don’t have this person’s sign-in information” instead of blindly following the “intuitive” steps provided.

Note:  To create a user without creating a share first you can go to: Start/Settings/Accounts/Scroll down to “Family & other users” and hop to the right pane to skip to step 3 below.

To create a new user from the “People to share with” window:

create a new user
  1. Select “Create a new user…”
add new user
  • Click on “Add a new user” in PC settings.
image 29
  • “Family & Other Users” opens. Click on “Add someone else to this PC.”
sign in to microsoft
  • Now Microsoft wants you to create an email or phone account. If don’t want to create an email or phone account click on “I don’t have the person’s sign-in information” and “Next.” Important: If you create an email account you are joining the Microsoft cloud. That will make it difficult to share files on your local network. If you want to create an account that can access files on your local network select: Add a user without a Microsoft account.
create account
  • Click “Add a user without a Microsoft account” and “Next.”
create a computer account
  • Add a username and password for your new user. Unfortunately, security questions are required.  Click next and the rest is self-explanatory.

Moving and Copying Files

Even if you already know how to move and copy files there are a few nuances you should know about when doing it across a network. The first thing you may run into is finding the folders that are shared out on the network and are visible to other computers.

check file shares on local computer

You can view the shared folders and printers on your computer by typing \\localhost in the search field by the Start button or in Windows Explorer and hitting Enter. This works the same on both Windows 7 and Windows 10.

shared music folder
  • All shared folders and printers on your computer are displayed.

Before we go to another machine let’s make note of our computer name so we can find it easier on the other computer.

computer hostname
  • Open a command prompt, type hostname, and hit Enter. The name of your computer is displayed.

Now, let’s go to another computer and view the folder shares on CAESAR.

check file shares on local computer
  • Enter \\caesar into the Search field or Windows Explorer-like we did before with \\local host.
shared music folder
  • The folder and printer shares on Caesar are displayed.
image 30
  • Alternatively, you can scroll down and click on “Network” in the left pane of Windows Explorer to display all the computers on your network. Double-clicking on the “CAESAR” icon will display its folder and printer shares.

You may also remember we created a drive mapping on this computer to the folder at \\caesar\music.

drive mapping
  • To view the drive mapping to the Music folder on \\Ceasar click on “This PC” in the left pane and your computer’s drives are displayed in the right pane.
path to share
  • To view the files and folders on the \\caesar\music share double click on the drive mapping. The breadcrumb trail \\Network\Caesar\Music above is to keep you oriented.

I put some more folders in the “Misc” folder to demonstrate the copy operation from one computer to another.  My favorite method is the “lasso” technique shown below.

drag files and folders
  1. Place the mouse to the right of the files you want to grab.
  2. Press and hold the left mouse button while dragging to the left and down until you “lasso” the files you want.
copy and paste files
  • 3. Release the left mouse button and right-click to reveal your choices.

When copying or moving files across a network it’s always best to “copy” because the original file will remain in the source folder. If there’s a glitch somewhere while doing a move or “cut” operation and you have to start over your files are gone and there’s no recycle bin to catch them on the network. Once the file copy is successful you can always go back and delete them from the source if you want.

copy seperate files
  • You can also gather folders by holding down the CTRL key and selecting them one by one with your mouse.
use shift to copy files
  • Or you can grab a whole section of folders by tapping the SHIFT key after making your selection.

Once you select “Copy” or “Cut” all the files and folders you selected are temporarily in your clipboard which is kind of a portable container. They will remain there until you place your mouse in another folder, right-click and select paste.  Holding down the CTRL key and hitting the V (CTRL + V) will also release the contents of the clipboard into the folder you have opened. 

paste files to your folder
  • You’re now ready to Paste the contents of your clipboard into the Documents folder.
copying files
  • Selecting Paste or hitting CTRL+V releases your files to their new location. A small window opens to show the progress of the copy operation. Note: The files remain in the clipboard until you replace them with something else.
files in new location
  • Your files are now in their new location in the Documents folder of the second computer.

Printer Sharing

The thought of sharing a printer on a network may sound more complicated than sharing a folder but it’s quite easy. Printer sharing is designed to work with USB printers that plug directly into your computer.

Once the printer drivers are installed you simply share the driver just like you would a folder and create a mapping for it on other computers as we did with the folder. That mapping functions just like an installed printer on your local machine.

Printer sharing works the same way on Windows 7 and Windows 10 but due to constant updates on Windows 10 connections between the two operating systems may not always work.  Sharing printers is done from the “Printer Properties” sheet.

To get to “Printer Properties” in Windows 7:

printer properties
  1. Go to Start.
  2. Click on “Devices and Printers.”
  3. Right-click on the printer you want to share and select “Printer Properties.”
  4. Go to Step 4 below.

To get to Printer Properties in Windows 10 type “printers” in the search field next to Start. Printers & Scanners will pop up in the menu.

printers and scanners
  1. Click on “Printers & scanners.”
manage printers
  • Select the printer you want to share from the list and click on “Manage.”
printer properties
  • Click on “Printer Properties. The “Printer Properties” window opens.
  • Go to the “Sharing” tab.
  • Check “Share this printer.”
  • Give your shared printer a name. This is how it will appear across the network from other computers.
  • Click on “OK.”

Connect To The Shared Printer

Now that we’ve successfully installed and shared a printer on our main computer let’s mosy on over to another computer and see if we can find it. Remember the computer name (hostname) of our printer sharing computer is CAESAR.

image 31
  • By typing in \\caesar into the search field in Windows 10, the run box on Windows 7, or the top bar in Windows Explorer on either Windows 7 or Windows 10 and hitting enter a window will pop up showing all the folders and printers that are being shared CAESAR.
image 32
  • Simply right-click on the printer you shared and select “Connect.
printer installation
  • The printer mapping is created and the printer drivers are automatically installed on your computer.
Control Panel
  • To make sure our printer is there go to Control Panel on either Windows 7 or Windows 10 and click on Devices and Printers.
printer successfully installed
  • Depending on how many devices you have installed here you may need to scroll up or down a bit to find the new printer installation.

Here it’s labeled as “Samsung ML-2160 Series (USB001) on caeser.” The “on caesar” part tells you it’s a shared printer on a computer named “caesar.” Your printer is now ready for use. As long as the printer and computer it’s shared on are turned on you can print to it just like a printer installed directly on your local computer.

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Affiliate Disclosure

Jerry Jones (WiFi Guy) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” – Jerry Jones

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