This is a revision to an article I wrote about Folder Sharing here in Experts Exchange about five years ago. Systems have changed, improvements have been made, and most importantly, in very modern Windows 10, HomeGroup functionality has been removed, making traditional folder sharing necessary. HomeGroup used Public Folders which could easily be a security risk. Thus, a revised article is in order.
I have always used traditional folder sharing, as I prefer reasonably unfettered access to the machines that I am sharing. When Windows 7 Pro came along, insecure concepts I had used in XP died along with XP. I studied file sharing concepts using targeted Google searches, found the answers that I needed and set up an approach that works reliably for Windows 10, Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.
What follows below is a description of how to share folders between two modern computers running Windows 10 Pro, Windows 8.1 Pro, Windows 7 Pro or a combination of the three operating systems. You could probably do this in a number of ways, but I shall describe a way that has served me well to interconnect any operating system above Windows 7 without any problems.
It works best for me to consider my Desktop (Windows 10 Pro) as the main machine and to access this machine with either of my Laptops – one Windows 10 Pro as my business machine and one Windows 10 Pro Insider machine with an advanced version of Windows 10 Pro (19H2 as I write this).
Using an enumerated user (username of another machine) makes folder sharing much easier to implement. On the Desktop machine, go to Computer Management, Users and Groups and make a Windows User B that is the same Windows User B and password as for the laptop. This is the “enumerated user”.
If the two machines have the same Username and password, this step can be skipped. I have them different – my Desktop has a Local User Account of one name and my Laptop has a Microsoft Account of a different name. Spend some time thinking this through and fully understanding the concept as it is important going forward.
Sharing a Drive or Folder
Share the hard drive (C:\), or whatever folders you wish, to User B and use the password of User B when setting up security for sharing. It might be easier to permit the hard drive C:\ to “Everyone” with the password for User B. Then when User B tries to connect, it will do so very easily.
Caution: Sharing to “Everyone” needs to be used with great care. Be very certain the passwords for both User A (Main machine) and User B (laptop machine) are complex with letters, numbers and special characters. Make certain that the machine is on a strong router with a good firewall and that the router cannot be externally accessed. In other words, secure your machine to the hilt. Do this and you can enjoy unfettered access to your own machines.
See the screenshot below to illustrate the sharing concept. Note (carefully) that I named my Desktop drive as DriveC. C$ is no longer useable for security reasons in the native Windows 10 Operating System.
Network Access Settings
We need to set up the Network Access variables to allow sharing to occur.
First, make sure Network Cards have been set to Private because the Public network mode does not allow file sharing to occur. Go to Control Panel, Network and Sharing Center and make sure the Network card is attached to Home/Work and NOT Public.
Here is a screenshot of Windows 10 Pro network card settings. With Windows 10 Version Build 1809 and beyond, you can easily make changes here. For other systems and versions, you can delete the wireless connection, restart the computer and make a new wireless connection ensuring that you have selected Private Mode. This is often phrased as “Do you wish to access other devices”
Make sure all computers are in the same Workgroup. Go to Control Panel, Systems, and in the window that comes up, make sure the computers are in WORKGROUP. If not, go to Advanced System Settings, Computer Name tab and change it. You will need to restart the computer if you change this setting.
Now let us assume that the Desktop machine is Windows 10 Pro. The setup for Windows 7 and 8.1 Pro is very similar but the steps and supporting screenshots I have below are for Windows 10 Pro.
Go to Advanced Sharing Settings and check / set the following settings:
Please see the two screenshots directly below here for the settings on the Windows 10 Pro computers. Make sure all computers in your workgroup have been set the same way.
If you are setting this up the first time on any of the computers, restart the computers and verify the settings.
Computer Name versus IP Address
Your Desktop (and Laptop) computers have computer names. But in a Workgroup, such names are not always understood. It is usually best for me to set up the Computer Name / IP relationship in the laptop HOSTS file (c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts). The entry in the HOSTS file would look like this:
192.168.xxx.100Name of Desktop# Home Desktop
If you need to edit the HOSTS file, find notepad.exe on your computer, right-click on it and select Run as Administrator. When Notepad opens, navigate to the HOST file and open it. You will need to set the Notepad file type to “All Files”. Make the changes and save the file. You do not normally have to restart after editing the HOSTS file.
Side note about DHCP: I find it best to use DHCP and not Static IP addressing on personal computers. That means the computer is using vanilla TCP/IP settings and there is little to go wrong. This worked quite well for a few years and then with more devices in my network, my Desktop computer would sometimes change its IP address, which in turn breaks the HOSTS file relationship.
Ultimately, I went to my main Cisco router and made a DHCP Reservation of .100 for my Desktop computer. Now that address does not change no matter what order I restart my computers. This is a wee bit of an advanced concept on a router that most home users would not have or use. You can add and change entries in your HOSTS file to accommodate IP changes. Explore DHCP reservations if you are able to.
Assuming you are on a router and both machines are on the same subnet, you should now be able to do the following at the laptop machine:
I have covered all the steps here above and my computers connect flawlessly all the time. If you cannot connect, work through the steps again and consider things like anti-virus and firewalls that may be excluding connections. I cannot imagine or cover all the anti-virus / firewall settings out there, but the default settings for Windows 10 Defender and Firewall allow file sharing to occur without issue.
Sync Back Pro
One (huge) benefit of connecting computers the way I have described is to be able to backup and synchronize my laptop and desktop files. I use Sync Back Pro for this and run it at least daily to ensure my files are backed up. There are other sync tools out there, but I very much like Sync Back Pro and the support that 2Brightsparks offer.
I set up Sync Back Pro profiles and groups to synchronize my documents and general file storage (nearly 100GB). Sync Back Pro converts drive letters to UNC paths (optional and remember the HOSTS file discussion above). When I do this (which takes the place of mapping a drive), Sync Back Pro will still synchronize the document store. I simply never lose a document and documents are the same on both computers. Sync Back Pro will identify collisions and prompt you if you change the same file on both computers. Change the file on one computer and synchronize.
You can add Folder Sharing credentials to the Sync Back profile options and you do not need to even map the drive beforehand.
How robust is this method?
I set up my Windows 7 Pro desktop in 2010 precisely as I described and illustrated above, moved to Windows 8.1 in 2013 and to Windows 10 in 2015, and folder sharing is still happily running along. As I build new computers (or recently, changed my Desktop over to an SSD drive), I need only copy my document and file storage over and set up syncing again.
While the results of this folder sharing project are highly worthwhile, the project steps are not trivial or push button in nature. Read through this article a second time, check your settings carefully and work through the concepts. Even though the setup is detailed and picky, it is not beyond the ability of an above-average user. Very non-technical users may need some assistance. Either way, before you know, you can share your two machines.
If you have any comments to share about any of the information presented here, I encourage you to leave a comment below or Ask a Question to get help from myself and other highly talented experts at Experts Exchange.