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How to Share Files Between User Accounts on Windows, Linux, or OS X

shared-computer-with-shared-files

Your operating system provides each user account with its own folders when you set up several different user accounts on the same computer. Shared folders allow you to share files between user accounts.

This process works similarly on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. These are all powerful multi-user operating systems with similar folder and file permission systems.

Windows

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On Windows, the “Public” user’s folders are accessible to all users. You’ll find this folder under C:\Users\Public by default. Files you place in any of these folders will be accessible to other users, so it’s a good way to share music, videos, and other types of files between users on the same computer.

public-folder-on-windows-7

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Windows even adds these folders to each user’s libraries by default. For example, a user’s Music library contains the user’s music folder under C:\Users\NAME\as well as the public music folder under C:\Users\Public\. This makes it easy for each user to find the shared, public files. It also makes it easy to make a file public — just drag and drop a file from the user-specific folder to the public folder in the library.

Libraries are hidden by default on Windows 8.1, so you’ll have to unhide them to do this.

move-file-to-public-library-folder

These Public folders can also be used to share folders publicly on the local network. You’ll find the Public folder sharing option under Advanced sharing settings in the Network and Sharing Control Panel.

public-folder-network-sharing-settings

You could also choose to make any folder shared between users, but this will require messing with folder permissions in Windows. To do this, right-click a folder anywhere in the file system and select Properties. Use the options on the Security tab to change the folder’s permissions and make it accessible to different user accounts. You’ll need administrator access to do this.

Linux

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This is a bit more complicated on Linux, as typical Linux distributions don’t come with a special user folder all users have read-write access to. The Public folder on Ubuntu is for sharing files between computers on a network.

You can use Linux’s permissions system to give other user accounts read or read-write access to specific folders. The process below is for Ubuntu 14.04, but it should be identical on any other Linux distribution using GNOME with the Nautilus file manager. It should be similar for other desktop environments, too.

Locate the folder you want to make accessible to other users, right-click it, and select Properties. On the Permissions tab, give “Others” the “Create and delete files” permission. Click the Change Permissions for Enclosed Files button and give “Others” the “Read and write” and “Create and Delete Files” permissions.

create-shared-user-data-folder-on-ubuntu-linux

Other users on the same computer will then have read and write access to your folder. They’ll find it under /home/YOURNAME/folder under Computer. To speed things up, they can create a link or bookmark to the folder so they always have easy access to it.

Mac OS X

Mac OS X creates a special Shared folder that all user accounts have access to. This folder is intended for sharing files between different user accounts. It’s located at /Users/Shared.

To access it, open the Finder and click Go > Computer. Navigate to Macintosh HD > Users > Shared. Files you place in this folder can be accessed by any user account on your Mac.

mac-os-x-shared-folder


These tricks are useful if you’re sharing a computer with other people and you all have your own user accounts — maybe your kids have their own limited accounts. You can share a music library, downloads folder, picture archive, videos, documents, or anything else you like without keeping duplicate copies.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/25/14