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How to Access Shared Windows Folders on Android, iPad, and iPhone

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Share a folder with Windows’ built-in sharing options and you can access it on an Android device, iPad, or iPhone. This is a convenient way to stream videos from your PC or access other files wirelessly.

You can access folders shared from Mac or Linux in the exact same ways. You’ll just need to share the folders so they’re accessible from Windows PCs. They’ll appear alongside your available Windows PCs.

How to Share the Folder

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As with accessing a shared Windows folder from Linux or Mac OS X, you can’t use a homegroup for this. You’ll need to make your folder available the old-fashioned way. Open the Control Panel, click Choose homegroup and sharing options under Network and Internet, and click Change advanced sharing settings. Enable the file and printer sharing feature.

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You may also want to configure the other advanced sharing settings here. For example, you could enable access to your files without a password if you trust all the devices on your local network.

Once file and printer sharing is enabled, you can open File Explorer or Windows Explorer, right-click a folder you want to share, and select Properties. Click the Share button and make the folder available on the network.

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This feature makes files available on the local network, so your PC and mobile devices have to be on the same local network. You can’t access a shared Windows folder over the Internet or when your smartphone is connected to its mobile data — it has to be connected to Wi-Fi.

Access a Shared Folder on Android

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Android doesn’t have a built-in file manager app, so there’s no built-in way to access Windows shared folders just like there’s no built-in way to browse the files on an SD card.

There are many different file managers available for Android, and quite a few of them include this feature. We like the ES File Explorer app, which is free and allows you to access files on a wide variety of systems.

Install ES File Explorer, launch it, tap the menu button (it looks a bit like a phone in front of a globe), tap Network, and tap LAN.

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Tap the Scan button and ES File Explorer will scan your network for Windows computers sharing files. It lists your computers by their local IP addresses, so tap the IP address of your Windows PC. You may need to enter a username and password, depending on how you set up file sharing.

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Android is pretty flexible, so you can open files from your Windows share in other apps or easily copy them to your device’s local storage for later use. You can also stream videos directly from your network share, using your PC as a media server without requiring any special software.

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Access a Shared Folder on iOS

You’ll need a third-party file management app to access and browse Windows shares or any other file systems. There are quite a few of these available on the App Store. We tested FileExplorer Free — it’s polished, free, and works well.

Launch the app, tap the + button, and tap Windows to add a Windows network share.

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FileExplorer will scan your local network for Windows computers sharing files and display them in a list. Tap one of these computers to view its shared files. You’ll be asked to provide a username and password or attempt to log in as a guest.

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iOS is less flexible when it comes to file management and file associations, so there’s less you can do with these files. However, you can still open a video file directly from your shared folder and play it on your device or access other media files in a similar way. You could also use the “Open In” feature to open a file in a specific app.

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The Windows network file sharing protocol is known as CIFS, which is an implementation of the SMB protocol. if you’re looking for another Android or iOS app that can access these types of files, search Google Play or Apple’s App Store for “SMB” or “CIFS.”

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 06/23/14