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Lesson 1: User Accounts, Groups, Permissions & Their Role in Sharing

Windows has a long list of predefined user groups which includes “Administrators” and “Users.” However, most predefined user groups do not have user accounts until the administrator or third-party apps start customizing them. User groups can also be created by third-party software and services like virtual machines which create hidden user accounts and groups in order to provide different features or services.

A user account is a member of at least one user group while some user accounts are members of two groups or more, depending on how they are set.

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For example, all user accounts that are set as administrators will be part of the “Administrators” group. Standard user accounts are part of the “Users” group. However, both types of user accounts will become members of the “HomeUsers” group, when you start using the Homegroup networking feature in Windows.

User groups are managed automatically by Windows and you won’t need to fiddle with them, even though you can if you are an administrator. This concept is important so that you better understand how file sharing works, how permissions are assigned, etc.

What are File & Folder Permissions?

Permissions are a method for assigning access rights to specific user accounts and user groups. Through the use of permissions, Windows defines which user accounts and user groups can access which files and folders, and what they can do with them. To put it simply, permissions are the operating system’s way of telling you what you can or cannot do with a file or folder.

To learn the permissions of any folder, right click on it and select “Properties.” In the Properties window, go to the Security tab. In the “Group or user names” section you will see all the user accounts and use groups that have permissions to that folder. If you select a group or a user account, then see its assigned permissions, in the “Permissions for Users” section.

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In Windows, a user account or a user group can receive one of the following permissions to any file or folder:

  • Read – allows the viewing and listing of a file or folder. When viewing a folder, you can view all its files and subfolders.
  • Write – allows writing to a file or adding files and subfolders to a folder.
  • List folder contents – this permission can be assigned only to folders. It permits the viewing and listing of files and subfolders, as well as executing files that are found in that folder.
  • Read & execute – permits the reading and accessing of a file’s contents as well as its execution. When dealing with folders, it allows the viewing and listing of files and subfolders, as well as the execution of files.
  • Modify – when dealing with files, it allows their reading, writing and deletion. When dealing with folders, it allows the reading and writing of files and subfolders, plus the deletion of the folder.
  • Full control – it allows reading, writing, changing and deleting of any file and subfolder.

Generally, files inherit the permissions of the folder where they are placed, but users can also define specific permissions that are assigned only to a specific file. To make your computing life simpler, it is best to edit permissions only at a folder level.

Why are Permissions Important to Sharing in Windows?

Permissions are important because when you share something in Windows, you actually assign a set of permissions to a specific user account or user group. A shared folder can only be accessed by someone with a user account that has the permission to access that folder.

For example, when using the Sharing Wizard, you choose the user name or the user group and then one of these two permission levels:

  • Read/Write – it is the equivalent of the “Modify” permission level.
  • Read – it is the equivalent of the “Read & execute” permission level.

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When using the Sharing Wizard you will also see a permission level named “Owner.” This is not a permission level per-se. It just signals that the folder you are about to share is owned by the user account for which you see this entry. An owner has full control over that folder. You will learn more about the Sharing Wizard and how to use it in lesson 6.

When using advanced sharing, you can assign one of these three permission levels:

  • Full Control – it allows reading, writing, changing, and deleting of any file and subfolder.
  • Change – it is the equivalent of the Modify permission level.
  • Read – it is the equivalent of the Read & execute permission level.

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When sharing resources with the network, you will encounter a special group that’s named “Everyone.” This user group stands for anyone with or without a user account on the computer who is sharing the resource with the network. As you will learn in future lessons, this user group is very useful when you have a network with very diverse devices and operating systems. Advanced sharing will be explained in detail, in lesson 7.

Why is it Useful to Use a Microsoft Account in Your Network?

Using a Microsoft account has both benefits (e.g. the ability to sync all your apps and settings across multiple devices) and downsides (e.g. you will give more data to Microsoft). From a network sharing perspective, using a Microsoft account can be useful if you have a network with many PCs and devices with Windows 8.x:

  • You log in with the same Microsoft account on all your devices, using the same credentials.
  • You don’t have to create separate local accounts on each computer or device with Windows 8.x.
  • Setting up permissions when sharing is easier because you don’t have to deal with multiple local user accounts.
  • Accessing network shares is also easier because you log in with the same user account everywhere and you can quickly access everything that’s shared with it.

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If you have a very diverse network that includes Macs, Chromebooks or Linux PCs alongside Windows, then using a Microsoft account doesn’t provide any special benefits from a network sharing perspective.

Coming up next …

That’s it for this lesson. For the remainder of this series, we will concentrate on the following areas:

Lesson 2: This lesson explains concepts like the workgroup, the computer name, the IP address, the network location and the Homegroup. You will learn what they are and their role in network sharing.

Lesson 3: We cover in detail all the network sharing settings available in Windows and how to set them according to your needs. Also, you will learn how to change the network location so that you get access to network sharing features only when they are needed.

Lesson 4: This lessons explains the Public folder and its role in network sharing. After learning how it can be used and when, you can decide whether it makes sense to use it or not.

Lesson 5: We continue our coverage of the Homegroup and we explain in detail how to use it to share with others on the network.

Lesson 6: Windows includes the Sharing Wizard that can be used to sharing any folder you want, as fast as possible. This lesson shares everything you need to know about using it.

Lesson 7: If you are a geek or an IT professional that needs to share folders and devices using more advanced permissions, you should use Advanced Sharing. This lessons shares everything you need to know about using it.

Lesson 8: Mapping network drives is an easy way of accessing folders shared by others on the network. This lesson explains how to map a shared folder from the network.

Lesson 9: You will surely need to share devices such as printers with others on the network. This lesson is focused on explaining how to share devices with others on the network.

Lesson 10: The last lesson is all about accessing shared folders and network resources.

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Ciprian Adrian Rusen is an experienced technology writer and author with several titles published internationally by Microsoft Press. You can connect with him on 7 Tutorials, Twitter, and Google+ or even buy his books on Amazon.

  • Published 04/7/14

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