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Lesson 4: Sharing with Others Using the Public Folder

Networking 4

The objective for this lesson is to explain the Public folder concept, what it is and how it works. As you will see, this folder can be used both for sharing with other people that use the same computer and with others on the network.

We explain how to share stuff with others, through the use of this folder and when it make sense to use it. As you will see, it is not very difficult to keep track of what you are sharing in this folder and what to find where. Also, the Public folder has the advantage of being indexed by Windows and anything you place inside will be returned in your searches.

You will also learn how to enable the use of the Public folder for sharing and how to stop using it when you no longer needed it.

By the end of this lesson you will have enough knowledge to decide whether this folder is useful to you or not and whether you would like to keep it turned on for network sharing.

What is the Public Folder?

The Public folder is a folder that’s found on all Windows computers by going to “C:\Users\Public”.

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All the user accounts that exist on your Windows PC or device have access to it. Also, all network computers and devices may have access to it, depending on how you have set your network and sharing settings in Lesson 3.

For example, by turning on “password-protected sharing” in the “Network and Sharing Center”, you can limit the access to this folder to people that have a user account and password on your computer. If you turn off “password-protected sharing” then anyone on your network will have access to this folder.

This “Public” folder has several subfolders, including several hidden ones.

For example, in Windows 7 you will see the following subfolders: “Public Documents”, “Public Downloads”, “Public Music”, “Public Pictures”, “Public Recorded TV” and “Public Videos”.

As you can see, its subfolders emulate the existing Windows libraries. There are also three hidden subfolders: “Favorites”, “Libraries” and “Public Desktop”.

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In Windows 7 you will find some sample pictures, music and videos that are shared by the operating system with all users. Below you can see a preview of the sample pictures that are found in the Public Pictures subfolder.

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In Windows 8.x, the “Public” folder has fewer subfolders. For example, the “Public Recorded TV” subfolder has been removed. Also, its hidden subfolders are different: “Libraries”, “Public Account” “Pictures” and “Public Desktop”.

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In Windows 8.x, the Public folder has no files inside.

Unfortunately Microsoft has not documented why some of the “Public” folder’s subfolders are hidden and what they are used for. The “Public” folder is indexed by Windows and its content is shown when performing searches, so that you can easily find what you have stored inside.

How to Share Using the Public Folder

The Public folder is somewhat hidden in Windows 7 and Windows 8.x. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot use it. To make your life easier you can create a “Public” folder shortcut somewhere on your Desktop, pin it to your Start menu/screen, or in “File Explorer’s” list of favorites (“Windows Explorer” in Windows 7).

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The idea of the “Public” folder, is that anything you copy into this folder and its subfolders is shared both with other user accounts on your computer, and with other computers and devices on the network. You make things simple by putting the music you want to share in the “Public Music” folder, the documents you want to share in the “Public Documents” folder, and so on.

Anyone can read, write or delete everything that’s found in the “Public” folder and its subfolders. Therefore, you should not use those folders to store files that you want to share only with certain people or only one user account. For that you should use the other sharing methods that will be shown in upcoming lessons.

In order to access what someone is sharing in their Public folder on another computer or device, open “File Explorer” (Windows 8.x) or “Windows Explorer” (Windows 7), then go to “Network” and select the computer that is sharing what you want to access.

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Select “Users” and then “Public” and you will see all the subfolders of the Public folder and their contents.

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Below you can see what’s inside the Public Music folder shared by a computer with Windows 7, on the network we are using.

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Why Would You Share Something Using the Public Folder?

Using the “Public” folder makes sense in the following scenarios:

  • You want to share specific files with other user accounts on the same computer or device.
  • You want to give someone access to a file or a set of files but not to entire libraries or folders. For example, you may want to share a set of documents but you don’t want to share your entire Documents library. Copying those documents to the “Public” folder is an easy and fast way to share them, without giving others access to your other work.
  • The person doing the sharing is not very technical and he or she has a hard time understanding how everything works. The “Public” folder is a simple concept and you can train them to simply drop there everything that they want to share.

How to Enable the Use of the Public Folder

The Public folder is “enabled” by default in Windows and when you install the operating system, this folder is always created under “C:\Users”.

It is also enabled for sharing on the network. If you want to double-check, go to the “Network and Sharing Center” (as shown in Lesson 3) and click or tap “Change advanced sharing settings” on the left. Find the “Public folder” sharing setting for the active network location, set it to “Turn on sharing so anyone with network access can read and write files in the Public folders” and press “Save changes”.

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Now the “Public” folder is also turned on for network sharing.

How to Stop Sharing with the Public Folder

Turning off the use of the “Public” folder is possible only when dealing with network sharing. You can set it so that it is no longer available to other network computers or devices. However, you cannot set it so that it is not accessible to the user accounts existing on your computer. If you want to stop sharing with them through the use of this folder, simply delete everything you have stored inside.

If you want to disable the use of the Public folder for network sharing, go to the Network and Sharing Center and click or tap “Change advanced sharing settings” on the left. Find the Public folder sharing setting for the active network location, set it to “Turn off Public folder sharing” and press “Save changes”.

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That’s it! That’s is all there is to know about the “Public” folder in Windows!

Coming up Next …

In the next lesson we will start working with the Homegroup concept and teach you how to create one, join others computers to it and, most of all, how to share with the Homegroup.

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 04/10/14

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