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How To Use Windows HomeGroup

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HomeGroup is a networking feature of Microsoft Windows introduced with Windows 7. HomeGroup provides a method for Windows 7 and newer PCs to share resources including printers and different types of files with each other.

HomeGroup versus Windows Workgroups and Domains

HomeGroup is a separate technology from Microsoft Windows workgroups and domains. Windows 7 and newer versions support all three methods for organizing devices and resources on computer networks. Compared to workgroups and domain, home groups:
  • are optional. Windows computers must either belong to a workgroup (often the default WORKGROUP) or domain, but networks are not required to use HomeGroup
  • are password protected. HomeGroup requires each computer initially joining the group to proviae a matching shared password, while workgroups do not (and network administrators add computers to domains rather than users doing so)
  • do not require users to have accounts on other computers, unlike workgroups. Home groups instead utilize a common system account (called HOMEGROUPUSER$) so that users can connect to any computer in the group transparently, as with domains
  • do not configure certain computers as network servers, and do not extend beyond one local network, unlike domains. HomeGroup PCs communicate via peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, similar to workgroups (but using different network protocols).

Creating a Windows Home Group

To create a new Home Group, follow these steps:
    1. Find and open the "HomeGroup" icon from within Windows Control Panel
    2. Double-click this icon to open a wizard titled "Share with other home computers running Windows 7"
    3. Click the "Create a homegroup" button to move to the next page of the wizard
    4. Select the types of resources on this PC to be shared with the home group from among the available choices Pictures, Music, Videos, Documents and Printers. (These choices can be changed later.)
    5. Click Next
    6. Write down the automatically-generated password (combination of letters and numbers) shown on the last page of the wizard and click Finish to exit the wizard
By design, a Windows 7 PC cannot support creating home groups if it is running Home Basic or Windows 7 Starter Edition. These two versions of Windows 7 disable the capability to create home groups (although they can join existing ones). Setting up a home group requires the home network to have at least one PC running a more advanced version of Windows 7 such as Home Premium, or Professional.

Home groups also cannot be created from PCs which already belong to a Windows domain.

Joining and Leaving Home Groups

Home groups become useful only when two or more computers belong to it. To add more Windows 7 PCs to a home group, follow these steps from each computer to be joined:
    1. Open the HomeGroup sharing window from inside Control Panel (steps 1 and 2 above)
    2. Confirm the home group name listed is correct and click the "Join now" button
    3. Select which resources (Pictures, Movies, Videos, Documents and Printers) on this PC are to be shared with the home group and click Next
    4. Enter the home group’s password and click Next to complete the process, and click Finish to exit
Computers can also be added to a home group during Windows 7 installation. If the PC is connected to the local network and the O/S discovers a home group during install, the user is prompted whether to join that group.

To remove a computer from a home group, open the HomeGroup sharing window and click the "Leave the homegroup…" link near the bottom.

A PC can belong to only one home group at a time. To join a different home group than the one a PC is currently connected to, first leave the current home group then join the new group following the procedures outlined above.

Using Home Groups

Windows organizes the file resources shared by home groups into a special view within Windows Explorer. To access home group shared files, open Windows Explorer and navigate to the "Homegroup" section located in the left-hand pane between the "Libraries" and "Computer" sections. Expanding the Homegroup icon shows a list of devices currently connected to the group, and expanding each device icon in turn accesses the tree of files and folders that PC is currently sharing (under Documents, Music, Pictures and Video).

Files shared with HomeGroup can be accessed from any member computer as if they were local. When the hosting PC is off the network, however, its files and folders are unavailable and not listed in Windows Explorer. By default, HomeGroup shares files with read-only access. Several options exit for managing folder sharing and individual file permission settings:
  • To change the categories of resources being shared, right-click on the Homegroup icon in Windows Explorer and choose "Change HomeGroup settings" from this menu
  • To manage permissions of local files being shared with the home group, open the Libraries section within Windows Explorer, navigate to the desired folder or file level, and use the "Share with" toolbar button to change permissions for those specific resources
HomeGroup also automatically adds shared printers into the Devices and Printers section of each PC connected to the group.

Changing the Home Group Password

While Windows automatically generates a home group password when the group is first created, an administrator can change the default password to a new one that's easier to remember. This password also should be changed when wanting to permanently remove computers from the home group and/or ban individual people.

To change a home group password:
    1. From any computer belonging to the home group, open the HomeGroup sharing window in Control Panel.
    2. Scroll down and click the "Change the password…" link near the bottom of the window. (The password currently in use can be viewed by clicking the "View or print the homegroup password" link)
    3. Enter the new password, click Next, and click Finish.
    4. Repeat steps 1-3 for each computer in the home group
To prevent synchronization issues with other computers on the network, Microsoft recommends completing this procedure across all devices in the group immediately.

Troubleshooting Home Group Issues

While Microsoft designed HomeGroup to be a reliable service, it may sometimes be necessary to troubleshoot technical issues with either connecting to the home group or sharing resources. Watch especially for these common problems and technical limitations:
  • PCs that belong to a Windows domain (common for laptops used in a corporate office) cannot share their own files or printers with home groups, although they can join and access the shared resources of others
  • IPv6 must be running on the local network for HomeGroup to work. (Windows 7 enables IPv6 by default.)
  • PCs may fail to join a home group if they have an enabled Trusted Platform Module (TPM). See Microsoft support article 2521416 for details.
HomeGroup includes an automatic troubleshooting utility designed to diagnose specific technical issues in real time. To launch this utility:
    1. Open the HomeGroup sharing window from inside Control Panel
    2. Scroll down and click the "Start the HomeGroup troubleshooter" link at the bottom of this window

Extending Home Groups to Non-Windows 7 Computers

HomeGroup is officially supported only on Windows 7 PCs. Some tech enthusiasts have developed methods to extend the HomeGroup protocol to work with older versions of Windows or with alternative operating systems like Mac OS X. These unofficial methods tend to be relatively difficult to configure and suffer from technical limitations.

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