One of the handy features of Windows XP (and Windows 2000, for that matter) compared to earlier Windows versions like 95/98/Me is its support for user-level security, which gives you fine control over who can access what information on a system. In this article, we’ll show you how to set up your Windows XP Professional computer so you can share files and folders with other Windows computers on a network, while making sure that only desired users have access.

In Windows 95/98/Me, you share data by assigning a password to a shared folder, and anyone that knows the password can gain access to the data.  That may be adequate in a small home network where, for example, Mom and Dad know the password to the family’s financial data, but Junior doesn’t.  But it isn’t practical in a networks with lots of potential users, since it’s hard to keep a password secret amongst a large group of people.

Windows XP Professional replaces password-based security with two alternatives:

  • Simple File Sharing is enabled by default on Windows XP Professional systems that are members of a workgroup (typically used in small networks) rather than a domain (typically used in large corporate networks).  For full details, see our article on Simple File Sharing. There are no passwords or access restrictions and, with one exception described in the article, everything that’s shared is accessible by everyone on the network.  Simple File Sharing is the only type of sharing available in Windows XP Home Edition.
  • By disabling Simple File Sharing, you can specify an Access Control List (ACL) for each shared disk or folder.  Using an ACL gives you much greater control over shared data, since it lets you determine the specific users that will have access as well as the level of access they will receive.

We’ll show you how to configure Windows XP Professional to:

To illustrate the concepts, we’ll:

  • Create user accounts for four people: Alasdair, Fraser, Iona, and Catriona;
  • Create shared folders called GirlstuffBoystuff, and Kidstuff, which will allow different levels of access to different people.  Boystuff will be accessible to Alasdair and Fraser, Girlstuff will be accessible to Iona and Catriona, and Kidstuff will accessible to them all;
  • See how the users access the shared folders.

Finally, we’ll show you how to access Windows XP Professional’s shared disks and folders from another client computer on the network, adding some information about file permissions in the NTFS file system, and giving solutions for some common network access problems.

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