Simple questions: What is the Homegroup and how does it work?

The Homegroup is a feature that was first introduced in Windows 7 and is also present in Windows 8.1 and in Windows 10, where it works the same way. The idea behind the Homegroup is simple: to provide an easy way for sharing libraries, folders and devices on small networks such as that from your home. Accessing stuff that's shared with the Homegroup is easy and it doesn’t require users to type in usernames and passwords. In this article we will explain you how the Homegroup works, how to create one, how to join a Homegroup and how to recover its password in case you no longer remember it.

What is a Homegroup?

To put it simply: the Homegroup is the evolution of the Workgroup feature that is used by all Windows operating systems. The Homegroup is a group of Windows computers and devices that share content and connected devices with each other. What is shared with the Homegroup is not available to other computers which are on the same network but which are not part of the Homegroup. The computers that are part of the Homegroup are not required to enter a username and password each time they connect to something that's shared with the Homegroup, as was the case with older operating systems.

The Homegroup can be joined by Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 computers and devices. By design, there's no limit to the number of computers that can join a Homegroup.

How to set Windows so that you can join a Homegroup

Each time you connect your computer to a new network, Windows 7 asks you to select the type of that network.

If you select "Home network", it means you are in a trusted network of computers, and Windows 7 allows you to use the Homegroup feature.

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In Windows 7, the Homegroup is not available for Public or Work networks.

In Windows 8.1, when you connect to a new network, you must specify where you want to turn on sharing or not. In order to be able to join a Homegroup later on, you must select "Yes, turn on sharing and connect to devices".

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In Windows 10, just like in Windows 8.1, when you first connect to a network, you must "[...] allow your PC to be discoverable by other PCs and devices [...]", if you want to be able to create or join a Homegroup later on.

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Now that you have set up your Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 PC or device correctly, here's how to create your first Homegroup.

Learn if a Homegroup exists in your network & whether you joined it or not

First, you need to open up the Network and Sharing Center. In the Network and Sharing Center window, there is a section named "View your active networks". There you will see the network you are connected to, its type and whether you have joined a Homegroup or not. If there is no Homegroup in your network, you will see a line which says "Homegroup: Ready to create".

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If a Homegroup was created by another PC or device in your network, the same line will say "Homegroup: Available to join".

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If your computer or device is already part of a Homegroup, the line will say: "Homegroup: Joined".

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If you have joined a Homegroup and you want to create another one, you need to first leave the current Homegroup and then create another one. All computers and devices that are part of that Homegroup need to do the same. Then, only one of them creates the new Homegroup and the others join it.

How to create a Homegroup in Windows

To create the Homegroup, click or tap the "Ready to create" link from the Network and Sharing Center window.

Alternatively, you can open the Homegroup window and start from there. This window can be launched by opening the Control Panel and then going to "Network and Internet -> Network and Sharing Center - Homegroup".

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If you are using Windows 10, in order to open the Homegroup window, you can also use Cortana to search for homegroup, and then click or tap on the appropriate result.

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In the Homegroup window, click or tap on the "Create a Homegroup" button.

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The "Create a Homegroup" wizard starts and show you some information about this feature and the way it works. Click or tap Next.

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Now you are asked to select what you want to share with other Homegroup members. At this step, you can share only your libraries, printers and devices. You will be able to share other items later on, using the Sharing Wizard. Set what you want to share from the start and click or tap Next.

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After a couple of seconds, the Homegroup is created and Windows generates a random password that other computers and devices can use to join your Homegroup. Write it down or, if you don't like it, forget about it and read this guide until the end to find how you can change this password.

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Click or tap Finish and you are taken to the Homegroup window, where you can further configure the way this feature works.

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Next, let's see how you can change the default Homegroup password.\

How to change the Homegroup password

Changing the password of the Homegroup can be done by any user from any computer that has joined it. Unfortunately, if you change the password after other computers have joined it, you will have to retype it on all of them and have them join the Homegroup again. Therefore, it is best if you change the Homegroup password as soon as you have created it, prior to joining other PCs and devices.

To change the password, open the Homegroup window. In the "Other Homegroup actions" section, click or tap "Change the password".

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The "Change Your Homegroup Password" wizard starts, asking what you want to do. Click or tap "Change the password".

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By default, Windows will generate a new random password. But we’re sure you just want to type your own password. Delete the newly generated password and type your custom one. Make sure it is at least eight characters long, so that Windows accepts it as a valid password. When you’re done, click or tap Next.

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Then, the wizard will notify you that the password was successfully changed.

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Click or tap Finish and you are done.

Where to find your Homegroup password

If you want to add another computer to the Homegroup but you forgot the password, you can access it very easily.

Use one of the PCs that are part of the Homegroup. Go to the Homegroup window and look for the "Other Homegroup actions" section. Click or tap the link that says "View or print the Homegroup password".

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The password is now shown in a yellow box. You can either write it down or print it by using the "Print this page" button.

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When done, close the window.

How to join a Homegroup in Windows

Once the Homegroup has been created and the password has been set, it is time for other PCs and devices to join it.

Go to the other computers you want to join and open the Network and Sharing Center. Click or tap the line that says "Homegroup: Available to join".

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Alternatively, open the Homegroup window and click or tap "Join now".

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The "Join a Homegroup" wizard starts. Click or tap Next.

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It is time to select what libraries and devices you want to share. When you’re done, click or tap Next.

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Then, you need to type the Homegroup password and click or tap Next. In Windows 8.1 and in Windows 10, you might not need to type this password, if you have used your Microsoft account on another computer, to join the same Homegroup. They store and sync your settings, including the Homegroup password. Therefore, the password is automatically entered for you.

Then, you are notified whether the computer has joined the Homegroup or not. Click or tap Finish and you are done.

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Repeat this procedure on all the other computers and devices that you want to join the Homegroup.

How to access what's shared on the Homegroup

Once the Homegroup is created and all computers and devices have joined, accessing their shared libraries and devices is easy. In Windows 8.1 and in Windows 10, open File Explorer and go to the Homegroup section.

There you can view all the Microsoft accounts used on the network, the computers on which they are used and what they are sharing with the Homegroup.

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In Windows 7, open Windows Explorer and go to the Homegroup section. There you can see each user account used on each of the computers that are part of the Homegroup and what they are sharing.

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Double click or tap on any of them to view their shared files, folders and devices. There will be no need for you to type any username & password. The Homegroup will handle the access for you.

How to leave a Homegroup in Windows

If you want to leave the Homegroup, you first need to open the Homegroup window.

Then, click or tap the "Leave the Homegroup" link, found in the "Other Homegroup actions" section.

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The "Leave the Homegroup" wizard opens, asking what you want to do. Click or tap "Leave the homegroup".

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After a few seconds you will receive a notification that the procedure was finished successfully.

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Click or tap Finish and you are done.

Conclusion

As you can see, the Homegroup simplifies sharing a lot. Unless you have computers with multiple non-Microsoft operating systems installed, there's no reason why you should not use it. Give it a go and let us know how well it works for you.

About the Author: Codrut Neagu
Codrut is a Senior Editor on Digital Citizen. He's passionate about technology and he is fluent in working with several operating systems, including Windows and Linux. He likes to test security products and he feels like at home when digging through the registry, optimizing things or having fun on Telnet.