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How do I create and configure a network with Windows 7 HomeGroup?

Greg Shultz investigates the HomeGroup feature of Windows 7 and shows you how to create, configure, and take advantage of it in your network.

The HomeGroup feature in Windows 7 is essentially a peer-to-peer workgroup/network that has been redesigned to make it simpler for home users to set up a home network. While this is essentially true, there is more to a Windows 7's HomeGroup feature than meets the eye.

Even though a HomeGroup works like a standard peer-to-peer workgroup, behind the scenes it does in fact share some of the networking functionality of a domain. For example, the computers in a HomeGroup have an inherent machine trust and there are consistent user identities throughout the network. As such, the Windows 7 HomeGroup feature is ideal for a small- to medium-sized business network -- despite the name.

In this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll investigate Windows 7's HomeGroup feature. As I do, I'll show you how to create, configure, and take advantage of a HomeGroup.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

What is a HomeGroup?

As an enhanced version of a peer-to-peer workgroup designed for the new operating system, only computers running Windows 7 can actually participate in a HomeGroup. However, Windows 7, XP, and Vista systems can all participate in a standard workgroup network configuration, sharing folders and accessing shared folders just like normal.

You can also use workgroups and HomeGroups side by side. More specifically, you can have several Windows 7 systems participating in HomeGroup on the same physical network as several Windows XP and Vista systems participating in a workgroup.

You can join a HomeGroup in any edition of Windows 7, but you can create one only in Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, or in the Enterprise edition. The fact that HomeGroup feature is even available in the Enterprise edition of Windows 7 further strengthens the notion that HomeGroup is more than just a home networking toy.

In fact, a Windows 7 HomeGroup can exist and be used side by side with a Windows domain -- with a few caveats. First, if your Windows 7 system is connected to a domain, you can join a HomeGroup, but you can't create one. Second, while you can access files and resources on other HomeGroup computers, you can't share your own files and resources with the HomeGroup.

One more point to take note of before we move on is that in order to create and join a HomeGroup, your network adapter must have IPv6 enabled. If you have disabled IPv6 because you didn't think it was needed, then you'll have to re-enable it.

Creating a HomeGroup

As you may know, during the Windows 7 installation procedure, you are given the option to create a HomeGroup. However, if you chose not to create a HomeGroup at that time, you can create one at any time. Keep in mind that in order for the HomeGroup to function, there must be more than one Windows 7 system on the network and your Network Location must be configured as a Home network. If it's currently configured as a Work or Public network, you will not be able to create a HomeGroup.

Creating a HomeGroup is a very straightforward operation. Access the Control Panel, type Home in the search box, and when HomeGroup appears, as shown in Figure A, select it.

Figure A

If you type Home in the Control Panel search box, you can locate and select the HomeGroup tool quickly and easily.
When the initial HomeGroup window appears, you'll be informed that there is currently no HomeGroup on the network, as shown in Figure B. You'll also find a brief introduction to HomeGroup feature and several links.

Figure B

To get started, just click the Create a Homegroup button.

The first link is to a more detailed explanation of HomeGroups in the Help and Support. The second is to Advanced sharing settings page where you can adjust network-sharing features and even disable the HomeGroup-sharing feature and enable the type of sharing permissions used in Windows XP and Vista, based on user accounts and passwords. You can also start the HomeGroup Troubleshooter, a part of Windows 7's new Troubleshooting Platform, which is powered by a special type of PowerShell 2.0 script that has the ability to diagnose and fix problems.

To launch the Create a HomeGroup wizard, click the Create a HomeGroup button. When the first screen in the Create a HomeGroup wizard appears, you'll be prompted to choose what libraries, or types of files, you want to share to the HomeGroup, as shown in Figure C. You can also choose to share printers.

Figure C

As you begin the process of creating the HomeGroup, you'll be prompted to choose what you want to share with other computers.
Once you choose what it is you want to share, Windows 7 will create the HomeGroup and you'll then see the HomeGroup password, as shown in Figure D. This is the password that other Windows 7 systems will need in order to join and access the HomeGroup. You can either write down this password or click the link to print the password along with a set of instructions that you can give to other Windows 7 users to allow them to join the HomeGroup on their own.

Figure D

The second screen will provide the password that other Windows 7 systems will need to join the HomeGroup.
When you click Finish, you'll see the HomeGroup settings window, as shown in Figure E, where you can perform a host of additional operations related to the HomeGroup.

Figure E

You can use the settings in this window to perform a host of operations related to the HomeGroup.

For example, you can limit or expand the shared libraries as well as enable and customize the media streaming feature of Windows Media Player. While the media streaming capabilities are more in tune with a home network than they are with a business network, this feature could very well be used to deliver video training material.

Of more universal interest here is the ability to view or change the HomeGroup password, leave (or quit using) the HomeGroup, change Advanced sharing settings, and start the HomeGroup troubleshooter.

Joining a HomeGroup

Once a HomeGroup is established on your network, other Windows 7 systems can join the HomeGroup using the password generated during the creation procedure. When you access the HomeGroup feature in the Control Panel on another Windows 7 system, you'll be immediately alerted to the fact that HomeGroup has been created on the network, as shown in Figure F. To continue, just click the Join Now button.

Figure F

When you launch the HomeGroup tool on other Windows 7 systems, you'll be prompted to join the HomeGroup.
When the first screen in the Join a HomeGroup wizard appears, you'll be prompted to choose what types of files and devices you want to share to the HomeGroup, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G

When you join a HomeGroup, you will be prompted to choose items to share on the network.
The second screen in the Join a HomeGroup wizard, prompts you to enter the HomeGroup password, as shown in Figure H. You'll enter the password that was generated by the system that created the HomeGroup. Keep in mind that the password is case sensitive.

Figure H

The second screen will prompt you to enter the HomeGroup password generated by the system that created the HomeGroup.
After you enter the password, you'll see the third screen in the Join a HomeGroup wizard, which indicates that you have successfully joined the HomeGroup, as shown in Figure I.

Figure I

You have joined the HomeGroup.

Accessing the HomeGroup

Once you have created and joined a HomeGroup, you can easily access the folders on other computers in the HomeGroup. Launch Computer and expand the HomeGroup section in the Navigation pane. When you do, you'll be able to see other systems in the HomeGroup and access the shared libraries, as shown in Figure J.

Figure J

Once the HomeGroups is created, you can see and access all the shared libraries on all the systems joined to the HomeGroup.

Take note of the expanded Network tree in the Navigation pane. This is a functioning peer-to-peer workgroup that consists of Windows XP and Vista systems as well as the Windows 7 systems that are participating in both the peer-to-peer workgroup and the HomeGroup.

More to come

In upcoming editions of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll examine other features and details of Windows 7's HomeGroup feature. For example, I'll take a more detailed look at how libraries come into play with HomeGroup as well as how you can customize sharing in order to share folders that aren't in a library. I'll also explore how you can link your Windows user account to an online ID in order to expand your HomeGroup to be able to do such things as accessing files on a home computer from your work computer.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

25 comments
whoschuck
whoschuck

help! I followed all of your steps exactly- but the homegroup user i set up does not show up in my network pace on the laptop running vista, what can i do??

Johntumey
Johntumey

I have had p2p network in my small business for years. I have 6 desktops and 2 laptops. all systems are XP except for one NT and one Win 98 which as legacy software. I also have 4 network printers (none are local). I have been going nuts for 4 months trying to find a solution to attach my new laptop with Win 7. all unit s were set up with a group name and ip address. They all work just fine except They cannot see the laptop and the laptop can some times be pinged but is never seen by the other units nor can I use the printers from the win 7 laptop yet it sees the printers but will not ping. How can I set up a workgroup on the Win 7 laptop Many thanks in Advance

joe
joe

there is no advantage in setting up a homegroup when you already have workgroups, which are simple enough to configure and backward compatible with older versions. not a good idea and I would be willing to bet that it is dropped within a couple of years.

primad
primad

i wanna play nfs most wanted with lan cable how can i do this??? i've lan cable to connect two computers... my os is windows7 home basic. plzzz suggest me

ibrahimjal
ibrahimjal

is this only done with vista and windows7?

srqadri
srqadri

I have two home PCs' with Windows 7 & Vista. Can the two be networked? If so, please point me in right direction. Thanks

Richard_Ainz
Richard_Ainz

How would I enable homegroup on a 2008 server? I am using it as a filestorage machine, with a NAS for backup, and even though it is not very difficult to use user auth, the homegroup would be easier to implement for newer comps running w7. And having all libraries on the server.

portable
portable

My problem is not creating a HomeGroup, it is getting rid of it and getting a "regular" workgroup to recognize Win 7. Since getting Win 7 on my new laptop, I have lost contact with all but one of the other machines on my home network, and none of them can reach me and NOTHING has been able to get it back. Win 7 networking (at least in home premium) STINKS!

YO_GARY17
YO_GARY17

i have a HomeGroup set up in my home. On it is a HP desktop, Tablet Pc and Hp printer. Both PCs are Hp 4Gb-ram, w/64bit-processers, runing Win7Pro-64bit edition. Whenever i set My Homegroup to share VIDEOs,specifically(does happen with other settings, i.e. doc, music, etc.)executing Window media player or Window Media Center, causes a 95+% spike in my CPU usuage, that continues to hold my system hostage until I go into TaskManager and exist the WMPNETWORK SHARING module. CPu returns to normal 19 to 42% max. solution was to remove check mark from VIDEOs box in HomeGroup "select what you want to share window".

creationsunltd
creationsunltd

I just set up my new Windows 7 laptop, and I found this an easy feature. But, then I discovered that it couldn't be used with my Vista computer. At this point in time, I do not plan to upgrade to Win 7, so are their suggestions for things I can do ? Pat

btompkins
btompkins

After reading this great article, I did this at home with 3 pc's running various versions of Win 7 and wondered if it mattered which pc created the homegroup, and if this pc was removed from the homegroup would it effect the other pc's in the homegroup. Thanks Bob T

akwanor4r
akwanor4r

why is it that you need to connect it to the internet before you can get the activation key

kschoeff
kschoeff

What if your network at home has PCs with Vista and XP. How do you then add in a Windows 7 PC?

VytautasB
VytautasB

Good article if you only have win 7. Would appreciate something similar but that includes a home network with 3 windows flavors (7, VISTA, XP). I understand that MS has ended its Win7 home premium upgrade offer (includes 3 home pcs). Networking and printer sharing in a mixed Win OS environment I suspect reflects the real world and would be more useful.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you considered the potential of using HomeGroup in Windows 7 as a tool for creating small business/home office networks?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer". .

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...Windows Server 2008 cannot join or participate in a Windows 7 HomeGroup. However, Windows 7 computers connected to a Windows Server 2008 Domain can be allowed to participate in a HomeGroup while connected to the domain. Check out these linkd for more information: Windows 7 HomeGroup: Frequently Asked Questions http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee449408(WS.10).aspx Windows Server 2008 - Appendix F: Internet Connection Sharing, Network Bridge, and HomeGroup in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee126153(WS.10).aspx

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...HomeGroup has no official bearing on the existence of the HomeGroup. It can leave and rejoin the HomeGroup without effecting the other PC's in the HomeGroup and their ability to communicate with each other.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...then you set it up to participate in a peer-to-peer workgroup exactly the same as you set up the XP and Vista systems. i.e. on the Win 7 PC, you specify the same workgroup name and set up shares and passwords. You then simply ignore the HomeGroup feature.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...more than likely, you will be adding a Windows 7 PC to a workgroup consisiting of systems runing XP and Vista. While I alluded to that fact in the article, I didn't specifically describe it. However, the procedure is easy. You simply ignore the HomeGroup feature and configure the Win 7 PC to participate in a peer-to-peer workgroup exactly the same as you set up the XP and Vista systems. i.e. on the Win 7 PC, you specify the same workgroup name and set up shares and passwords.

joe
joe

what small business or individual has the money or need to throw away all their computers and then go out and buy all new stuff? this is what they need to do in order to implement HomeGroup as a networking solution as it is not compatible with xp or vista.

EdGallagherMVP
EdGallagherMVP

I would never use a home group for anything related to a business network. There is a reason that Microsoft uses the word "Home". We (the IT community) have enough problems trying to support technology that has been implemented with inadequate, insufficient and/or inappropriate security. Keep "home" at home.