Sharing Files Between Users On the Same Mac

If you share a Mac between multiple people, each with their own user account, then you can easily share files between these accounts using the Public folder. In addition, you can create special shared folders where you can collaborate more directly with files as long you set the permissions correctly.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Sharing Files Between Users On the Same Mac.

Hi, this is Gary with On this episode let's take a look at how to share files between users on the same Mac.

To share files with another user on the same Mac, or with another user over the network, you can do that with the default Public folder.

Let's use the Go menu here in the Finder and go to the Home folder. In the Home folder you see all the basic defaults; Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures. You also see a Public folder. So let's look in there. Should be empty if you are not using it, except for a Drop Box folder. So you actually have two folders here. You have a Public folder and you've got a folder inside that called the Drop Box folder.

The Public folder is where you can put files that you want to share with another user on the same Mac or share with somebody over the network who doesn't have permission to access anything else on your account.

The Drop Box folder is the opposite. The Drop Box folder is where somebody will share a file with you.

So the thing about the Public folder is any file you put in here they can take from you but they can't actually work with it on your computer. All they can do is basically pull it from your computer and make a copy of it and put it on theirs.

Drop Box folder is the opposite of that. All they can do is put a file in there. They can't actually manipulate files or even see what other files are in there.

So now let's go and look at this from the other end. Let's go up to the computer level, you can see all my hard drives and things here, and let's go into the Main hard drive and into Users. I can see not only my own home folder but the home folder of other users. Here's the home folder of another user on this computer and I can go into that and I can see all their top level folders except I can't get into them. You can see that little red button there. I can't actually access them.

Except for the Public folder. I can go into that. There I see their Public folder and there's the Drop Box folder and there's a file. So this is the file that the user made available, made public, so other users can access it.

Now I can double click on it and open it. But you can see I won't be able to edit it. I don't have permission to edit. However I can get permission to edit it by dragging it out and onto the desktop or any Finder folder. So this is putting it in the desktop folder. Now when I go to edit it here, you can see I have permission to do this because this is my copy of that file. So this is the way that the other user can make a file available to me on the same Mac.

Likewise if I were to use File Sharing and connect to this Mac, but just connect as a guest, then I would be able to do the same thing. I would be able to view the Public folder and also see the Drop Box folder.

The Drop Box folder works the other way. If I wanted to say create my own document and let's save that to the desktop untitled and you can see it right here. I can't put it in the Public folder. Can't do. I can put it in the Drop Box. It is going to give me a warning here that I can't see it once it's done because I don't have permission to look in this Drop Box. I can't see what's there because it might not just be me putting files in there. So I can't see what's in there, I can't edit it, I can't do anything with it once it goes in there it's like going into a black hole. It belongs to that other user and I can't see inside there. But it is a way for me to give a file to that user.

That user can actually go into their Drop Box folder, of course, and access that file. Bring it out of there and put it somewhere in their Documents folder or wherever and work with that file.

So the Public and Drop Box folders are great ways to pass files back and forth. But what if you wanted to collaborate with another user on the same Mac. Just have files that you both share. Well you can do that as well but you have to set it up though.

So let's go to the Home folder here and you see the standard Home folder items. I know that the other user can't get into any of these except for the Public folder. Let's create a new folder and call that Shared. This will be my shared folder. I can stick documents in here and I want the other users to be able to see it.

So I'm going to get Info on it and I'm going to look at the Sharing & Permissions area here. You may need to open this to see it. Once you do you can see that I've got Read & Write permission, this is me. Staff stands for other people on this computer that are logged in. So I want to change that to be Read & Write as well. So let me Unlock it, you have to unlock it to do anything, and once you unlock it you can change it to Read & Write.

So now other users can see this folder just like they can see the Public folder but the difference being that they can actually manipulate the files in there. Let's see how this looks on the other end.

If I go up to the computer level, go into Hard Drive, Users, and I find that other user here I see now that not only is there a Public folder but that user has created a Shared folder as well in the same way. I go into that and yes I can see two files that that user put in there. So say if it was my spouse or another family member then I can actually now access those files. I can open them up but I still can't change them. Or can I?

See here's the thing. If you get info on these files you'll see that it's Read & Write for the other user but it's Read Only for me. However I can change that and I can make it Read & Write for staff as well. Now I can edit this document.

So just because you have a folder that has permissions for both users or all users on the computer doesn't mean Files will because the files created by one user only they have permission to read and write it. However because this is a shared folder I have the power to be able to change the permissions.

So if there is a document that we both need to collaborate on, one of us, it could have been the other user, could have changed the staff permissions to read and write and now we both have access to that file. So that's how you create a file that both of you can read and write to. The great thing is there is no copying and moving and putting back and things like that. With this I can edit this file then the other user can log in and then they can edit this file. They would see my changes. They would apply their changes. Then I can go back and see their changes. We can keep working on the same document. So it's true sharing of a single file between two users.

So there is a special feature of the Public folder that you may have missed if you didn't watch closely. This is that Shared folder that I created. If I take this file out of here notice first of all that it moves it out of here so the other user now doesn't have access to it anymore. It is now in my desktop folder. I still don't have access to be able to write to it. I still have to go in and get Info and change the permissions. That's the normal way that it should work.

However the Public folder had a special property where when I dragged the file out of it, first of all it made a copy for me, so the original owner of the file still had it. Second, that copy automatically changed its permissions so I could edit it. So it makes it a lot easier for typical casual Mac users to be able to share a file into the Public folder, copy it out, and not have to mess with changing permissions, entering their password, changing the permissions on staff, and all that stuff. It just kind of simplifies it.

So it depends upon the level of the two users or whether or not you need to actually collaborate on the file rather than just give the other person a copy of that file.