Mac Help: Sharing files between users on the same Mac

Welcome to Mac Help, our new column focused on helping you, the reader, with troubles you're having on your Mac. This installment's question comes from Doug Larsen, who needs help sharing files between his and his wife's user accounts on their family Mac.

Dough writes:

My wife and I sometimes want to share files with each other. A year ago we got our first Mac but before that we were both longtime Windows users. In fact neither of us had even touched a Mac before that so everything about OSX is new to us.

I setup different user accounts for us and for the life of me I can't find an easy way to share files. With Windows you have the Public folders where files are easily shared but on the Mac there doesn't seem to be anything like it. I always have to find some clunky workaround to share a file with my wife who is using the very same machine.

There is an equivalent to the Public folders feature in Windows, but it's pretty well hidden. For whatever reason, Apple doesn't make it very easy to use. Fortunately it's not difficult to set up.

First of all, setting up different user accounts on the same Mac is a great way to keep things organized, and I wish more people would do it. You share the same applications and system files, but your individual settings and your documents are completely different. It's an efficient and productive way to let more than one person use the same Mac. So kudos, Doug, on doing the right thing.

If you check your /Users directory, you should see a folder called "Shared." That folder is dedicated to shared files that can be managed between different user accounts. A few of the applications I've installed use it so they can run without any trouble regardless of which user account is active, but you can use it for whatever you wish.

To access the Shared folder, simply open the Finder and select the Go menu, then select Go to folder... (or type command-shift-G). Then type /Users and hit return.

You should be staring at the list of user folders on your Mac, with a Shared folder there as well. If you'd like to make it easier to access, simply drag that Shared folder into the Favorites sidebar on the left of your Finder window, or (as I pointed out in last week's column), command-drag it to the Finder toolbar if you'd prefer to have it on the top.

Either way you'll be able to access the Shared folder instantly, so you and your wife can both have access to common files you need. Whoever created the file will retain ownership of it, so the second person will need to make a copy of it and edit the copy.

Another way to do it is to use a third-party sync tool like Dropbox, but that requires you to upload and download the file using the Internet. This way the file stays local only on your Mac, which could be an important consideration if security (or bandwidth conservation) is paramount.

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