When you have more than one computer in your local network, you may want to be able to access all your files on all your machines, whichever one you’re sitting at. Here’s how you can accomplish that in Windows XP:

To be able to access all files you will be using something called Administrative Shares. These are default hidden shares of your local hard disks and optical drives that are automatically created by Windows on boot-up. These shares are not like normal shared folders, as they require administrative access to open via the network.

An administrative share is a hidden share, as indicated by a trailing dollar ($) sign. These shares do not show up by default when you access a computer through Windows Explorer. To access the C:\ drive via its administrative share for instance, you would type this in the address bar of Windows Explorer: \\computername\c$ 


[important]In Windows XP Service Pack 3, access to the administrative shares through the network is disabled by default.

To enable administrative shares you have to:

1. Open Explorer and select Tools -> Folder Options
2. Select the View tab and scroll all the way down to the bottom of Advanced Settings
3. Make sure that “Use simple file sharing (Recommended)” is not selected

This should work instantly without need for rebooting.

Note: Windows XP Home editions do not have this option, so they cannot show administrative shares.[/important]


You will also need administrative rights as a local user to access these shares on a different computer via the network. To achieve this, all you have to do is to create an identically named account on each computer, with the same password. Make sure it has administrative rights (select “Administrator” when you set it up). To do this, open Control Panel and go to User Accounts and make the necessary account and/or password changes there.

Now, whenever you want access to your files on your other machines, just open Windows Explorer and type in \\Computername\c$ in the address bar – replacing the letter c with the drive letter of the hard disk you want to access.

There’s an additional administrative share that’s standard on all Windows computers, and this is the Windows folder. To access this share, type \\Computername\admin$. If Windows was installed on a different drive than the C:\ drive, it doesn’t matter when you use this share. Pretty useful when you want to view Windows log files on remote machines.

Windows 7 / Vista troubleshooting:
In Windows 7 / Vista you will get prompted to enter a username and password. Enter the username and password, and tick the box to remember the password if you don’t want to be bothered again. You may get problems here, being denied access even if you entered the correct username and password. Should this be the case, you should read my article on enabling admin shares in Windows 7 / Vista.