File Explorer on Windows 10Source: Windows Central

On Windows 10, File Explorer (formerly known as Windows Explorer) is an essential app, which has been designed to provide a simple user interface (UI) to navigate, access, and help you organize your files, folders, and apps stored on your device, external drives, and anywhere in the network.

If you have experience using older versions of Windows, you know that the file management system has been around for a long time. However, over the years, it has received many changes, and features have been removed. The basic functionality, however, remains unchanged.

Although File Explorer is relatively easy to use, there are a lot of features and settings that you can use to help you be a little more productive, whether you use Windows 10 to work from home, the office, or tackle school work.

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In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the best tips and tricks to be more productive using File Explorer.

How to open File Explorer on Windows 10

On Windows 10, you can open File Explorer in several ways, including:

  • Clicking the File Explorer icon in the taskbar.
  • Windows key + E keyboard shortcut.
  • Clicking the File Explorer icon in the navigation pane of the Start menu.
  • Searching for File Explorer in the Start menu.
  • Using the "explorer" command in the Run command.
  • Right-click the Start button and selecting the File Explorer option.

How to open on This PC instead of Quick access in File Explorer

To change the start location in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "View" tab.
  3. Use the "Open File Explorer to" drop-down menu and select the This PC option.

    File Explorer Options buttonSource: Windows Central

  4. Click the Apply button.
  5. Click the OK button.

Once you complete the steps, File Explorer will open on This PC for faster access to your files, local drives, and network shares.

How to show file extensions in File Explorer

To show extensions for files in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "View" tab.
  3. Click the View tab.
  4. Clear the Hide extension for known file types option.

    File Explorer Hide extensions for known file typesSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button
  6. Click the OK button.

Alternatively, you can also check the File name extensions option from the File Explorer's ribbon View tab.

How to show hidden files in File File Explorer

To show files with the hidden attribute set to enabled on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "View" tab.
  3. Click the View tab.
  4. Under the "Hidden files and folders" section, select the Show hidden files, folders, and drives option.

    File Explorer Show hidden files, folders, and drivesSource: Windows Central

  5. (Optional) Clear the Hide protected operating system files option.

    Quick tip: Usually, you would only use this option to troubleshoot problems with system files on Windows 10.

  6. Click the Apply button
  7. Click the OK button.

Alternatively, you can also check the Hidden items option from the File Explorer's ribbon View tab.

How to customize quick access in File Explorer

File Explorer offers quick access to the locations you navigate most frequently from the left pane. Then there's the quick access toolbar in the top-left corner, which you can customize for quicker access to commands like undo, redo, and delete.

Quick access on the navigation pane

To add or remove locations to Quick access in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Browse to the location that includes the folder that you want to pin to Quick access.
  3. Select the folder.
  4. Click the Pin to Quick access button from the "Home" tab.

    Pin folder to Quick accessSource: Windows Central

    Quick tip: You can also browse to the folder location, right-click the Quick access item, and select the Pin current folder to Quick access option.

  5. (Optional) Under the "Quick access" section, right-click the folder and select the Unpin from Quick access option to remove it.

    Unpin folder from Quick AccessSource: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, you may need to repeat the steps to add or remove more items.

Show only manually pinned folders

Quick access can show frequently used folders as well as folders that you pin manually. If you want to keep the list organized showing only those locations that you pinned manually, then use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the General tab.
  4. Under the "Privacy" section, clear the Show frequently used folders in Quick access option.

    Show frequently used folders in Quick access option disabledSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button.
  6. Click the OK button.

Once you complete the steps, only the items that you pinned manually will appear in the navigation pane.

Quick access on the toolbar

Using the Quick Access toolbar, you can get faster access to specific commands, and the best part is that you can customize the toolbar with only the buttons you need.

To customize the Quick Access toolbar, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the down arrow button from the top-left corner.
  3. Check the button you want to see in the toolbar. For example, Undo, Redo, Properties, New Folder, or Rename.

    Quick Access toolbar menuSource: Windows Central

  4. Repeat steps No. 2 and 3 to add or remove more buttons.
  5. (Optional) Right-click any button that you use frequently, and select the Add to Quick Access toolbar option.

    Add button to Quick access toolbarSource: Windows Central

In addition to adding and removing items, you can also relocate the toolbar below the ribbon menu by right-clicking the toolbar and selecting the Show Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon or Show Quick Access Toolbar above the Ribbon option.

Quick access toolbar below the ribbonSource: Windows Central

How to display file previews in File Explorer

To display file previews and details in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the View tab.
  3. Click the Preview pane option.
  4. Select the file to view a preview of its content on the right side.
  5. Click the Details pane option.

    File Explorer preview and display panesSource: Windows Central

  6. Select the file to display the details (such as title, author, size, date created, etc.) on the right side.

After you complete the steps, every time you select a file, depending on your configuration, you'll see the details or preview of its content on the right side.

How to use search in File Explorer

Although finding files and folders is as simple as typing the query in the search box, there are a few tips to get the most out of the feature.

To use advanced search in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Type the query in the search box and press Enter.

    File Explorer Search BoxSource: Windows Central

If the search doesn't include the result that you're expecting, you can use the "Search" tab to refine the result. For example, you can click the Current folder button to limit the search to the current location.

File Explorer search current folderSource: Windows Central

Refine search

In the case that you're looking for a file that was modified during a specific time range, you can use the Date modified button, and then select a time range, such as Today, Yesterday, This week, and to Last Year.

Search Date modified optionSource: Windows Central

If you can't narrow down the content, you can use the "Refine" options. For instance, you can use the Kind option to specify the content type, such as Document, Folder, Music, Picture, Game, etc. In the same way, you can use the Size option to limit the search to files of a certain size. Or you can use the Other properties option to search files created by a specific author, tag, etc.

Search options

Finally, the "Options" section includes the Recent searches menu to quickly access previous searches, which can come in handy to reuse customized searches that you may have used in the past, and the Advanced options menu to include or exclude non-index locations as well as zipped folders in search results.

File Explorer clear recent searchesSource: Windows Central

Resize search box

If you notice that the search box is too narrow to type a query, you can always drag the left edge of the box to make it larger.

File Explore make search box biggerSource: Windows Central

How to use ribbon in File Explorer

In File Explorer, the ribbon works similar to the ribbon you see in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office apps. By default, it's always collapsed, and you can access the commands by clicking the Home, Share, or View tab.

However, for most users, it's best to have the ribbon expanded, which you can do clicking the arrow button from the top-right corner, or using the Ctrl + F1 keyboard shortcut.

Home tab

The Home tab is where you'll find all of your basic commands, such as Copy, Cut, and Paste, to Rename, New folder, Properties, to the option to select items.

File Explorer Home TabSource: Windows Central

Share tab

The Share tab includes the commands to share files with other people and configure advanced sharing options. In addition, from this tab, you can also create a zip folder.

File Explorer Share TabSource: Windows Central

View tab

The View tab is the place that has the commands to control the appearance and sorting options to view files and folders.

Using this tab, you can enable or disable the navigation pane, or enable a preview or details on the right side to see more info about the files in the location. You can change the layout by listing items as large icons or listing with details, and sorting data by criteria (name, type, size, modified date, etc.).

File Explorer View TabSource: Windows Central

In addition, you get quick access to the most common folder options, including the options to see file extensions and hidden files. Of course, you also get the option to access the rest of the File Explorer option.

Pictures tab

The Pictures tab isn't visible until the options are needed. For instance, if you select a supported image file, you can use this tab to rotate the image without needing to open the file. Also, you can start a slide show or set as background.

File Explorer Pictures tools TabSource: Windows Central

How to access network drives in File Explorer

If you need to work with files located on another computer or server within the local network, File Explorer includes several ways to browse the data you need. For instance, you can use the "Network" tab to browse files, or if you want quicker access, you can always pin the location to "Quick access," or you can mount the network folder as a network drive to This PC.

Browsing network files

To access network drives from File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Network item from the navigation pane.
  3. Double-click the computer.

    File Explorer Network OptionSource: Windows Central

  4. Sign-in with the required account credentials (if applicable).
  5. Browse to the folder location.

    Network folder sharedSource: Windows Central

After you complete the steps, you'll be able to access the files located on a different computer.

Mounting network drive

If you need quick access to network files, you can map the drive using these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click on This PC from the navigation pane.
  3. Click the Map network drive button from the "Computer" tab.

    Map Network Drive on File ExplorerSource: Windows Central

  4. Use the Drive drop-down menu and select a letter for the drive.
  5. Click the Browse button and select the network folder that you want to mount.

    Network wizard mount pointSource: Windows Central

  6. Click the OK button.
  7. (Optional) Check the Reconnect at sign-in option.
  8. Check the Connect with different credentials option (if applicable).

    Connect using different credentials optionsSource: Windows Central

  9. Click the Finish button.
  10. Confirm your network account credentials (if applicable).

Once you complete the steps, the network folder should appear as a network drive in This PC.

Alternatively, you can always pin the network folder location to Quick access for faster access to the files by opening the folder, right-clicking Quick access from the navigation pane and selecting the Pin current folder to Quick access option.

How to reset settings to default in File Explorer

Although you can restore the File Explorer original settings, there's not a switch to reset all the settings at once. Instead, you have to reset the settings individually, in groups.

Reset General

To reset the general File Explorer settings, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the General tab.
  4. Click the Restore Default button.

    File Explorer restores default general settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button.
  6. Click the OK button.

After you complete the steps, the default option to File Explorer, browse folders settings, navigation, and privacy settings will reset to their default configurations.

Reset folder views

To reset the folder views to their defaults in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the View tab.
  4. Under the "Folder views" section, click the Reset Folders button.

    Reset folder views optionSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button.
  6. Click the OK button.

Once you complete the steps, the folders will return to their default view settings. For instance, if the folders with documents were using the "Large icons" view, then the view will reset to "Details."

You can learn more about resetting view settings in File Explorer using this guide.

Reset view settings

If you have been changing the File Explorer advanced settings, and you want to restore the original settings, you can use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the View tab.
  4. Click the Restore Default button.

    Reset folder advanced settingsSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button.
  6. Click the OK button.

After you complete the steps, this action will reset all advanced settings, such as files and folders, hidden files and folders, and navigation pane to their defaults.

How to access recycle bin from navigation pane in File Explorer

To add the recycle bin option to File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the Views tab.
  4. Under the "Advanced settings" section, in the "Navigation pane" settings, check the Show all folders option.

    Show Recycle Bin on File ExplorerSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button.
  6. Click the OK button.

Once you complete the steps, the recycle bin along with Control Panel will be accessible from the navigation pane.

How to show libraries in navigation pane in File Explorer

If you're recently made the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, you're probably still used to access libraries from the "Libraries" tab in the navigation pane, which is no longer available by default on Windows 10.

If you want to show the libraries in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the Views tab.
  4. Under the "Advanced settings" section, in the "Navigation pane" settings, check the Show libraries option.

    File Explorer Show Libraries optionSource: Windows Central

  5. Click the Apply button.
  6. Click the OK button.

After you complete the steps, the Libraries item will appear in the navigation pane with quick access to the Camera Roll, Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos libraries.

How to customize folder view in File Explorer

File Explorer includes five different templates to customize the view of folders, including "General items," "Documents," "Pictures," "Music," and "Videos." Each template provides a unique layout with icons as well as specific sorting and grouping depending on the folder's content type to further customize the experience.

To customize the view for a specific folder on Windows 10, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Browse to the folder that you want to customize its view settings.
  3. Right-click the folder and select the Properties option.

    File Explorer context menuSource: Windows Central

  4. Click the Customize tab.
  5. Under the "What kind of folder you want" section, use the Optimize this folder for drop-down menu and select the best option that fits the contents. For example, General items, Documents, Pictures, Music, or Videos.

    Folder Custom Template SettingsSource: Windows Central

  6. (Optional) Check the Also apply this template to all subfolders option.
  7. (Optional) Under the "Folder pictures" section, click the Choose File button.
  8. Select a custom image to use as a folder icon in File Explorer.

    Quick tip: File Explorer can generate a thumbnail to make it easier to identify the folder in the location, but you can also use this option to set a custom image.

  9. (Optional) Under the "Folder icons" section, click the Change Icon button.

    Change Folder Icon SettingSource: Windows Central

  10. Select one of the available icons to use in the folder.

    Select Icon Folder on Windows 10Source: Windows Central

    Quick tip: You can also use any .ico file. If you want to use a custom icon, simply click the Browse button and select the icon that you want for the folder.

  11. Click the OK button.

Once you complete the steps, you may need to repeat the steps to customize the view for other folders.

How to show icons instead of thumbnails in File Explorer

File Explorer can create a folder preview to make it easier to identify its content. However, it's possible to disable this option to show icons instead, which can come in handy if Windows 10 is having problems displaying thumbnails, or you're not interested in seeing previews.

To disable thumbnail views in File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the Options button from the "Home" tab.
  3. Click the Views tab.
  4. Under the "Advanced settings" section, in the "Files and Folders" settings, check the Always show icons, never thumbnails option.

    Show icon instead of thumbnail in File ExplorerSource: Windows Central

  5. Clear the Display file icon thumbnails option.

If you're having problems with displaying thumbnails, and you don't want to disable the feature, you can use these steps to fix the problem.

How to restore previous version of files in File Explorer

If you're using File History on Windows 10, you can quickly restore previous versions of files or files that you accidentally delete using File Explorer.

To restore the previous version of files with File Explorer, use these steps:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Browse to the location with the content that you want to restore.
  3. Select the file that you want to restore the previous version, or select the folder containing the missing file.
  4. Click the History button from the "Home" tab.

    Restore file previous version in File ExplorerSource: Windows Central

  5. Use the back and forth controls to find the version to restore.
  6. Select the file or folder.

    Quick tip: If you're restoring a previous version of a file, make sure to understand that this process will replace the current version. You can avoid overwriting the data by making a copy of the existing file.

  7. Click the green Restore button.

    File History File on Windows 10Source: Windows Central

  8. Click the Replace the file in the destination option.

Once you complete the steps, the data will be restored to its original location.

How to use keyboard shortcuts to manage File Explorer

If you want complete tasks even faster, File Explorer includes a handful keyboard shortcuts, and here's are the most useful:

  • Windows key + E: Opens File Explorer.
  • Ctrl + Shift + N: Creates new folder.
  • Ctrl + N: Opens new instance of File Explorer.
  • Alt + Left arrow: Returns to previous folder in the history.
  • Alt + Right arrow: Jumps to next folder in the history.
  • Alt + Up arrow: Moves a level up.
  • Ctrl + F or F3: Starts a search.
  • Ctrl + L: Focus on the address bar.
  • Ctrl + Shift + Number 1-8: Changes folder view (large to small icons, list, details, etc.).
  • F4: Focus on the address bar and opens recent history.
  • F5: Refresh the instance of File Explorer.
  • Ctrl + C: Copies an item.
  • Ctrl + X: Cuts an item.
  • Ctrl + V: Pastes an item.
  • Ctrl + A: Select all items.
  • Ctrl + Z: Undo last action.
  • Ctrl + Y: Redo last action.
  • F2: Renames item.

More Windows 10 resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10, visit the following resources: