How to Get the Most Out of the Windows 10 File Explorer

Tina Sieber 16-03-2016

Windows File Explorer is one of the most underrated features of Windows 10 10 Surprising Reasons Why You Will Like Windows 10 It's almost cool to hate on Windows 10 these days. Don't let that deprive you of all the benefits Windows 10 will bring! We show you what you're missing out on. Read More . In its rawest form, the file manager has been around since Windows 3.0. It may seem like a Windows relic 6 Retired Windows Features We'd Rather Forget Windows has gone through a lot of features over the years. Here are a few nobody really misses. Do you remember them? Read More , but it’s gone through many iterations and few users are aware of its full potential.


Let us show you how to manage and control the Windows 10 File Explorer from the bottom up and reveal features you never knew existed.

1. File Explorer Keyboard Shortcuts

If you know only two keyboard shortcuts for Windows File Explorer, you’ll be way ahead of everyone else.

The first is Windows key + E. It will launch File Explorer and you can open a second or third window by clicking the shortcut again — remember this for when you want to move files from one folder to another. You can instantly dock freshly opened File Explorer windows by clicking Windows key + left / right / up / down arrow keys.

The second is ALT. Windows 10 File Explorer menu is organized like the Ribbon interface in Microsoft Office, and its internal keyboard shortcuts 60 Essential Microsoft Office Keyboard Shortcuts for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Hundreds of keyboard shortcuts are available in Office, but these are the most important ones you should know because they will save you a lot of time. Read More work in exactly the same way. Click the ALT key to bring up the shortcut options. For exmple F opens the File menu, H jumps to the Home menu, and numbers refer to the shortcuts in the Quick Access Toolbar.

Windows 10 File Explorer Keyboard Shortcuts


Pressing ALT, followed by F will open the File menu with all following keyboard shortcuts highlighted, such as N to Open new window or W to expand the new window options. This works with all the other menus, too, meaning you don’t actually have to remember the shortcuts in advance, you can follow and learn them as you go. Just remember to press ALT when you’re inside File Explorer.

Windows 10 File Explorer File

We have written an entire guide on Windows keyboard shortcuts Windows Keyboard Shortcuts 101: The Ultimate Guide Keyboard shortcuts can save you hours of time. Master the universal Windows keyboard shortcuts, keyboard tricks for specific programs, and a few other tips to speed up your work. Read More , where you’ll find many more handy tips like those above.

Note: Through the File menu you can use the Open new window in new process option to create a whole new explorer.exe process, which means that if one process crashes, all others will not be affected.


2. Optimize File Explorer Menus

As mentioned above, the Windows 10 File Explorer Ribbon mimics Microsoft Office How To Tweak The Windows And Office Ribbon Menu That pesky Ribbon Menu. Ever since its introduction in Office 2007, I’ve been struggling to come to terms with it. I much preferred the Office 2000/2003 method of “hiding” tools that you don’t use often... Read More . To permanently expand or Minimize the Ribbon right-click an empty space in the menu and check or uncheck the respective option.

Windows 10 File Explorer Minimize Ribbon

When you choose to have the Ribbon minimized, it will only pop up as you click or use a keyboard shortcut to open one of the menus.

3. Add Items to the Quick Acccess Toolbar

The Quick Access Toolbar is a bar of icons typically shown in the top left of every File Explorer window. To make it Show up below the Ribbon, click the arrow icon to its right and select the corresponding option.


Windows 10 File Explorer Quick Access Toolbar

You can add any option from the Ribbon interface to the toolbar for quick access. This won’t just place the item in a convenient location, it will also give you a quick access keyboard shortcut. Right-click the respective item and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar (QAT).

Windows 10 File Explorer Add to Quick Access Toolbar

Tip: Some folders offer advanced options in the Manage menu, for example Dropbox, any attached drives, and the Recycle Bin. That means you could, for example, add a folder-specific operation, like Empty Recycle Bin to the QAT.


Windows 10 File Explorer Recycle Bin

4. Change the Folder Layout

For each folder, you can set a custom layout, i.e. change how the files in the folder are displayed. You have the choice between extra large, large, medium, and small icons or you can display files in a list with or without details. The respective options are available from the View menu.

Windows 10 File Explorer View Menu

You can also add various panes, including an additional Navigation pane, which displays the contents of a selected folder, a Preview pane, which is handy for mixed file folders that also contain images, and a Details pane, that lists the size, dimensions, or dates the file was created and modified at.

Windows 10 File Explorer

Under Current view (still in the View tab), you can adjust how files are organized. For example, you can Sort by Size, Group by Type, or Add columns, if files are listed with details. All these settings will be saved for the current folder.

Tip: If you need to sort a folder by columns, you can sort multi-tier: sort the folder by one column, then hold SHIFT as you sort by a second column.

5. Show & Hide Files

Still in the View menu, you can quickly show or hide File name extensions and Hidden items. File Explorer also offers a quick way to Hide selected items.

Windows 10 File Explorer Show Hide Files

Since the show option sits right next to it, this is not a very smart way to actually hide files. We recommend a few different techniques to reliably hide files on Windows How to Hide Anything in Windows Windows allows you to tweak and customize almost anything. We show you how to make use of these superpowers to let things disappear. Read More .

6. Change the Folder File Explorer Opens To

In the Ribbon interface, navigate to File > Change folder and search options. The Folder Options menu will open. In the General tab, you can set your desired folder under Open File Explorer to. You can only choose from Quick Access or This PC. Click Apply and stay in this menu for the following settings.

Windows 10 File Explorer General Folder Options

7. Remove Recently Used Files and Folders from Quick Access

Under View > Options > General > Privacy, you can remove the checkmarks to Show recently used files / folders in Quick access. Press the Clear button to Clear File Explorer history and remove the existing listings.

Windows 10 File Explorer Privacy Folder Options

8. Apply Custom Settings to Folders or Restore Defaults

When you go to View > Options > View you have access to a few more Advanced settings. I like to Display the full path in the title bar, Show hidden files, folders, or drives, and Restore previous folder windows at logon. You can also disable the default setting to Hide extensions for known file types How to Change Windows 10 File Associations and Default Programs Default programs depend on the right file type associations. Set default programs and change file associations in Windows 10. Read More or Launch folder windows in a separate process.

More importantly, you can conveniently Apply all your custom settings to all folders “of this type”. What this means is that you’re creating a new style for a certain folder type.

Windows 10 File Explorer Folder Options

To set the proper folder type before you apply a new style, right-click the respective folder and select Properties. Head to the Customize tab and from the drop-down menu under Optimize this folder for, pick an adequate type.

Windows 10 File Explorer Folder Type

In case you’ve messed up, you can also Reset Folders or Restore Defaults under the Folder Options described above.

9. Customize Quick Access & Jump Files

Quick access is a list of frequently opened folders Navigate Your Favorite Files Faster in Windows 10 with Quick Access File Explorer in Windows 10 introduces a subtle change: The Favorites bar is now Quick Access, which relies on data to show your most used folders first. And you can still pin or hide folders. Read More in the File Explorer sidebar. Quick access replaced Favorites in File Explorer. By default, it only lists the folders you access most often. To add a custom folder, right-click it and select Pin to Quick access. Likewise, to remove an entry, right-click the folder and select Remove from Quick access.

Windows 10 File Explorer Pin to Quick Access

We have shown you above how you can clear and disable the list of recent files. If you do that, Quick access will work exactly like the Favorites list found in previous Windows versions.

Jump Files are the shortcuts you see when you right-click on an item in your Taskbar. You can pin any of your most visited items, although in Windows 10, at least if you have cleared your recent files, the File Explorer Jump List appears to be identical with Quick access. You can still right-click an item and select Unpin from this list to remove it.

Windows 10 File Explorer Jump File

10. Share Files Straight From File Explorer

The context menu within Windows File Explorer has had Send to and Share with options for a long time, but have you used them much? Beyond sending shortcuts to the desktop, these options have never seemed particularly useful. That’s because you never bothered to customize them.

Press Windows key + R to launch the Run menu, type shell:sendto and hit Enter to open the folder that holds the shortcuts that show up in the Send to menu. Add and remove shortcuts as you please and enjoy your new share options.

Further, you can reveal hidden Send to entries if you hold SHIFT before you select and right-click the target file and navigate to the Send to option. The screenshot below only highlights a small selection of those additional options.

Windows 10 File Explorer Additional Send to Options

In Windows 10, File Explorer features a revamped Share menu that includes some more useful options.

Windows 10 File Explorer Share Menu

Before you can make use of this, however, you need to set up apps to share through. For example, the Share option only works with Windows Store apps, such as Facebook, OneNote, or Twitter. Likewise, the Email option requires that you have set up a default desktop email client via Settings (Windows key + I) > System > Default apps.

We found the new Share menu a little unpredictable. It still uses the retired charm menu, which makes it seem like an unfinished product. If you’re getting a good use out of it, we’d be curious to hear how you do it.

Exploring Files Has Never Been More Convenient

While Cortana is arguably the most exciting new feature in Windows 10, it will be a while until she can fully measure up to the tried and tested File Explorer. Maybe one day you’ll voice command your computer to find and open files. Meanwhile, you know how to take advantage of a tool that’s been over 25 years in the making. Although truth be told, we only touched the surface of everything the Windows 10 File Explorer can do 10 Little Known Features of Windows File Explorer Don’t let Windows File Explorer fool you with its plain looks. It’s capable of many more actions and tweaks than it lets on! Let us show you a bunch of them. Read More .

Now that you got to know the Windows 10 File Explorer in all its glory, what was the biggest revelation? Which feature do you wish you’d known about sooner? And what did we miss? Please share with us in the comments!

Related topics: File Explorer, Keyboard Shortcuts, Windows 10, Windows Explorer.

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  1. sooze
    August 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Appreciate tip on how to open explorer to Quick Access or My PC. Really miss 'recent places' feature, rather than recent files. Is there any way to restore this?

  2. rafe
    March 15, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    explorer minimizes once you right click and open a file. I would like explorer to satay on screen

    • Tina Sieber
      March 16, 2017 at 11:42 am

      That's odd behavior. I've never seen it and can't reproduce it on the Windows 10 Insider Preview. Is this on Windows 10? Did you install any Explorer add-ons? Does this happen for any and all files? What happens if you open a file with a double left click?

  3. jerry
    March 5, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    When I right-click a file, File Explorer will give an option to open the file with programs that are not installed and there seems to way to remove this ever-growing list of non-existent programs.

  4. Farzin Sadeghi
    November 24, 2016 at 9:53 am

    this is the most awful explorer i ever experienced since windows 3.1 ! when the files go 5000+ in a directory . it hangs and closes.
    you cannot jump to file name typing its characters.
    only the first character will work . while in windows 7 or xp , you could type up to 3 4 characters from file name and jump to that file really fast. its awful. I don't know why Microsoft ruins every stable product ?

    • Tina Sieber
      November 28, 2016 at 9:56 am

      I can still search for entire file names. Press CTRL + F, then start typing.

  5. Matthew Goddard
    November 22, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    I have a problem with File Explorer randomly closing. I was hoping you would have a tip that would fix that problem. By the way, thanks for the tips you did provide. I will definitely be able to use some of them.

    • Tina Sieber
      November 28, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Did you make any changes to File Explorer before the problem first occurred or did you run a Windows Update? Anything you can undo?

      Can you trigger this behavior? For example, does it always occur when you open a certain folder and not when you open other folders, or is it truly random?

      I'd take this question to a Windows support forum. The other thing you could do is to try and fix your potentially corrupted Windows 10 installation. Do let us know if you find a fix. Thanks in advance!

      • Matthew Goddard
        November 28, 2016 at 1:30 pm

        I upgraded to Windows 10 and Office 365 on the same day. This problem started shortly after that, but I've had so much trouble with Office 365 that I've just dealt with it. The big Windows 10 update had not effect on the problem. It is truly random. I will take it to the support forum and let you know if they come up with a fix.

  6. Anonymous
    March 17, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Thank you for these ideas. I plan to apply many of them to my files to be more efficient and effective.

  7. KD
    March 17, 2016 at 1:21 am

    This shortcut works to start at C: in Windows 7 -

    %windir%\Explorer.exe c:\

    • Tina Sieber
      March 17, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Awesome, thank you for adding this tip, KD!

  8. Anonymous
    March 17, 2016 at 12:31 am

    But how do you set the default tab in Explorer so that for example it always starts in home

    • Tina Sieber
      March 17, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Thank you for your question, Andrew!

      In Windows 10, you can set File Explorer to open to Quick Access or This PC, as explained in the article.

      The shortcut, which KD mentioned in his comment, allows you to open File Explorer with different directories, but it means you always have to use that same shortcut to open File Explorer.

      Right-click your desktop, select New > Shortcut, paste your directory link, click Next, enter a shortcut name, and click Finish. Then copy the shortcut to where you'd like to use it. For example, you can pin it to the taskbar or to the Start Menu.

      Hope this answers your question.

      • Peter
        March 18, 2016 at 5:56 pm

        Additionally once it is in the taskbar you can use the shortcuts Windows key + 1 ... Windows key + 9...which will open whichever icons loaded in the first 9 slots from the left of the windows start button (or whatever variant Windows 10 has now.