How to Substitute OneDrive Smart Files in Windows 10

Tina Sieber 06-08-2015

Microsoft broke OneDrive on Windows 10 for power users. While the cloud storage solution is now better integrated into Windows and more intuitive to use, the removal of placeholders, also known as smart files SkyDrive Brings Smart Files With OCR Search In Windows 8.1 With Windows 8.1, SkyDrive will be rolling out “smart files”, previously called placeholder files, complete with Bing-powered OCR search. Read More , has disappointed many users who upgraded from Windows 8.1 Quick Guide to Windows 10 for Windows 8 Users Windows 10 is just around the corner and if you're running Windows 8 you will be able to upgrade for free on July 29. Let's take a look at what the big changes are. Read More .


We show you how OneDrive placeholders used to work and how you can replicate the experience on Windows 10, at least until Microsoft offers an alternative solution.

How OneDrive Worked on Windows 8

In Windows 8.1, you could see and access all files stored on OneDrive How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 Storing data remotely and syncing them across devices has never been so easy, especially if you're using Windows 8.1. SkyDrive received a significant update, improving its integration with Windows and adding interesting new features. Read More through File Explorer, without a copy being stored on your local hard drive. What was stored locally, instead, were placeholders.

These smart files functioned like a shortcut to your OneDrive cloud storage 5 Smart Ways to Customize & Improve OneDrive in Windows 8.1 OneDrive can be a blessing or a curse. It's deeply integrated into Windows 8.1. You'll either want to get the most of it or disable it completely. We can help with both. Read More , a brilliant solution for devices with a lack of local storage. As long as they were connected to the Internet, users had direct access to potentially hundreds of gigabytes of data (an Office 365 subscription An Introduction to Office 365: Should You Buy Into the New Office Business Model? Office 365 is a subscription based package that offers access to the latest desktop Office suite, Office Online, cloud storage, and premium mobile apps. Does Office 365 provide enough value to be worth the money? Read More gives you 1 TB of OneDrive storage) on devices with only a few gigabytes of free space.


Unfortunately, many people didn’t realize their files weren’t actually synced to their local drive. You had to manually make files and folders available offline. When users eventually found out that they didn’t have offline access to data stored on OneDrive, while being offline of course, they were not amused.


Somehow, Microsoft didn’t foresee placeholders to be a source of frustration. While they are redesigning the smart files feature, which is expected to be reintroduced in the near future, users who appreciated the feature — thousands of them voted to keep placeholders — now have to make do with workarounds.

How OneDrive Works on Windows 10

Briefly, if you log into Windows 10 using your Microsoft account, you will be automatically logged into your OneDrive account. If OneDrive launches per default, you’ll see a cloud icon in the notification area of your Taskbar. To change OneDrive options, right-click the cloud icon and select Settings.

OneDrive Settings

In the Settings tab you can choose whether OneDrive should start automatically, fetch files from another computer, or collaborate on Office documents. Here you can also Unlink OneDrive and re-associate it with another Microsoft account 5 Security Tips to Consider When Using a Microsoft Account You can't use much of the new Windows 8 user interface without a Microsoft account. The account you for logging into into your computer is now an online account. This raises security concerns. Read More . Auto save gives you the option to automatically save photos and videos from connected devices. Go to Choose folders to select which files to sync to your local drive. To improve upload speed, head to Performance and allow Onedrive to upload files in batches. Under About, you’ll find useful links to Help pages and the usual official agreements.


In Windows 10, only folders selected to sync to your local drive will be shown in File Explorer’s OneDrive folder. By default, that’s all of them.

A new feature introduced with Windows 10 is the sharing of OneDrive files and folders from the desktop. Right-click the file or folder you would like to share and select Share a OneDrive link and the URL will be saved to your Windows clipboard. Obviously, this only works for items stored on OneDrive.

Share OneDrive Link

When using OneDrive on the web or through the mobile app, users can now add shared folders to their OneDrive and sync them to their devices. The Shared Folder sync feature is available for Windows Vista through 10, with the exception of Windows 8.1, and Mac OSX.


How to View Unsynced Files and Folders

If you store more data on OneDrive How To Best Use Your 15GB Of Free OneDrive Storage OneDrive gives you a healthy dose of cloud storage for free. Let's take a look at what you can do with that. Read More than you could ever host locally, you have several options.

View OneDrive Online

Opening a browser window isn’t that different from viewing folders in File Explorer. Head to to see everything you’ve got. You won’t be able to change how files and folders are synced — that can only be done from your device — but you can see everything and download what you need. Unfortunately, the web client doesn’t support drag and drop to your computer, but you can drag and drop files into OneDrive.

Choose Folders in OneDrive Settings

In the Choose folders tab in OneDrive Settings you can actually view all the folders stored on OneDrive and their sizes. While you cannot see individual files, if your folders are well organized you’ll know where to find what you need. This way, you could deselect one folder and create space to sync another.

OneDrive Sync Settings


Add OneDrive as a Network Drive

YouTube user Sean Ong demonstrates a more convenient solution, previously described by Paul Thurrott. Using the link to individual folders from the OneDrive web client, he mapped them as network drives to File Explorer, where they appear like external storage devices. Since you have to log in with your OneDrive credentials, you could add a different account from the one synced to your device.

Briefly, head to OneDrive, open any of your folders and copy the 16 or so characters between id= and %. Then head to This PC in your File Explorer. In the Computer tab, click Map network drive. Where it says Folder:, paste in the characters you just copied and preface them with this URL: The result should look like in the screenshot below. Make sure both Reconnect at sign in and Connect using different credentials are selected, then click Finish, and log in with your OneDrive username and password.

Map Network Drive

In case you set up two-factor authentication Lock Down These Services Now With Two-Factor Authentication Two-factor authentication is the smart way to protect your online accounts. Let's take a look at few of the services you can lock-down with better security. Read More for your Microsoft account, remember that you need an app password for this to work.

Use a Third Party Application

Instead of using the default OneDrive desktop client, you could use a tool like Odrive for accessing OneDrive on your device. When you unsync files or folders on Odrive, a cloudfx placeholder remains, so you’ll always know what you’ve got. Odrive has the added advantage of not only supporting OneDrive, but a number of other cloud storage services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and others. Odrive is free and you can link an unlimited number of accounts.

One Drive to Rule Them All

Placeholders were an ingenious solution to a common problem: not enough space. Unfortunately, we can’t have nice things Keep Calm: This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things, Internet. Read More when they are too complex for the majority to understand. Certainly, Microsoft is to blame for not offering a more intuitive design.

Files could have been available offline per default, with the option to replace them with placeholders. That’s exactly how Odrive handles syncing, making it the most sensible alternative to a OneDrive desktop client that isn’t serving power users.

Are you considering to downgrade from Windows 10 How to Downgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 7 or 8.1 Windows 10 is here and maybe it's not what you expected. If you already upgraded, you can perform a rollback. And if you haven't yet, create a system backup first. We show you how. Read More because of the OneDrive issue? Or have you found another workaround? Please share!

Related topics: Cloud Storage, Microsoft OneDrive, Windows 10.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Adam
    November 6, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    The Network Drive Mapping thing works mostly fine, but I've got 1TB of OneDrive storage but it only shows it as being about 28 (The same as my 32GB laptop has by default).

    Any fixes?

  2. simon
    July 12, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    HI i mapped the onedrive as a network drive and logged in succesfully, i can see the drive and its contents but when i try to open a document (.docx) or video that is stored in onedrive i get an error and cant access any of the files.. Any assistance?

    • Tina Sieber
      July 12, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      What's the error message?

  3. Frank
    March 31, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks for the great tips. The mapping of using numbers between = and % on OneDrive personal works great! How to do it with Onedrive for business which does not have the weblink reference between = and %?

  4. CC
    February 28, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Brilliant post!

    • Tina Sieber
      February 29, 2016 at 11:49 am

      Thank you and I hope the solution worked for you!

  5. Denis Hay
    February 10, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I do not have a % after any = sigh?????/

    • Tina Sieber
      February 10, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      The way OneDrive displays its ID has changed. The URL should now look something like this:

      Just use the 16 numbers and letters following "cid=". Hope this will work!

  6. Sundeep
    February 1, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    This is interesting, I especially like the 'adding Onedrive as a network drive'. I tried it and it works on my personal Onedrive. Any tips on how to do this on Onedrive for business? Currently I am not able view any numbers between = and %, it starts with =% followed by random letters and numbers.

    • Tina Sieber
      February 10, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      As mentioned in the comment above, it looks like the OneDrive URL has changed.

      For me, it now looks like this:

      However, the 16 numbers and letters following "cid=" remain the same.

  7. Larry
    December 13, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    This is just what I needed to fix the Window 10 mess up on OneDrive. Thank you for your help!

  8. Anonymous
    October 22, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks for the video, it looks like it is just what I need but I do not have the numbers which you seem to have? Any ideas?

    • Justin Goldberg
      March 17, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      The numbers should be unique for every user.

  9. Anonymous
    October 5, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    OK - it just got weirder.

    I have found that some files created since the win10 upgrade are getting stored in the respective onedrive online folder, even if on my pc they are NOT stored on a onedrive folder!

    But some other files created in the same folder structure are not making their way to onedrive online.

    It seems that MS Office applications are automatically storing files in onedrive online even if not in a onedrive folder on the pc. Non office apps don't seem to be doing this.

    It's now very very confusing.

  10. Anonymous
    October 3, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Thank you for the most helpful write-up of Win10 onedrive issues I have found. I have gone through 2 MS chat sessions and one phone call - in the first 2 the "help" was useless, and in the last after ~40 mins they directed me back to chat...

    My problem is related but the other side of the issue. In Win8.1 I deliberately avoided placeholders. I used the setting that ensured I had offline copies of all my files. Why? because I didn't completely trust Onedrive and I wanted Carbonite to back up actual files not placeholders. I also use a 2nd internal drive for data (D:) so that if I have to wipe my windows partition my data are not affected. So on win8.1 onedrive was= d:/users/me.

    The win10 upgrade ignored that setting and defaulted to c:/users/me.

    It also treated me as if I was a new onedrive user. In the getting started wizard I changed onedrive back to d:/users/me but it then created a onedrive folder underneath that. It then went about restoring all my files under that, creating a duplicate file system, and eating up disk space. I think I may be OK if i move Documents, Music, etc under the onedrive folder (ie down a folder level) but not sure if onedrive will recognize the same files, and I'm not sure if Carbonite will see them all as new files. Since I have hundreds of gigs, it takes a couple of weeks to back these up or restore over the interwebs.

    There is nothing on microsoft to explain any of this. I'm not a happy window 10 camper.

  11. Anonymous
    September 2, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Since upgrading to Windows 10 I've had multiple instances of opening a file (ie. Excel) and being asked to click a bar to confirm credentials or some such thing, too annoying frankly to look at it long enough to remember what it says. Also, have had files not syncing at all, and so I have to move them away from one OneDrive folder, then back, so that OneDrive picks it up again.

    But the biggest problem by far is the disappearance of the SmartFiles or place holders. It took me a few days to figure out what happened but, as soon as I did, I transferred most of my files to Google Drive and the excess files (that wouldn't fit on my local disk) to a thumb drive. Yes, I have more files in the cloud than local space, which is why I loved OneDrive. I frequently call upon the files that are stored cloud-only and I need to see them in my file list. It's just so disappointing and really, really frustrating when your organize your files around a service like this, investing time and money in the thing, and then Microsoft removes functionality. I am done with OneDrive.

  12. Anonymous
    August 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Tina, Just to be clear, nobody on the MS Windows users forum seems to be exactly sure of the cause but so far in the last few days over 70 people have experienced and reported this problem with OneDrive on Windows 10. My summary:

    In Windows 10 improvements have been made to the OneDrive function and people who upgrade are being encouraged as part of the upgrade process to use it and rely on it for data storage. Once you enable OneDrive, and sign on with your MS Live ID, strange things impact your ability to store files on your local PC drives. You often will get an error message that says something like ‘you can’t store that here, would you like it stored somewhere else’, or suddenly files will become read-only, or other strange stuff. When you examine the ‘Security’ attributes of folders that Windows suddenly prevents you from writing files to (look at the folder’s Properties), you will see that your username (your Live ID) is missing from the list of usernames with permission to Modify or Write to the folder. So, the folder attributes have been modified by something and most people think it’s OneDrive.
    Once you get this problem there are a few tricks you can use to begin writing to the folders again (involving modifying the attributes to add back your username), but it’s not what the average PC user will be capable of. And, in any case, if you do this and reboot, the same problem reappears. It seems it will only go away if you do these remedial actions (modifying the folder attributes) AND signing-out from and disabling OneDrive.
    What seems to be the same problem is now emerging on other MS user forums, so it’s not isolated. In the forum I work with (the link I emailed you before), someone referenced a tweet from Gabe Aul that indicated a problem like this was being looked at but, so far, there’s been no official response from MS.

    We would be very interested to hear from other people who have experienced this problem. We would be even more interested to hear an official response from Microsoft.

  13. Anonymous
    August 14, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Perhaps I have a setting erroneous, but since my Windows 10 upgrade, OneDrive gives me trouble with every document I open! It commonly asks me to sign in, even though I am already signed in, and it also opens up newly saved PDFs in OneDrive via an internet browser. 8.1 was absolutely perfect as stated above, and I'm really frustrated that I even upgraded to 10.

    If anyone knows why I am having the above troubles or think they may be able to help, I would appreciate your input.

  14. Anonymous
    August 14, 2015 at 4:50 am

    Thanks for the odrive mention!

    I am on the odrive team and we are all excited to be able to offer OneDrive users an alternative solution, especially in light of the changes to Windows 10. We are continuing to work hard on making odrive the goto client for OneDrive, and appreciate any and all feedback from our users.

  15. Anonymous
    August 10, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    On my Surface Pro 3 I'll definitely be going back to Windows 8.1 because of this. I just don't have the space for everything and it is inconvenient to use the web page to view my files as I can't drag or drop files there. OneDrive on Windows 8.1 was perfect! It was not hard to understand and it was very easy to use. Windows 10 is a fail.

    On my main computers, I can stick with Windows 10 and sync everything as space is not an issue. but for people with space issues, this is a big problem.

    Big fail for Microsoft on this.

  16. Anonymous
    August 10, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I spent a lot of effort moving from Google Drive to OneDrive specifically because it had superior integration with the filesystem (and it has fewer sync errors, and it's cheaper, and I wanted to move from the horrid GDocs to Office).

    I upgraded my Surface Pro 3 to Windows 10, found the OneDrive problem pretty quickly, and downgraded back to 8.1 about an hour later. And I really hate the fact that Windows Update keeps trying to redownload and upgrade to 10 every time I boot.

  17. Anonymous
    August 7, 2015 at 5:41 am

    8.1 Onedrive was not complex all! In fact in 8.1 more people started using OneDrive per the MS blog that lamely explained why they went backwards to the 7 sync engine fewer people used. Bad article.

    • Tina Sieber
      August 7, 2015 at 7:11 am

      Wanting to converge the different sync engines for OneDrive is certainly one reason.

      What Microsoft claimed to be the reason publicly, when they announced the removal of placeholders, however, was something else. They said, placeholders were being pulled because of too many complaints, which indicated that people were blindsided, thinking their files were available offline, when all that was sitting on their local drives were smart files.