How Do Folders Work in Windows 10? - dummies

How Do Folders Work in Windows 10?

By Andy Rathbone

A folder in Windows 10 is a storage area, just like a real folder in a file cabinet. Windows 10 divides your computer’s hard drives into many folders to separate your many projects. Windows gives you six main folders for storing your files. For easy access, they live in the This PC section of the Navigation Pane along the left side of every folder.

The main storage areas in Windows 10 are Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos.

Keep these folder facts in mind when shuffling files in Windows:

  • You can ignore folders and dump all your files onto the Windows desktop. But organized stuff is much easier to find.

  • The new Windows 10 web browser, Microsoft Edge, conveniently drops all of your downloaded files into your Downloads folder. Until you delete it, every file you’ve downloaded will be in that folder.

Seeing the files on a drive in Windows 10

Like everything else in Windows, disk drives are represented by buttons, or icons. The File Explorer program also shows information stored in other areas, such as phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, or scanners.

Opening an icon usually lets you access the device’s contents and move files back and forth, just as with any other folders in Windows.

When you double-click a hard drive icon in File Explorer, Windows promptly opens the drive to show you the folders packed inside. But how should Windows react when you insert something new into your computer, such as a CD, DVD, or flash drive?

Earlier versions of Windows tried to second-guess you. When you inserted a music CD, for example, Windows automatically began playing the music. Today’s newer, more polite Windows, by contrast, asks how you prefer it to handle the situation, as shown here.

Windows asks how it should handle newly inserted items.
Windows asks how it should handle newly inserted items.

When that message appears, choose it with a click of the mouse. A second message appears, listing every way your PC and its gang of apps and programs can handle that item.

Choose how Windows should react the next time you insert that item.
Choose how Windows should react the next time you insert that item.

Choose an option — Open Folder to View Files, for example — and Windows fires up File Explorer to display your newly inserted drive’s contents. The next time you plug that drive into your PC, your computer won’t bother asking; it will automatically summon File Explorer and display your drive’s folders.

But what if you change your mind about how Windows should treat a newly inserted item? Then you need to change how Windows reacts: In File Explorer’s This PC section, right-click the inserted item’s icon and choose Open AutoPlay. Once again, Windows shows the message asking you to plot the future course.

  • When in doubt as to what you can do with an icon in File Explorer, right-click it. Windows presents a menu of all the things you can do to that object.

  • If you double-click an icon for a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray drive when no disk is in the drive, Windows stops you, gently suggesting that you insert a disk before proceeding further.

  • Spot an icon under the heading Network Location? That’s a little doorway for peering into other computers linked to your computer — if there are any.

Seeing what’s inside a Windows 10 folder

Because folders are really little storage compartments, Windows uses a picture of a little folder to represent a place for storing files.


To see what’s inside a folder, either in File Explorer or on the Windows desktop, just double-click that folder’s picture. A new window pops up, showing that folder’s contents. Spot another folder inside that folder? Double-click that one to see what’s inside. Keep clicking until you find what you want or reach a dead end.

If you mistakenly end up in the wrong folder, back your way out as if you’re browsing the web. Click the tiny Back arrow at the window’s top-left corner. That closes the wrong folder and shows you the folder you just left. If you keep clicking the Back arrow, you end up right where you started.

The Address bar provides another quick way to jump to different places in your PC. As you move from folder to folder, the folder’s Address bar — that wide word-filled box at the folder’s top — constantly keeps track of your trek.

The little arrows between the folder names provide quick shortcuts to other folders and windows. If you try clicking any of the arrows, menus appear, listing the places you can jump to from that point. For example, click the arrow after Music, shown here, and a menu drops down, letting you jump quickly to your other folders.

Click the little arrow after Music to jump to any place that appears in the Music folder.
Click the little arrow after Music to jump to any place that appears in the Music folder.

Here are some more tips for finding your way in and out of folders:

  • Sometimes a folder contains too many files or folders to fit in the window. To see more files, click that window’s scroll bars along a window’s bottom or right edges.

  • While burrowing deeply into folders, the Recent Locations arrow provides yet another quick way to jump immediately to any folder you’ve plowed through: Click the little downward-pointing arrow next to the Forward arrow in the window’s top-left corner. A menu drops down, listing the folders you’ve plowed past on your journey. Click any name to jump quickly to that folder.

  • Click the Up Arrow button, located just to the right of the Address bar, to move your view up one folder. Keep clicking it, and you’ll eventually wind up at someplace recognizable: your desktop.

  • Can’t find a particular file or folder? Instead of aimlessly rummaging through folders, check out the Start menu’s Search box. Windows can automatically find your lost files, folders, e-mail, and nearly anything else hiding in your PC.

  • When faced with a long list of alphabetically sorted files, click anywhere on the list. Then quickly type the first letter or two of the desired file’s name. Windows immediately jumps up or down the list to the first name beginning with those letters.

  • Libraries, a sort of super folder introduced in Windows 7, vanished in Windows 8.1: Microsoft dropped them from the Navigation Pane, and they’re still missing from Windows 10. If you miss them, add them back by right-clicking a blank portion of the Navigation Pane and choosing Show Libraries.