How to Find Missing Files in Windows 10

By Andy Rathbone

The Windows 10 Search box, which lives next to the Start button, helps you find wandering files, hidden settings, or even things stashed on websites you’ve never visited. The Search box searches for everything.

To search for missing things, follow these steps:

  1. Type what you’d like to find into the Search box next to the Start button.

    As you begin typing, Windows immediately begins searching for matches. (You can also verbally tell your computer what to search for.)

    For example, here’s what happens when searching for trumpeter Lee Morgan: As you begin typing letters, Windows begins listing files with matching names, shown here. After just typing in Lee, for example, you see a matching MP3 file.

    The Start menu's Search box searches for items both on your computer and the Internet.
    The Start menu’s Search box searches for items both on your computer and the Internet.

    At this point, the Search box concentrates on speed, so it searches only for matching file names stored on your computer or OneDrive.

    If you spot your missing item, jump ahead to Step 4.

    If you finish typing your complete search term but dont see your sought-after item on the Search list, move on to Step 2. You need to define your search more thoroughly.

  2. Limit your search to either your computer or the Internet.

    When launched, the Search box searches only for matching filenames. If it doesn’t find a match, route your search to one of the two categories at the bottom of the Search list:

    • My Stuff: Choose this category to limit the search to items contained only on your own computer. A window appears, shown here, listing the results in a scrollable list. If you see too many items, narrow the search by clicking the word Filter atop the list, and choosing one of the drop-down menu’s categories: All, Documents, Folders, Apps, Settings, Photos, Videos, or Music.

      Narrow your search further by limiting it to certain areas.
      Narrow your search further by limiting it to certain areas.
    • Web: This category stops searching through your computer and instead routes your search straight to the Internet. Your web browser opens to show web pages matching your request.

    No matter which of the two categories you choose, Windows immediately shows potential matches.

  3. Choose a matching item to open it, bringing it to the screen.

    Click a song, for example, and it begins playing. Click a setting, and the Control Panel or Settings app appears, open to your setting’s contents. Click a letter, and it opens in your word processor.

These tips can help you wring the most out of the Search feature:

  • In its emphasis on speed, the Search pane lists only files with names that match your search term. While this strategy sometimes helps you find quick matches, it won’t find your shopping list if you search for oranges. When you don’t spot a sure match, finish typing your search term and then click either the My Stuff or Web buttons along the pane’s bottom.

  • Don’t press the Enter key after typing in your Search. If you do that, Windows calls up the first match, which may not be what you want. Wait to see what matches turn up and then click the desired match.

  • The Windows search scours every file in your Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders, which makes storing your files in those folders more important than ever.

  • The Windows search also scours every file you store on OneDrive, even if those files aren’t also stored on your PC.

  • Windows doesnt search for files stored in removable devices, such as flash drives, CDs, DVDs, or portable hard drives.

  • If you’re searching for a common word and Windows turns up too many files, limit your search by typing a short phrase from your sought-after file: Shortly after the cat nibbled the bamboo, for example. The more words you type, the better your chances of pinpointing a particular file.

  • The Search box ignores capital letters. It considers Bee and bee to be the same insect.