- Organize files and folders.
- Create files and folders.
- Delete and restore files and folders using the Recycle Bin.
As you use your computer to create and download files, it’s easy to become buried in a sea of tiny icons with vague names. Just as it is important to organize papers so that you can find them later, it is important to organize your computer files by creating folders and putting files inside of them.
In Windows, the primary way of interacting with files and folders is through the File Explorer application. (In older versions of Windows, this may be called Windows Explorer. In Macs, the equivalent would be Finder.)
There are a couple of ways to open File Explorer. The shortcut Win+E will open File Explorer. It can also be opened by clicking the Start button and typing “File Explorer” or by right-clicking any folder and selecting Open. By default, File Explorer is pinned to the task bar (see below), and it can be opened from there.
Some folders already exist in File Explorer, such as Documents, Desktop, and Downloads. (Documents may be called “My Documents” in older versions of Windows). You can create more folders or folders within folders to allow for better organization.
To create a folder, right-click, then select New>Folder.
In Windows 7, there is a New folder button near the top of the window. In Windows 10, you can also click the Home tab, then the New Folder button.
To rename a file or folder, right-click the file or folder, then select Rename.
You can also click the name of the file or folder once, wait one second, then click the name of the file or folder again.
Note that in Windows, a file cannot contain any of the following characters:
\ / : * ? " < > |. This is because those characters have special meaning in Windows. (For example \ is included in file paths.) If Windows encounters a file or folder with those symbols, it could potentially misread the file or folder name and cause problems. As a precaution, Windows will not let you save files or folders with those characters, so don’t worry about saving a file with those characters in the name by mistake.
Macs are less stringent about what characters can be included in a file or folder’s name; only the colon (:) cannot be used. However, it is a good practice to avoid using the Windows-prohibited characters in file names because the file name will be automatically changed when moved to a Windows computer.
Finding a Specific Folder or File: File Paths
When looking for a specific folder or file, it is helpful to follow the file path. The file path tells you what folders to click on to get to the file. Read it left to right to show what folders to click on to get to the file; read it right to left to show which folders are nested in each folder.
This file path means that the file is in the suppliers folder, which is in the Projects folder, which is in the Documents folder, which is in the Sierra Rowan username folder, which is in the Users folder, which is on the C drive of the computer.
Note that the backslash is another shorthand format you might see in instructions to indicate which folder is being discussed. (For example, “Go to the Documents\Office Templates folder”)
Traveling the File Path
Rather than remembering the file path for a specific file, you can use the toolbar at the top of File Explorer or the Properties window.
For example, the screenshot below shows a folder in Windows 7 called New folder. The file path for this folder is C:\Users\user\Documents\New folder. In the screenshot below, the user could click Documents to go up one folder to the Documents folder, and the small double-arrow on the left to go up to higher folders such as user.
Clicking the blank space to the right of the folder name will reveal the entire file path, which can be copied and pasted elsewhere.
Right-click the file or anywhere in the folder and select Properties. A window will pop up displaying the file path of the file or folder. (Note that it does not include New folder itself.)
Selecting and Moving Files
There are several ways to move files:
- Click and drag the file into a folder.
- Click a file, cut using Ctrl+X, then paste into the new folder using Ctrl+V
- Click a file, copy using Ctrl+C, then paste into the new folder using Ctrl+V (leaves the original file where it is)
- Note that the copies are not connected; edits made to one copy will not be reflected in the other copy.
- Right-click a file, select either Copy or Cut in the dialog menu, then right-click in the folder and select Paste.
Moving Multiple Files
There are a few different ways to select multiple files (which we’ll discuss below). Once you’ve selected multiple files, anything you do to a single file will be done to all selected files. (For example, clicking and dragging will move all selected files, hitting Ctrl+C will copy all selected files, etc.)
You can select multiple files at once using the following shortcuts: Hold down Ctrl while clicking to select multiple files. Hold down Shift while clicking to select two files and all the files between them. Press Ctrl+A to select all files. (Note that when using Ctrl+A, you can use Ctrl+Click to deselect files. You’ll want to deselect the destination folder, since a folder cannot be in itself.)
Deleting Files and Folders
To delete a file or folder (or multiple selected files), right-click on the file and select Delete. You can also select the file and hit the Delete key on the keyboard. Deleting a folder deletes all its contents as well.
You may get a dialog prompt that asks if you want to move the file to the recycling bin. If that happens, say yes. If you didn’t get a dialog prompt, the file was still sent to the Recycle Bin. (The Mac equivalent is called Trash.) Deleted files are not gone forever; they are sent to the Recycle Bin.
Deleted files are not gone forever. When a file is deleted, it is sent to the Recycle Bin. The Recycle Bin can be found on the Desktop. Its icon resembles a recycle bin or trash can, and the icon changes depending on whether the Recycle Bin contains any files.
The recycle bin is a holding place for deleted files. To permanently delete a file, you can delete it again from the Recycle Bin, or you can empty the Recycle Bin. It is recommended you empty the Recycle Bin every once in a while to free up space.
If you delete something by accident, or if you change your mind about a deleted file, you can un-delete it by restoring the file from the Recycle Bin.
To restore or permanently delete a file, right-click on the file and select either Restore or Delete. Deleted files are permanently deleted; restored files are restored to their original location before being deleted.
You can restore or permanently delete individual files or multiple files at once using the Manage option on the toolbar.
In the toolbar in the screenshot above, from left to right:
- Empty Recycle Bin: Permanently deletes everything in the Recycle Bin.
- Recycle Bin properties: Allows you to choose how much space to allot to the Recycle Bin. When the Recycle Bin reaches capacity, it will automatically delete its oldest files. The Recycle Bin properties also has an option to automatically delete files permanently. (Unless you know what you are doing, it is recommended you leave Recycle Bin properties alone.)
- Restore all items: Restores everything in the Recycle Bin to its former location.
- Restore the selected items: Restores only the file or files you have selected.
Check Your Understanding
Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.
Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.