Windows

Quick Tip: Change the launch directory to show all drives in Windows Explorer

By default, Windows Explorer in Windows 7 launches in the Library folder. However, you can change the launch folder to the system root directory.

One of the most obvious differences between Microsoft Windows 7 and the previous versions of the operating system is the concept of libraries. In Windows 7, files are stored in a library folder, which is essentially a folder that references other available folders. The idea is that you don't have to worry about the actual physical folder that houses the file in question because it is referenced in your library -- let the operating system worry about where it actually sits.

However, there are times when you actually want to get to a file in its actual physical location. To help facilitate this, many users find it useful to use Windows Explorer to follow the folder path to the file location in question. But, by default in Windows 7, the typical Windows Explorer shortcut starts in the Libraries folder and not in the highest directory level possible (Figure A). We can change that fairly easily.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic gallery and TechRepublic download.

Figure A

Windows Explorer starts in the Libraries folder.

Change the default launch directory

To change the Windows Explorer default directory, you must access the Properties dialog box. You can get there a few ways. One obvious way is to type "windows explorer" in the Start Menu Search box, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Search for Windows Explorer.
Or, if you are like me and have Windows Explorer pinned to the Taskbar, you can right-click on the icon and then right-click the Windows Explorer menu item, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Right-click twice.
You should now be looking at the Windows Explorer Properties dialog box (Figure D). Notice the default target path (red arrow). That target path is what we are going to change.

Figure D

Let's change the target path default.

To change the launch folder default in Windows Explorer, modify the target path to be this command:

%SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /e,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

Be sure to type it exactly or it will not work and then click OK. The code brings the launch directory all the way up to the highest level (Figure E).

Figure E

You now have a new target -- the root directory.
The next time you load Windows Explorer from that particular shortcut, it will launch in the highest directory level, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

You now start at the root directory.

Bottom line

Keep in mind that this change modifies only that particular Windows Explorer shortcut. If you were so inclined, you could copy the Windows Explorer shortcut several times and change the respective target folders to whatever you wished. What other folders would you put in that target box?

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

44 comments
eaglesgift
eaglesgift

This tip is handy but it has the unfortunate side effect of spawning a new instance of explorer.exe when you click the shortcut. Personally, I don't want multiple instances of explorer.exe using my memory - any way around this?

TuneUp Utilities
TuneUp Utilities

Thanks for the tips! I have been in a situation before where I needed to get the actual physical folder and found this difficult to do. But I agree with Peter that this tip brings up a question: how can you use the Win+E keyboard shortcut to assign the launch directory?

compuwysepc
compuwysepc

Useful tip, but I think a simpler solution would be to just use the 'Computer' shortcut instead.

peab4yougo
peab4yougo

Jeez....all the old shortcuts are still on your keyboard. Remember {win key} - E? How about the win - M that minimizes all open windows. or, win - f to open a search box..... And....here's the kicker... It already opens to "My Computer"

mysterchr
mysterchr

I mean really all you did was change the shortcut to read from directory to another. Both of which do the exact same things and look exactly the same, so what's the point in changing it? I'm not trying to be insulting I really just don't get it!

rtrujillo@metalsurfaces.
rtrujillo@metalsurfaces.

How do you change the "Right-Click" on Start Menu -> Open Windows Explorer shortcut? That "Libraries" folders drives me nuts.

millerah
millerah

There is a much simpler way which also has the advantage of having both worlds. Keep the default,but navigate in Windows Explorer to 'Computer'. Now simply drag 'Computer' to the Windows Explorer button on the Taskbar. 'Computer' will automatcally be pinned to the Winows Explorer button. To get to the default Libraries folder, click on the Left Mouse button. To get the 'Computer' folder right click on Windows Explorer and choose 'Computer' from the Launch Menu.

leighton
leighton

If you just create a shortcut to c:\ it will take you instantly to the root directory. You don't have to call "%windir%\explorer.exe c:\". This trick won't work using the string you recommend which takes you to "Computer"(one level up from the root directory). It only works for real path names. MUCH faster.

elowe44
elowe44

Thanks, I never knew that.

saruti
saruti

Good article but it leaves out the most important part, how did you come up with 20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}? What if I want it to start in a different directory?

peter
peter

This is a great tip and thank you for posting it. Like all good answers though, it also poses further questions. 1. Is there a way of assigning the launch directory when using the Win+E keyboard shortcut? 2. If I wanted to assign a different folder, how would I find the folder's address as required by the shortcut's target?

TheOnlyRick
TheOnlyRick

It's free. It gives you tabbed browsing. It gives you the eternally useful 'Folder size' feature when in Details view. It does loads of other stuff, too.

Mike Williams
Mike Williams

Why not use "Flag" + E. It's much quicker :-)

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Which directory do you want Windows Explorer to launch in?

toms45
toms45

starts. I really don't care for the "library" concept and always (since the days of DOS 1.1) like to start at the root directory of a drive. This takes you one level higher to the computer level. Now I don't have to use "libraries" and have to mentally recompute where I am on the hard drive. And, yes, things should look the same except for the labels.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

That's a great tip - another nice feature of the Windows 7 Taskbar. Thanks for explaining it.

H4CKN3T
H4CKN3T

@millerah: Thanks man.. I just moved all my favorites from the side bar on explorer to one explorer icon pinned on the task bar. A left click will bring up "computer", while a right click I can choose any of the shortcuts I added. I will definitely use this a lot!

straw
straw

%windir%\explorer.exe /n,/e, c:\ Simply change the c:\ to any folder that you wish and explorer will set focus to that drive and/or folder. This trick has been around since windows 98.

joe
joe

I agree, where did you come up with that 40 character hex string? what a load of crap! why make something simple so difficult? this is all you need: %SystemRoot%/explorer.exe C:\

Rob C
Rob C

Mine is working via the Win Key + E shortcut. I got to it in a convoluted way, then did what the article said. However if I get to it the following way - Win Key + E then Right click the Windows Explorer line in the pop up menu then Click Properties The Target is as described in the above article. So I reckon if you do what I just described, you can change the target, and Win Key + E will now open the way we want (well open to 'Computer' anyway) OOPs You may have to find my convulted way, to get to the Properties using Win Key + E Why do i suspect that ? I tried Joe's shorter version, using his - %SystemRoot%/explorer.exe C:\ It did not work (stuffed the Taskbar shortcut). Yet the Win Key + E shortcut continued to work. PS MS can keep their Libraries. I want to control what I put, and where I put it (Creating folders in the C Directory) For years I have also hated the 'Documents and Settings' folder. It is like a mineshaft dug by a rabid wombat. And I also hated bullsh.. folders like My Documants, My Pictures, etc So it is no wonder that I hate the new 'Libraries' feature. I have Folders in the C directory, that start with D_ (The D stands for Data) I have sub foldes under there like - C:\D_\Health C:\D_\Money C:\D_\Web Whenever I need to back up(to CD) all my Data files, I know where they are. That avoids the need for finding stuff in that mineshaft. And avoids folder paths that are a mile long.

PeterM42
PeterM42

In XP I use "%SystemRoot%\explorer.exe pathname" to open my "DATA" area on a server. Does anyone know all the explorer.exe MSDOS command switches? "HELP EXPLORER" is "not supported" and "EXPLORER /?" thinks I am looking for a file or path called "?"

thoenny
thoenny

Windows Explorer? How do you get the 'Folder size' feature?

peterneil_world
peterneil_world

Use some of the the Windows Explorer switches to open Explorer in the Folder View with the specific folder selected. Create a shortcut something in the lines of C:\WINDOWS\explorer.exe /e,/select,D:\eclipse\workspace add the /root switch to make this the Root folder in the Folder pain C:\WINDOWS\explorer.exe /e,/select,/root, D:\eclipse\workspace

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

or last opened, which is always somewhere on D:\, E:\, F:\, etc. but is never C:\ - I set up all my XP systems using folder options to: {x} Restore previous folder windows at log on and, as I never use any of the "My Junk" directories I also change all the Windows Exploder shortcuts to: - %systemroot%\explorer.exe /n, /e, C:\ or - %systemroot%\explorer.exe /n, /e, D:\ and then change the description that shows in the tooltip to Windows Exploder Opens C:\ and Windows Exploder Opens D:\ I have one for C:\ & D:\ the C:\ shortcut is up the Start > Programs ... menu and the D:\ shortcut is on the QuickLaunch that was one of the first Windows Exploder hacks I learned, - how to stop the "My Junk" from opening at the default location I've never stored user files on C:\... and never will one reason being it severely clutters up system image backups my C:\ system image backups fit nicely on one DVD and I've only have a few that went over but those fit on a DVD DL imagine a 600+GB system image of a 932GB HDD; that would take a good long time to restore which is moot to me as I have several TB of User DATA but by keeping user files off of the C:\ I can restore my system and have everything back up to date in less than 2 hours even from a month old base image requiring the most recent MS updates be applied again which needless to say, I generally only need to take an image monthly - right before MS Crash Tuesdays or the one exception being - before any other program install / update etc.

BrianScattergood
BrianScattergood

Thanks, Mark. I've wondered how I can make this change and now, thanks to you, I'm able to.

scott
scott

I suspect the reason for the default location to be Libraries is because if you have many different hard drives and you change it to open "My Computer", it has to "wake up" those drives to show the information, which you then have to wait for the drives to spin up, so it's not the fastest route that way. This is what I've noticed after changing the shortcut as you describe because I have many hard drives in my system that turn off if I haven't used them in a while.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Writing tips like these for such a sharp audience can be a humbling experience. This technique will not open Windows Explorer in the C:\ root directory. It will, however open in the highest directory level possible where you can see and access any available drive on the system. I apologize for the confusion. The code is necessary to get to that highest level.

j.tarry
j.tarry

I've never bottomed Explorer in Vista, so, on the quick launch toolbar, I have several shortcuts to help me find files: computer, Vista(C), Documents, Pictures and Downloads. It makes the quick launch bar a little long, but this works well for me.

Rob C
Rob C

That opens at C:\ like you promised Thanks, Rob

junk1
junk1

That seems like the same result as the My Computer or Computer icon? Is there a difference (other than the look of the icon?

Xephire
Xephire

The command you describe will open explorer in the root of the C drive. If you want this, fine. The other string takes you one level up (my computer) where you can see all your hard drives, external drivers etc.

apete
apete

These switches work in Win7, and I've used them since Win98. Right click the Explorer icon, to get to properties, then add "space /n, space /e,". There are other switches, but these are all I ever use.

peter
peter

You're right, Win+E does behave the same as the modified shortcut. I'd mistakenly assumed the shortkeys as being independent of shortcuts. Thanks Rob - I've learned something from this. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments about libraries etc.

pcl@aslangrey.com
pcl@aslangrey.com

In XP you could change the shortcut to explorer /e, /root, and get the display of the root directory, but this does not work in 7. Any ideas on what the code would be to get to an initial display of the root in 7?

peterneil_world
peterneil_world

Use some of the the Windows Explorer switches to open Explorer in the Folder View with the specific folder selected. C:\WINDOWS\explorer.exe /e,/select,D:\eclipse\workspace add the /root switch to make this the Root folder in the Folder pain C:\WINDOWS\explorer.exe /e,/select,/root, D:\eclipse\workspace

rolltop
rolltop

It sure looks the same to me. It's only one less click than Start, Computer. I don't see the big deal here.

PeterM42
PeterM42

BONZA! - many thanks. PeterM

thesilverfox
thesilverfox

...explorer.exe /n, /e /n opens a new pane /e determines whether the Task list or the Folder list is displayed (it means Explorer view) ...explorer.exe /n, /e, d:\download\ this will open the folder d:\download ...explorer.exe /n, /e, /select, d:\download\ this will open the drive d:\ and highlight the folder d:\download

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

The Explorer switches from XP mostly work in Win7, so here's what I use to have Explorer open with the focus on C:\ and C's subdirectories showing in the right pane: %windir%\explorer.exe /n,C:\ XP had an explorer.scf file in the Windows directory that did this and could be dragged to the desktop, but it seems to have vanished from Win7. Pity. Bonus tip: Explorer "remembers" what directories were expanded when it closes. So, if you want to reduce left pane clutter, you can collapse Favorites, Libraries, Homegroup, and Network before closing.