Quick Tip: Disable the permanent Auto arrange setting in Windows 7 and 8

Bring back the Auto arrange icons and Align icons to grid menu items, the way they were in Windows XP.

If you moved from Windows XP to either Windows 7 or Windows 8, chances are that you have noticed that you can no longer disable the Auto arrange icons setting in Windows/File Explorer. In other words the Auto arrange icons setting is permanently turned on such that when you use any of the icon views in Windows/File Explorer, you can no longer manually move the icons where you want them. This disability is especially apparent when you are looking at a folder full of images. Fortunately, Microsoft MVP Shawn Brink has created a couple of very slick batch files that quickly edit the registry to disable this permanent setting and bring back the Auto arrange icons and Align icons to grid menu items - at least to a certain extent. Let's take a closer look.

The problem

In Windows XP, no matter what folder you have open, if you are using the Icon View setting, you can pull down the view menu and access the Auto Arrange and Align to Grid commands on the Arrange Icons By menu. This means that you can easily disable the Auto Arrange and Align to Grid settings and essentially rearrange the icons in any way that you want, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

AuAr Fig A.PNG

In Windows XP you can disable the Auto Arrange and Align to Grid settings in any folder.

However, in Windows 7 and in Windows 8, none of the menus - Arrange by, View, Sort by/Group by - contain Auto Arrange or Align commands, as shown in Figure B. On the other hand, the Desktop's View menu does contain both the Auto arrange icons and Align icons to grid commands, as shown in Figure C.

Figure B

AuAr Fig B.png

Neither the Auto Arrange nor Align commands appear in folders in Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Figure C

AuAr Fig C.png

The View menu on the desktop contains the Auto arrange icons and Align icons to grid commands.

The batch files

Before we get started, keep in mind that there are two sets of batch files, one set for Windows 7 users and one set for Windows 8 users. Each set contains two batch files, one to disable the permanent Auto arrange setting and, if you should decide to put it back, one to re-enable the permanent Auto arrange setting. I encourage you to read the Notes and Warning sections of the articles that accompany each set of batch files.

Once you download the set of batch files for your Windows version, running the disable batch file is a snap. When you run this batch file, it will first remove any registry entries that may exist for Windows/File Explorer's folder templates. (This is a completely safe operation as these entries are created as you use Windows/File Explorer over time, so the operating system doesn't need them to function correctly.) Second, it will restart explorer.exe in order to completely clear the existing registry entries. It will then add the necessary settings to the registry to disable the permanent Auto arrange setting and re-enable the Auto arrange icons and Align icons to grid menu items.

The end result

As you'll remember, I emphasized the fact the batch files work to a certain extent. Here's what I mean by that.

After you run the disable batch file, the permanent Auto arrange setting will be disabled for every folder in the operating system except the Library folders: Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos. The reason that Library folders, or more specifically Libraries, are exempt from the changes made to the registry is that they aren't really folders. More specifically, Libraries are virtual containers that use the legacy folder names (My Documents, My Videos, My Pictures, and My Music) that users are familiar with.

So that means that if you want to be able to look at your pictures in an Icon view and be able to arrange them in any way that you want, you'll need to put them in any folder other than the Pictures Library. For example, you could put them on an external USB drive as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

AuAr Fig D.png

To be able to arrange your icons, you need to use any folder besides the Libraries.

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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.


on the desktop, i like having the limited files and folders there arranged in sections across the desktop

with windows 8.1 it reorganizes them snapped to the left, auto-arrange is available and i have it toggled off.  is there any way to prevent this from occurring.  thanks, bryan


Interesting article. How to manipulate the registry is an interesting topic. Along the same lines, another change from XP to Windows 7 was the "Default" change to "Sort by Modified Date". In XP, the default was ascending (which I prefer) and descending in Windows 7 (which probably makes sense to most). I have searched the internet and have not had any luck finding other than the typical (snide) comments "well go to View and click on "Sort by" twice". I would think there is a registry entry which sets the defaults (ascending/descending) for the "Sort By" selections. I know there are others who have expressed the same frustration - I assume they are like me - sometimes you want to sort on one "column" and then go back to your normal sort order. 

Personally, I think the way the "Sort By" works is a design bug. If I have 2 choices to make, I should be able to check both in the same menu before it disappears. If there is a way to do this, along with a little more explanation of the registry entries (looking at those Bat files, it is not obvious what is being set to ""True or False").


On the face of it, it sounds good, but I'm not happy that all one's folder settings/templates will be disabled and have to be redone.

What I'd really like is the ability to turn off auto-arrange when in a folder that is set as View/List and Sort by/Name.

In XP, if I extracted a RAR file, the extracted files or folders appeared at the bottom of the list so they were all together. In Windows 7, they auto-arrange, and nothing can be done to stop this behaviour.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Have you missed the Auto arrange icons and Align icons to grid menu items configuration settings in Windows 7 and 8? Did you even realize they were missing?


@Mark W. Kaelin No, I hadn't noticed these were missing. Mainly because it's easier now to sort specifically on certain columns. That part is much better in Win8 I think. I do not always agree with Microsoft's choices in getting the next version out, but for me this works. Nice to see that it can be changed though. Thanks!

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