Windows

Quick Tip: Reveal hidden system files in Windows Explorer

Mark Kaelin shows you how to change the settings in Windows Explorer to reveal hidden files and folders in Microsoft Windows 7.

A few days before posting this Quick Tip, I published a blog post / photo gallery explaining how to add hidden international desktop themes to Windows 7. While that tip was not terribly difficult, I did make the assumption that most users would know how to reveal hidden files and folders in Windows Explorer. But, apparently, there are many TechRepublic members who'd like to see just how that is done. So here goes.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Quick Tip

I am using Microsoft Windows 7 for this tip, but the procedure is very similar for Windows Vista and Windows XP.

Open Windows Explorer to any folder. For my example shown in Figure A, I am using the root directory of the C: drive.

Figure A

Windows Explorer is opened to the C: drive.
Click the Organize menu entry and then click the Folder and Search Options (Figure B).

Figure B

Click the Folder and Search Options menu item.
This will bring up the Folder Options dialog box (Figure C); click on the View tab.

Figure C

Click the View tab.

Under the View tab, you will find a plethora of configuration checkboxes. My preference is to reveal all hidden files and all system files. To accomplish this:

  • Make sure the Show Hidden Files, Folders and Drives checkbox is filled in.
  • Make sure the Hide Protected Operating System Files (Recommended) is unchecked. (Windows will admonish you that this is a bad idea, but that's how I roll.)
I also like to uncheck the Hide Extensions for Known File Types, because extensions help me determine what I am looking at in Windows Explorer (Figure D). Click Apply to implement your changes.

Figure D

Reveal hidden folders, files, drives, and system files.

If you want to apply these settings to all folders, click the All Folders button. When you're finished, click the OK button.

Caveat

I want to make one caveat -- folders, files, and drives are often hidden for a very good reason. You do not want to just haphazardly copy, move, delete, or otherwise alter these items. Be very careful.

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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.

10 comments
pcsquare.el
pcsquare.el

Hi I have enabled hidden and system files on my PC and it works. When I access my Windows Server 2008 I only see the folders I have access right to. How can I see all the folders even though I don?t have rights to them?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you reveal hidden and system files on your personal systems? Do you prevent these changes on your user's workstations?

bulk
bulk

I'm guessing whoever set up your server installed the NTFS feature ABE (access-based enumeration). This is a useful tweak that hides files and folders that you don't have rights to. I undeerstand 'ix systems have had this for years, but I only found it on Windows about 18 months ago. I've never bothered to find out how to remove it. Too useful. Richard

cnet
cnet

Once upon a time, unhiding files did not cause me to see a desktop\desktop.ini file on my desktop. Vista started showing it and I have not seen a way to hide it only. Any ideas?

riverab
riverab

I always setup the administrator account this way. However, I don't for user accounts. Bert BTW: Is there a way to bring back the folder size in Windows Explorer? Iwould love to have that back.

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

remain hidden for non admin users. For any admin user, I will unhide the hidden files (Wow what a mouthful).

pcsquare.el
pcsquare.el

Thank you for your response at least I know what I am dealing with. I just Installed Windows server 2008 and Windows 7 Ultimate with their default settings. Windows 7 also don?t show you other actions you can?t perform e.g. if you have a SD Card and you lock it when you read the drive and right click on it you can?t choose ?New? . I installed ClearOS on a PC and could only see files I had permission to as well. It is good to hide folders from end users but if you look at the network from a workstation and you are the Administrator you can miss things. Thanks

Angel_Tech
Angel_Tech

have checked the checkbox for 'Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)' and hit OK.. that will hide the system files... including the desktop.ini file for every folder.. Cheers :)

bboyd
bboyd

Hidden file attribute, and protected system files are different. If the file you want is hidden, just setting "show hidden files and folders" radio button to ON is enough to view it. If its attributes list it as a system file then you must also un-check "Hide protected Operating System files" to view it.

cnet
cnet

making desktop.ini a hidden file and then asking to show hidden files results in all hidden files showing.

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