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Dealing With Windows Vista Explorer Screwing Up Auto-Detection of Folder Types

One of the few things about Vista that just drives me crazy is the problems with Windows Explorer. I prefer to use Details mode for certain folders, but it seems like Vista constantly “decides” that the folder should show a different set of columns than what I had previously chosen.

The problem is that Vista “Auto-Detects” the folder type for you, but it seems to always detect it incorrectly, and then your folder just stops showing the right columns…

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Manually Resetting Folder Types

Normally this happens because Vista has detected the folder as the wrong type… you had a single music file in the folder so Vista thinks that it’s a music folder and only displays the columns for music files instead… or worse, stops displaying columns altogether.

To reset this setting manually, you can right-click in the folder and choose “Customize This Folder…”

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Then you can change the folder type drop-down to All Items instead of whatever it was set to.

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You might have to reset the view to details mode or choose the columns you want after changing this setting, but it should hopefully stick.

Manual Registry Hack to Reset Folder Views

Windows Vista stores all of the display settings for each folder in a special location in the registry. Unfortunately these often seem to get corrupted somehow, which is the main reason everything goes haywire. If you want to reset the folder views you can delete the keys that store the view information.

Open regedit.exe through the start menu search or run box, and then navigate down to the following key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags

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You’ll see a bunch of keys with numeric names under the Bags key. You can attempt to find the one that matches the folder you are having problems with, and just right-click on the key and delete it. If you want, you can delete all of the settings, which will start you over with a blank slate.

Note: You could backup that section of the registry by right-clicking on the Bags key and choosing to Export. That way if you screw anything up, you can just restore the backup by double-clicking on it.

Using ExplorerView to Turn Off Auto-Detection

There’s a small freeware application called ExplorerView that claims to be able to prevent auto-detection of folder types. In my limited testing so far, it seems to work correctly, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Download, install, and then launch the ExplorerView application. Check the box for “Disallow Explorer to Auto-Detect Folder Contents”, and you are done.

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Looks like the folder is back to normal again…

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Download ExplorerView from sdsoftware.org

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/8/08

Comments (36)

  1. darkkosmos

    Thanks, auto dection is driving me crazy too!

  2. Fred Beiderbecke

    Hey, thanks for that tip. That is one of the few things that annoys me about Vista. Oh, and the people that have never used it whining about how bad it is.

  3. The Geek

    @Fred

    You are so right about that =)

  4. Daniel

    Have you ever tried an Explorer replacement? xplorer2 is great and they have a free, lite version. ExplorerXP is another good, free choice, as is XYplorer but it is $30. I like using these because they have tabs and dual panes. But if they crash, they save all the folders that were open. If Explorer crashes, it kills all the folders you had open, which is really annoying. Learning the keyboard shortcuts to these utilities make file management a breeze.

  5. Dan Taschler

    I noticed a particularly interesting quirk with Vista’s folder settings. I have a folder named “Codecs” in my often used software folder. Vista modeled this folder after a contacts folder. I assumed that it had something to do with the name of the folder, since it was close to “contacts”. I renamed the folder to “Software Codecs”, and the view went back to normal.

    Is Vista getting too smart? I feel now that it is watching me. Where can I order one of those home-made foil helmets?

  6. jv10

    The geek strikes again! Great article, that’s been driving me nuts! I deleted the bags key and everything went back to normal.

    I’m gonna try setting all my folders the way I want and then backing up the bags key so I can apply it later on if I have problems

  7. tim

    My folders keep switching to Pictures folders and it’s irritating to change them back. Really hoping this app fixes the problem. will report back

  8. keith

    great tip as usual. this was my #1 gripe with vista and now it’s fixed.

  9. jonm

    great tip!

    I just made a registry file to delete the bags key, so whenever I have the problem I can just click on the reghack file. just make a reg file that has this:

    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags]

  10. umans

    deleting the bags key also helps out when you have problems selecting files like when the select all doesnt work.

  11. Gary

    I’ve tried every tip regarding this problem and none of them cures the problem completely. Folders that display the way I want them will work one day then the next day they are back to displaying something I don’t want.

  12. jon

    Another good one! ExplorerView seems to do the job. Thanks. Keep ‘em coming!

    I also agree with Fred and the Geek. If someone asked me to go back to XP I would probably do something unmentionable to them!

  13. SDX

    “Windows Vista stores all of the display settings for each folder in a special location in the registry. Unfortunately these often seem to get corrupted somehow, which is the main reason everything goes haywire.”

    I think vista (and Win XP) have a predefined upper limit for the number of folders for which custom settings will be remembered. As soon as this limit is exceeded older entries are removed, this is the reason why the display settings seem to get “corrupted” for certain folders.

  14. techit2

    Hopefully this will work. Vista is so frustrating…(sigh)

  15. sneh

    I just want to be able to view all my folders in “detail” view, with “name / size / date”. I hope they fix this properly, because I really do not want to use a 3rd party program or hack.

    Changing to “album” view for folders that are clearly not music or sounds strikes me as being a bit strange.

  16. Mike

    Vista keeps resetting my Contacts folder as a music folder no matter how many times I reset it.

  17. Sabari

    It is good Article to read.

  18. Anand

    This is really a Good tip, very very userfull.

  19. Mike

    @SDX: I suspect that if you have a lot of music, then Media Player’s requirement of an album per folder will quickly use up Windows memorized folder quota

  20. jAH

    thanx, i was about to reinstall Vista to straight this thing up…

  21. ...

    I believe that by default Vista can have up to 5000 slots for bags (one bag can take from 1 slot to more than 10), if you need more you can change it here:
    [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell]
    “BagMRU Size”=dword:00001388

    P.S. This is unconfirmed info at the moment.

  22. Xeogin

    I believe “…” is referring to this http://support.microsoft.com/kb/813711 which could be a solution, I’m going to try a combination of what’s been mentioned here, and some elsewhere.

  23. miljenko

    Excellent it works

  24. Ash

    Thankx for the tutorial.

    Is there a way I can “Turn Off Auto-Detection” without using 3rd party app like Explorer View ??

  25. Kt

    Thanks for the info, however, I have Vista Home Premium 64bit SP1. It came pre-loaded on an HP PC. Some folders, like the root of C, Program Files, Windows, ect does not have the Customize This Folder option.
    I looked for the reg keys you mention in the article but I only have a 1 key under the Bags key.

    Any reason why I dont have that “Customize This Folder” option for the root of the hard drive as well as folders that exist from the Windows installation?

    I am hesitant to install any reg imports that I dont know what they are fully doing and the articles I find doing a search have a lot of inconsistancy’s in them.

    Thanks for any insight!

  26. tea

    Great article, thanks! Auto-detection drives me crazy several times a week too. I have to try this ExploreView immediately.

  27. Bad Dog

    copy the text below the dotted line( ctrl-c ), save it in a text file ( open notepad then ctrl-v), now rename it with (anyname).reg , .reg as the extension, be sure to read it before you double click this file to merge the registry and correct the fault of vista’s stupidity, this will set the auto detection to OFF and change the 5000 folders to 20,000 and it clears out the old settings you have, plus it sets all folders to “all items” as the default…… yes and your welcome….

    P.S. copy everything below the line, its a reg file, read it all first to get a understand of whats going on and follow step 1 for sure. need help making a reg file and knowing what and how then this is beyond the scope of your windows knowledge and you should consult a professional.

    —————————————————————–
    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

    ; This is a Vista ONLY Folder Repair tool, This tool will force Vista to remember your folder settings by
    ; Modifying registry entries. Descriptions below explain what each step is doing.
    ; Steps:
    ; 1. Open up explorer and go to Tools->Folder Options->View and uncheck Remember each folder’s View settings
    ; 2. Double Click this registry File
    ; 3. Restart Computer before doing anything else
    ; 4. Once restarted, bring up explorer again and put the Check back that was removed in step 1.
    ; 5. All folders on the computer should now be in the “All Items” format. Since Auto Discovery is now off
    ; you will need to go to your shell folders (Pictures, Videos, Contacts, Music, etc.) and set them to the
    ; template you want, apply to subfolders, etc.

    ; Clear out Folder Settings left over from XP:
    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ShellNoRoam\BagMRU]
    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ShellNoRoam\Bags]
    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\BagMRU]
    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags]

    ; Clear out Folder Settings for Vista
    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\BagMRU]
    [-HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags]

    ; Modify the Folder Storage space to 20000, this will allow the saving of settings for up to 20000 different folders.
    [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell]
    “BagMRU Size”=dword:00004e20

    ; Turn off Vista’s Auto Template Discovery. This keeps vista from deciding on it’s own what type
    ; of Folder you have (ie, picture, videos, docs, etc) This will keep vista from changing what you
    ; have already set for a folder as well. Notice this value is in the Bags Key that was deleted
    ; in the settings above. Remember this is there, because if you decide to manually go delete
    ; your Bags Key, you will lose this value and auto-discovery will turn back on again.

    [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Shell\Bags\AllFolders\Shell]
    “FolderType”=”NotSpecified”

  28. Tom

    Yout Program worked for a short time and Windows rest again. Precisely how is this line to be typed into the registry and is it a DWORD, Regcz, or what? I’m having a brain cramp on it.
    Thanks,
    Tom

  29. wondering

    I’ve been looking and looking for an answer to the following question…

    Can’t I just reset ONE folder view?

    I don’t want to reset ALL the folder views with all these registry fixes and tools, I just want to change one folder back to an “all files” view.

    Is there a way to do that?

    …Thanks in advance

  30. Mike

    wondering: right click on a folder background and choose Customize

  31. Nilson

    You’ve brought me back to sanity again! Thank you!

    Aw, and I couldn’t agree more about the second thing that drives me nuts the most is people moaning about Vista’s “flaws” without never using before in their boring lives! I’m a computer salesperson and I see this on a daily basis: bunch of sheep – just because their “computer expert” friend (in truth someone who spends all day possibly on MSN or porn on their computers) advised them agains it!

    Monkey see, monkey do. ;-)

  32. aweysham

    Many many thanks!! Works for me!!

  33. hexC0DE

    THANKS !!! this is great. that was buggin’ me.

    btw, i just found your site, and i’m totally diggin’ it ! thanks again!

  34. Futureboy

    I’m a little late to the party here, but just wanted to say thanks for the heads up on ExplorerView. It even fixed the pesky “view-jacking” in the open/save as/attach dialog boxes within other applications.

  35. Thankfull Guy

    Thank you Bad Dog.

  36. Armin Tamzarian

    Thank you! The inconsistent file views in Vista made it’s GUI a very unpleasant experience. After recently building virtual machines for Windows 3.11, 98, and 2000 and being reminded how much more reliable those OS are in this regard I had to try to find fix and ended up here. I hope these fixes stick. Thanks again.

    Although I agree with those who say Vista gets bashed more than it deserves, it is astonishing that Microsoft did not discover and test these things out before release. Like many people I’m quick to bash Microsoft but usually for things that are debatable. There is no little debate here; this issue was a big mess up and prevented people from discovering the ways that Vista was better than XP – very bad for sales.

    It’s also surprising that the Microsoft kb article referenced in this thread is so poorly written, not even describing what type of keys to create and just barely making the distinction between 32bit and 64bit systems barely obvious.

    Anyhoo, thanks again!

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