Sometimes in the life of a geek, we do something in front of a non-geek that shocks and amazes them. Sometimes it’s as simple as typing three keystrokes into a file open dialog. (At least it was for me yesterday)

I was doing some work on my computer with a friend sitting next to me, and her jaw dropped when she saw me navigating through the file open dialog with just the keyboard… so I decided to write up a number of other keyboard methods as well.

Note: Expert geeks are excused from today’s lesson, but there’s extra credit for mentioning any methods that I forgot to include.

Navigate Up One Directory

This was what made my friend very surprised… as soon as any File Open/Save dialog is opened, just type .. (period period) and hit the Enter key:

After you hit the Enter key, you’ll notice you are suddenly in the next directory up…


I’m sure you are less amazed than my friend was.

Navigate by Relative Path

You can type ..\ to get to the directory above the current one, and then start typing the name of a folder or filename.

You could even use ..\..\ or any number of levels to continue to traverse up the directory tree.

Navigate with Shell Folders

Included in Windows Vista (or XP) are a list of shell folder shortcut names that will let you type something as simple as shell:desktop to go to the desktop folder.


We’ve even got the full list of shell shortcuts for you.

Navigate with Environment Variables

You can use the built-in environment variables to quickly switch to a folder. For instance, to get to the Program Files folder you could type %programfiles%

A better example would be %appdata%, which takes you to the C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming folder.

To see a full list of these variables, open a command prompt and type set. Just remember to surround the variable name with percent signs as shown in the example.

Navigate with UNC Paths

Even if you don’t have a drive letter mapped to another computer, you can still open and save directly from a shared folder by typing in the UNC path to the server. Here’s the syntax:


You’ll likely be prompted for your username and password to access that share (this would be the username on the computer you are trying to access, not the one you are on)

Navigate with FTP

You can even connect to an FTP server to open a file by using the following syntax (thanks to freddo for mentioning this)


After you hit the Enter key, you’ll be prompted for your FTP password, and then you can browse the FTP site like a local folder. Note that this method will possibly be slow.

Navigate with Full Paths

You can just start typing the full path to a file if you’d like. It might take longer than some of the other options, but at least you’ve got full control.


Navigate with Copy and Paste

In Windows Vista, if you hold down the shift key while right-clicking on a file or folder, there will be a new option called Copy as Path, which will copy the full path of that file or folder to the clipboard.

You can then paste that path into the File name box and hit the Enter key to open it.

Note that you could use the keyboard to paste the path in, but I couldn’t really take a screenshot of that.

Many of these methods work in other operating systems as well… for instance, you can use the ../../ method on Linux.

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Lowell is the founder and CEO of How-To Geek. He’s been running the show since creating the site back in 2006. Over the last decade, Lowell has personally written more than 1000 articles which have been viewed by over 250 million people. Prior to starting How-To Geek, Lowell spent 15 years working in IT doing consulting, cybersecurity, database management, and programming work.
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