How to Open Hidden System Folders with Windows’ Shell Command

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Many of the hidden system folders in Windows are identified in the Windows Registry along with a class ID (CLSID) key, special folder names, and the folders’ locations on your PC. Using those special folder names along with the Shell command means that even hidden folders buried deep in your file system are always just a few keystrokes away.

What Are CLSID Keys?

Specific folder locations (and also some software components) are given a CLSID that allows Windows and other programs to easily identify them without knowing their exact name. The CLSID keys, common names, and full paths to those folders are stored as entries in the Windows Registry. It’s kind of similar to how each computer on your network has a regular name that’s easy for you to remember–when you use the computer name, Windows looks up that computer’s IP address on your behalf.

In the same way, programs can use a common name for a folder in the Windows structure and rely on the actual location being stored as a CLSID key in the Registry. The shell objects we’ll be working with are listed in the Registry at the following location:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FolderDescriptions

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Each subkey in the long list inside the FolderDescriptions key represents a special folder. The name of each key is that folder’s CLSID. Click any one of them and you’ll see several important values attached to that key, such as Name (the common name of the folder) and RelativePath (the actual path where the folder is located).

How to Issue the Shell Command

So, what can you do with this information? You can issue a special command named Shell followed by a folder’s common name to open that folder. If that sounds a little simple, that’s the whole point. You can issue the Shell command from the Run dialog box (Windows+R), the Windows File Explorer address bar, or even the Internet Explorer address bar. Just type the command using the following format:

shell:<name>

Here’s an example. Say you wanted to open the folder containing the pictures you have associated with your Windows account. Instead of browsing down into your account’s AppData folder (a hidden folder, by the way) and then finding the folder with your account pictures, you could just fire up the Run dialog, issue the following command, and then hit Enter:

shell:AccountPictures

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It’s hard to argue that’s not faster, even if you’re not already a keyboard junkie.

What Folder Names Are Available?

That’s all well and good, but is it really worth it to comb through all those Registry entries looking for folder names just to save a little time browsing through folders later? Maybe, maybe not. Fortunately, that’s what you’ve got us for. Here is a list of all the folder names you can use after the shell command, along with the relative locations of those folders.

  • shell:AccountPictures – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\AccountPictures
  • shell:AddNewProgramsFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Get Programs
  • shell:Administrative Tools – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Administrative Tools
  • shell:AppData – %AppData%
  • shell:Application Shortcuts – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Application Shortcuts
  • shell:AppsFolder – Applications
  • shell:AppUpdatesFolder – Installed Updates
  • shell:Cache – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache
  • shell:Camera Roll – %UserProfile%\Pictures\Camera Roll
  • shell:CD Burning – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Burn\Burn
  • shell:ChangeRemoveProgramsFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Programs and Features
  • shell:Common Administrative Tools – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Administrative Tools
  • shell:Common AppData – %ProgramData%
  • shell:Common Desktop – %Public%\Desktop
  • shell:Common Documents – %Public%\Documents
  • shell:CommonDownloads – %Public%\Downloads
  • shell:CommonMusic – %Public%\Music
  • shell:CommonPictures – %Public%\Pictures
  • shell:Common Programs – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
  • shell:CommonRingtones – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Ringtones
  • shell:Common Start Menu – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
  • shell:Common Startup – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
  • shell:Common Templates – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Templates
  • shell:CommonVideo – %Public%\Videos
  • shell:ConflictFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center\Conflicts
  • shell:ConnectionsFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Network Connections
  • shell:Contacts – %UserProfile%\Contacts
  • shell:ControlPanelFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items
  • shell:Cookies – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\INetCookies
  • shell:Cookies\Low – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\INetCookies\Low
  • shell:CredentialManager – %AppData%\Microsoft\Credentials
  • shell:CryptoKeys – %AppData%\Microsoft\Crypto
  • shell:desktop – Desktop
  • shell:device Metadata Store – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\DeviceMetadataStore
  • shell:documentsLibrary – Libraries\Documents
  • shell:downloads – %UserProfile%\Downloads
  • shell:dpapiKeys – %AppData%\Microsoft\Protect
  • shell:Favorites – %UserProfile%\Favorites
  • shell:Fonts – %WinDir%\Fonts
  • shell:Games – Games
  • shell:GameTasks – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\GameExplorer
  • shell:History – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\History
  • shell:HomeGroupCurrentUserFolder – Homegroup\(user-name)
  • shell:HomeGroupFolder – Homegroup
  • shell:ImplicitAppShortcuts – %AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\ImplicitAppShortcuts
  • shell:InternetFolder – Internet Explorer
  • shell:Libraries – Libraries
  • shell:Links – %UserProfile%\Links
  • shell:Local AppData – %LocalAppData%
  • shell:LocalAppDataLow – %UserProfile%\AppData\LocalLow
  • shell:MusicLibrary – Libraries\Music
  • shell:MyComputerFolder – This PC
  • shell:My Music – %UserProfile%\Music
  • shell:My Pictures – %UserProfile%\Pictures
  • shell:My Video – %UserProfile%\Videos
  • shell:NetHood – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Network Shortcuts
  • shell:NetworkPlacesFolder – Network
  • shell:OneDrive – OneDrive
  • shell:OneDriveCameraRoll – %UserProfile%\OneDrive\Pictures\Camera Roll
  • shell:OneDriveDocuments – %UserProfile%\OneDrive\Documents
  • shell:OneDriveMusic – %UserProfile%\OneDrive\Music
  • shell:OneDrivePictures – %UserProfile%\OneDrive\Pictures
  • shell:Personal – %UserProfile%\Documents
  • shell:PicturesLibrary – Libraries\Pictures
  • shell:PrintersFolder – All Control Panel Items\Printers
  • shell:PrintHood – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Printer Shortcuts
  • shell:Profile – %UserProfile%
  • shell:ProgramFiles – %ProgramFiles%
  • shell:ProgramFilesCommon – %ProgramFiles%\Common Files
  • shell:ProgramFilesCommonX64 – %ProgramFiles%\Common Files (64-bit Windows only)
  • shell:ProgramFilesCommonX86 – %ProgramFiles(x86)%\Common Files (64-bit Windows only)
  • shell:ProgramFilesX64 – %ProgramFiles% (64-bit Windows only)
  • shell:ProgramFilesX86 – %ProgramFiles(x86)% (64-bit Windows only)
  • shell:Programs – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
  • shell:Public – %Public%
  • shell:PublicAccountPictures – %Public%\AccountPictures
  • shell:PublicGameTasks – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\GameExplorer
  • shell:PublicLibraries – %Public%\Libraries
  • shell:Quick Launch – %AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch
  • shell:Recent – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Recent
  • shell:RecordedTVLibrary – Libraries\Recorded TV
  • shell:RecycleBinFolder – Recycle Bin
  • shell:ResourceDir – %WinDir%\Resources
  • shell:Ringtones – %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Ringtones
  • shell:Roamed Tile Images – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\RoamedTileImages
  • shell:Roaming Tiles – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\RoamingTiles
  • shell:SavedGames – %UserProfile%\Saved Games
  • shell:Screenshots – %UserProfile%\Pictures\Screenshots
  • shell:Searches – %UserProfile%\Searches
  • shell:SearchHistoryFolder – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\ConnectedSearch\History
  • shell:SearchHomeFolder – search-ms:
  • shell:SearchTemplatesFolder – %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\ConnectedSearch\Templates
  • shell:SendTo – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo
  • shell:Start Menu – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu
  • shell:StartMenuAllPrograms – StartMenuAllPrograms
  • shell:Startup – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
  • shell:SyncCenterFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center
  • shell:SyncResultsFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center\Sync Results
  • shell:SyncSetupFolder – Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Sync Center\Sync Setup
  • shell:System – %WinDir%\System32
  • shell:SystemCertificates – %AppData%\Microsoft\SystemCertificates
  • shell:SystemX86 – %WinDir%\SysWOW64
  • shell:Templates – %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Templates
  • shell:ThisPCDesktopFolder – Desktop
  • shell:UsersFilesFolder – %UserProfile%
  • shell:User Pinned – %AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned
  • shell:UserProfiles – %HomeDrive%\Users
  • shell:UserProgramFiles – %LocalAppData%\Programs
  • shell:UserProgramFilesCommon – %LocalAppData%\Programs\Common
  • shell:UsersLibrariesFolder – Libraries
  • shell:VideosLibrary – Libraries\Videos
  • shell:Windows – %WinDir%

And there you go. Of course, once you find these folders, you can easily bookmark them so you can get to them even quicker in the future. But, if you’re a keyboard person, it might be worth adding some of these to your repertoire.

Walter Glenn is a long time computer geek and tech writer. Though he's mostly a Windows and gadget guy, he has a fondness for anything tech. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.