Windows 10 no longer has built-in help for File Explorer, as Windows 7 does. Microsoft makes you search the web for information, so here’s what you need to know about using Windows 10’s file manager.

File Explorer Interface Basics

While it’s been renamed “File Explorer” in Windows 10, this application is basically the same as Windows Explorer on Windows 7. It does have some new features, including a ribbon interface and built-in Microsoft OneDrive for syncing your files to the cloud.

The “Quick Access” area in the sidebar replaces “Favorites” on Windows 10. You can drag and drop folders to the Quick Access area to “pin” them for easy access in the future. Windows 10 will automatically add your recently used folders to this area, too. You can customize Quick Access from the options window. To remove an individual folder from Quick Access, right-click it and select “Unpin From Quick Access.”

The “This PC” section replaces the “My Computer” item on Windows 7. It contains shortcuts to user data folders on your PC as well as other drives, such as USB drives and DVD drives.

How to Use the Ribbon

The ribbon in File Explorer works just like the ribbon in Microsoft Office applications like Word and Excel. There are a few different ways you can use it.

If you want more space in your file browsing windows, you can leave the ribbon collapsed by default. You can still click any of the tabs at the top—like “Home,” “Share,” or “View” to view the commands and click a button. The ribbon will only appear temporarily.

If you’d rather see the ribbon all the time, you can expand it. To do so, either click the arrow near the top right corner of the File Explorer window or press Ctrl+F1.

The Home toolbar offers basic options for working with files, including Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, New Folder, and Properties.

The Share tab offers options for emailing, zipping, and printing files, as well as burning them to disc and sharing them on the local network.

The View tab contains options for controlling how the files appear in File Explorer and how they’re sorted. You can enable a preview or details pane to see more information about a selected file, choose whether you want large file icons or a dense file list, and sort files by any criteria you like. You can also choose to show or hide file name extensions or hidden files from here. Just click the “Hidden items” checkbox to show or hide hidden files without opening the Folder Options window.

The Manage tab will sometimes appear on the ribbon with contextually appropriate commands. For example, if you select some pictures, you’ll see a “Picture Tools” tab with options for rotating the selecting images and setting them as your desktop background.

How to Pin Frequently Used Commands

The Quick Access Toolbar appears at the top left corner of the File Explorer window, on the title bar. It provides convenient access to commands you frequently use. To add a command to the Quick Access toolbar, right-click it on the ribbon and select “Add to Quick Access Toolbar.”

If you’d like more space for commands, you can right-click anywhere on the ribbon or tab bar above it and select “Show the Quick Access Toolbar Below the Ribbon” to turn it into a more standard toolbar.

How to Change File Explorer’s Settings

To change File Explorer’s settings, click the “View” tab on the ribbon and click the “Options” icon.

This opens the familiar Folder Options dialog that existed on Windows 7, too. It has a few new options—for example, you can control whether File Explorer opens to the Quick Access or This PC views, or whether it automatically shows recently and frequently used folders in the Quick Access view.

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts

File Explorer is packed with useful keyboard shortcuts to help you accomplish tasks faster. Here’s a quick list of some:

  • Windows+E – Open a File Explorer window. This works anywhere in Windows 10.
  • Ctrl+N – Open a new File Explorer window. This only works in File Explorer itself.
  • Ctrl+W – Close the current File Explorer window.
  • Ctrl+Mousewheel Up or Down – Change the size of files and folder icons (zoom in or out.)
  • Ctrl+Shift+N – Create a new folder
  • Backspace or Alt+Left arrow – View the previous folder (go back.)
  • Alt+Right arrow – View the next folder (go forward.)
  • Alt+Up arrow – View the folder the current folder is in.
  • Ctrl+F, Ctrl+E, or F3 – Focus the Search box so you can quickly start typing a search.
  • Ctrl+L, Alt+D, or F4 – Focus the address (location) bar so you can quickly start typing a folder address.
  • F11 – Maximize the File Explorer window. Press F11 again to shrink the window. This works in web browsers, too.

You can find a complete list of Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts on Microsoft’s website.

How to Use OneDrive

OneDrive is built into File Explorer on Windows 10. It synchronizes files online using the Microsoft account you sign into Windows 10 with. It works similarly to Dropbox, Google Drive, and Apple’s iCloud Drive.

To get started, click the “OneDrive” option in File Explorer’s sidebar. You’ll be prompted to sign into OneDrive, if necessary. If you aren’t, you can just place files in OneDrive. They’ll be uploaded to Microsoft’s servers. You can access them in the OneDrive folder on other PCs you sign into the same Microsoft account with, via OneDrive apps on your phone, and on the OneDrive website.

The “Status” field in the OneDrive window shows you the status of each file. A blue cloud icon indicates the file is stored on OneDrive online but will automatically be downloaded when you open it. A green checkmark indicates the file is stored both on OneDrive and on your current PC.

You can control OneDrive’s settings from the OneDrive notification area (system tray) icon. Click the cloud-shaped OneDrive icon in the notification area at the bottom right corner of your screen—if you don’t see it, you probably need to click the little up arrow to the left of the icons to find it. Click “More” and click “Settings” to find OneDrive’s various settings, where you can control which folders are synchronized, how much of your upload and download bandwidth OneDrive uses, and other settings.

OneDrive can automatically “protect” files in important folders like your Desktop, Pictures, and Documents by syncing them. To set this up, click the “Auto Save” tab in OneDrive’s settings and click the “Update Folders” button under Protect Your Important Folders.

If you don’t like seeing OneDrive, you can disable it and remove the icon from File Explorer.

How to Access Network Drives

Folders, printers, and media servers shared on the local network appear in the “Network” view. You may have to scroll down to the bottom of File Explorer’s sidebar to locate and click it.

Windows 10 no longer includes the HomeGroup feature, so you can’t use that to share files and folders between your computers easily. You can either use OneDrive or use the old-fashioned file and folder sharing network options.

If you need to map a network drive for easy availability, you can do that from the This PC view. First, click “This PC” in the sidebar. The “Computer” tab will appear on the ribbon. Click it and select “Map Network Drive” and use the instructions your IT department provides for connecting.

The mapped drive will appear under Network Locations in the This PC view.

How to Back Up and Restore Your Files

Windows 10 contains File History, a file backup and restore tool. It’s not just for making and restoring huge backups—File History can automatically back up different versions of your files, and you can use File Explorer to restore those previous versions easily. First, you have to set up File History from Settings > Update & Security > Backup. Enable “Automatically back up my files.”

After you’ve set it up, you can select a file or folder, click “Home” on the ribbon, and click the “History” button to view and restore older versions of that file or folder.

Windows 10’s File Explorer is packed with other useful features, too. You can tag any file, use a dark theme, or re-enable the “libraries” feature. Microsoft is working a tabbed interface for File Explorer, but you can get File Explorer tabs today.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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