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Changing the letter of a drive is easy on Windows 10 and Windows 11, but you should do it as soon as you add the drive to prevent future hassles. Find out how to change a drive letter here.

What Changing a Drive Letter Does

Windows assigns drive letters alphabetically — starting with C — when they’re initialized. If you want to change a drive letter, you should do it before you install anything on the drive. Changing a drive letter after programs are installed could break them since there will be references to an installation location that is no longer there.

Windows has gotten pretty smart about updating shortcuts so that programs work after changing a drive letter. Most of your applications’ shortcuts will probably be automatically corrected. Unfortunately, Windows isn’t as good about updating file associations. You’ll have to manually set the default apps associated with files to fix file associations if they were broken by changing the drive letter.

Warning: It is possible to change the boot drive letter to something else, but we don’t recommend it. Changing C:\ to another letter is likely to result in severe issues, like a PC that cannot boot into Windows at all. Even if it were able to boot, there would be a huge number of programs that would not be able to run.
Note: Technically speaking, while they are commonly called drive letters, each letter actually refers to a partition on a disk. If you have multiple partitions on a single disk, you will need to assign a letter to each partition to make them all accessible. If a disk has just a single partition, it will just have a single letter pointing to that partition. (However, you do not have to assign a letter to each partition. Partitions without drive letters will not appear in File Explorer and elsewhere.)

How to Change a Drive Letter

Changing a drive letter is pretty simple. Click the Start button, type “Disk Management” in the search bar, and then hit Enter.

Note: The program name displayed in the search will not be Disk Management. It will be “Create and format hard disk partitions.”

Start menu search showing disk manager result is not called disk manager

You could also hit Windows+X or right-click the Start button, and then click “Disk Management.”

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Identify the drive you’d like to change in the Disk Management Window. In this example, we’ll change the letter of the D:\ drive to J:\. You can right-click the drive on the text list, or on the menu below. Either works.

Select “Change Drive Letter and Paths” in the right-click menu that appears.

In the window that pops up, click “Change.”

Select whatever letter you want from the drop-down menu. Then click “Ok.”

Two popups will warn you about changing your drive letter. Click “Yes” on both of them, and then restart your computer.

Once Windows has restarted, the drive letter should be changed.

Arrow pointing to change drive letter.

How to Fix Programs Broken By Changing a Drive Letter

There are a few ways you can fix a program broken by changing the drive letter.

Fix The Shortcut

If you’re lucky, the only thing that is broken is the shortcut. Fix a shortcut by right-clicking the shortcut on your desktop, and then click Properties.

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You need to change the target of the shortcut to the new drive letter.

For example, if GIMP was previously installed at “D:\GIMP 2\bin\gimp-2.10.exe,” and you changed the D drive to J, change the target of the shortcut to “J:\GIMP 2\bin\gimp-2.10.exe.”

Finalize the change by clicking “Apply” and then “Ok.”

Reinstall the Program

Reinstalling the program will generate new entries in the registry, so everything on the computer will know where to look for the program. Some installers won’t like reinstalling directly over existing files, so you may need to rename or delete the old installation first.

Change the Drive Letter Back

If you changed the drive letter of a drive with a lot of programs installed, it might be easier to change the drive letter back. Changing the drive letter back should automatically fix any programs and file associations that were broken.

Edit the Registry

Warning: You can break programs, or even Windows itself, by editing the registry. Be careful, and learn about how to edit the registry before you try it. Make sure you backup the Windows registry first. You should not attempt this method unless you have no other options.

Windows, and a lot of programs, track where programs are installed via the Windows registry. It is possible to manually adjust the registry to fix broken programs. Keep in mind that there could be dozens of registry entries you need to edit. A program like GIMP can have registry entries for the context menu, for the “Open With” menu, for any file associations, and for the location of its executables. Other programs may only have a few entries related to where it is installed.

If you’re not deterred, here’s how you do it.

First, you need to know where the program was previously installed. In this case, the program was installed to the “D:\GIMP 2” folder, and the executables were found the “D:\GIMP 2\bin” sub-folder. It is now located at “J:\GIMP 2” instead.

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We need to update the registry to reflect the change in location. Click the Start button, type “regedit” into the search bar, right-click Regedit, and click “Run as administrator.”

In Regedit, hit Ctrl+F to bring up a search window. Type in the old location for the program you’re trying to fix — “D:\GIMP 2” for our example — then click “Find Next.”

Once Regedit has found something with “D:\GIMP 2” as part of a path, it’ll show it to you. Here is an example from the GIMP search.

Some of the GIMP search results found in the registry.

To actually change them, double click the name of the registry entry you want to modify. Then change the drive letter to J, or whatever you chose. If you didn’t otherwise move the folder, leave the rest of the path alone. Then click “Ok.”

Change the drive letter in Value Data.

You’ll need to repeat this multiple times. To find the next result using your search term, you can hit the F3 key. There will be a popup once you’ve found all of the entries.

Changing drive letters can be a simple way to customize your PC. Do it before you install anything on the drive, however. You’ll prevent any problems before they occur, and probably save yourself quite a bit of troubleshooting.

 

Profile Photo for Nick Lewis Nick Lewis
Nick Lewis is a staff writer for How-To Geek. He has been using computers for 20 years --- tinkering with everything from the UI to the Windows registry to device firmware. Before How-To Geek, he used Python and C++ as a freelance programmer. In college, Nick made extensive use of Fortran while pursuing a physics degree.
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