Windows File Explorer – your online library

Windows File Explorer is an integral part of Microsoft Windows. Without it, searching, opening and editing files and folders would be difficult. By knowing how to use it effectively, you will save time, especially if you deal with a multitude of documents regularly.  

What is Windows File Explorer?

Think of your computer as your electronic library. In this library, your books are called files and documents. Your books get stored in bookcases known as folders by the librarian which is you.

Windows file explorer is your PC’s automated indexing system – storing each bit of data in a designated zone. It also indexes files and folders that you have stored online (aka The Cloud), such as one OneDrive and Dropbox.

You are the librarian, and when you save a document, you are telling Windows where to put it so it can find it next time you need it.  

Imagine going to a library with no indexing system. It would be challenging to find the book or section of books you were looking for.

The basic layout of Windows File Explorer

  1. Ribbon Bar – This is similar to the ribbon that has become normal in MS Office applications. It gives you access a host of actions to change views or to open/edit files and folders.
  2. Navigation Pane – from here you can quickly see a list of your storage locations and folders. At the top, you find a list of your most recently used documents/folders and any that are “pinned”.
  3. Preview/Details Pane – If enabled, this will bee where you see a preview or the details of your file.

Ribbon Bar

Below, I’ve listed some of the more common actions found on the Ribbon Bar. Many of these actions can also be accessed by right-clicking on the file/folder or using keyboard shortcuts.  

The ribbon bar is split into four primary tabs along the top of the page:

  1. File – Opens up a list of options relevant to just Windows File Explorer. For instance, to access a program called “PowerShell”.
  2. Home – Here you find the most common actions users take on their files/folders. I break these down further on, so keep reading.
  3. Share – As the name applies, here you find all the option you have to share files/folders with other people or computers on your network.  
  4. View – You have many options on how you’d like your index to be displayed, such as sort and view options.

If Windows File Explorer detects that you have pictures or music files displayed, a fifth tab will pop up.  

  1. Music/Picture Tools – this gives you quick access to start listening to your music in your default music player or to start a slide show with your pictures. 

Home Tab 

Top Tip: All the following actions can also be accessed by right-clicking on the file/folder.

Clipboard actions

  1. Pin to Quick access – Remember further up, I mentioned that in the Navigation Pane? Well in the navigation pane, you can pin files and folders. This makes it easier to access the ones you use on a regular basis. To pin an item, click any folder or file and click on this button, and it will be pinned.
  2. Copy – As the name suggests, you can use this function together with the Paste function to copy a file/folder.
  3. Paste – Once you have clicked on the copy (or cut) function, you will need to “Paste” the file or folder into a directory.
  4. Copy Path – This function copies the file location so that you can paste it into a document.
  5. Paste Shortcut – Use the paste shortcut function to create a shortcut of a file or folder which you can put in another location such as your desktop

Organise Actions

  1. Move to – you can quickly move files to another location by clicking on this. You will be presented with a list of locations that you can move the file/folder to.  
  2. Copy to – this works in the same way as “Move To”. However, this time it creates a copy of the file/folder in the location you have selected.
  3. Delete – Here you can move the file to your recycle bin. But if you want to delete the file permanently then click on the drop-down arrow. This gives you an option to permanently delete it.  
  4. Rename – Click this if you want to rename your file/folder.


  1. New Folder – clicking on this will create a new folder in the directory location you are currently working with.
  2. New Item – You can create a new file by clicking on this and selecting what type of file you want to create. For instance, a word file, spreadsheet or image.


  1. Properties – View the properties of a file, such as file size, author and last edited date.
  2. Open – to open a file or enter a folder. Using the drop-down, you can also select which program you’d like to open the file with.
  3. Edit – opens the file in the default application used for editing that file type.
  4. History – if enabled, this function allows you to view all the changes that have happened to the file and will allow you to restore the file to a previous point in time.  


  1. Select All – selects all the files and folders in that location
  2. Select None – deselects all the files and folders in that location
  3. Invert Selection – this allows you to toggle between selecting and deselecting files and folders.

Share Tab


  1. Share – to share a file within your network
  2. Email – to send the file to someone by email
  3. Zip – Compresses a selection of files into a single folder, which can then be shared with others

Share With

  1. Specific People – to share the file with someone on your network
  2. Remove Access – if you want to stop sharing a file/folder with others, you will click this.
  3. Advanced Security – to access advanced sharing settings

View Tab

This tab contains all the settings you would need to adjust the view settings of Windows File Explorer.


Clicking any of the following options will display the relevant information in a section of the screen.

  1. Navigation Pane – This pane provides you with quick access to all your storage locations, locally on your PC and online.  
  2. Preview Pane – This will display a preview of your selected file.
  3. Details Pane – This will show the properties of the file you have chosen.


Here you will find different options of displaying the files/folders in view. From here, you can choose to view your files/folders as a list or as Icons. For example, you may want to see a small icon of a photo folder to help you choose the right one to use.


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