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How To Find a File on Your Computer

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I’m looking for [… some filename …] on my machine. I know it’s here, but I can’t track it down. What am I missing? How to I find the file?

As you might guess, that’s a composite question. It reflects many different people asking roughly the same question in different ways.

How do I find a file I know is on my computer?

There are a couple of ways, and there are a couple of “gotcha’s” as well, so let’s look at how to track down that file you’re looking for.

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Windows Search

The traditional way to locate a file in Windows is the Search item on the Start menu. Windows 10 makes this simple.

Click on the Start button and just start typing the name of the file, or some portion thereof.

Windows Search - Searching for a file
Searching for a file with Windows Search. (Click for larger image.)

What you type will be displayed in a search box (which may or may not already have been present on the taskbar), and results will begin to appear. Once you stop typing and Windows “catches up”, you’ll see a list of results, as shown above. If you don’t see what you’re looking for right away, type more of the name.

In my example above, the “Best match” is the file I was looking for. Information about the file is displayed at the right, including its location on the hard disk, along with links to open the file or the folder in which it’s contained.

Searching your entire computer

By default, Windows Search searches only a predefined set of locations. Those include your desktop and the Libraries (such as Documents, Music, and Pictures) shown in the left-hand pane of Windows File Explorer.

You can instruct Windows Search to search your entire computer by changing a setting.1 Run the Settings app, and search for “search”. Click on Windows Search settings when it appears.

Searching Windows settings
Searching Windows settings.

Click on Enhanced to add the rest of your computer’s hard disk, with the exception of excluded folders, to the search.

You can examine the list of excluded folders and remove any you want included in search by clicking on it and then on Remove excluded folder.

Windows File Explorer Search

Run Windows File Explorer, click on This PC, and the search box near the upper right will indicate “Search This PC”.

Search box in Windows File Explorer
Search box in Windows File Explorer.

Type the name, or partial name, of the file into this search box.

Entering a search term in Windows File Explorer
Entering a search term in Windows File Explorer.

Quickly available results may be displayed — if any of those are what you need, just click on it to open the document listed. If not, click the right-pointing arrow that appeared when you started typing to perform the search.

The search may take some time.

Search results in Windows File Explorer
Search results in Windows File Explorer. (Click for larger image.)

You can open a document directly from the search results by double-clicking on it; open the folder containing the file, by right-clicking on it and clicking on Open file location; or copy or move the file as you like.

Windows File Explorer also includes several additional ways of tailoring your search. Click on Search Tools, which appears at the top of the window when you type into the search box, for a selection of additional ways to customize what will be found.

Windows File Explorer Search Tools
Windows File Explorer search tools.

Searching in Command Prompt

Since I’m an old-school command-line kinda guy, I often turn to the Windows Command Prompt.

To fire up a Windows Command Prompt, right-click on the Start button and click on either Command Prompt or Command Prompt (Admin) to search administrator-only locations. Enter:

cd \

(followed by the Enter key) to make the current directory the root of the drive. Now enter:

dir /s /a filename

Where “filename” is the full name of the file you’re looking for. “/s” means “check all subfolders”, and “a” means “show all files, including hidden and system files”.

The asterisk character (“*”) is a useful addition when you don’t know the full, exact, filename.

For example, searching for “internetsafety*” begins a search for any file whose name begins with “internetsafety”.

Performing a search in the Windows Command Prompt
Performing a search in the Windows Command Prompt.

The asterisk, called a “wild card”, can appear elsewhere, including at the front of what you’re searching for. For example, a search for “*.pdf” would return all PDF files on your computer.

Video Narration

Footnotes

1: This setting was introduced in the Windows 10 1903 update.

10 comments on “How To Find a File on Your Computer”

  1. With Vista the Search world turns all upside down. The Search engine runs in the background all of the time as a low-level processes. It searches not only file names, but inside of files and e-mail too. For example, I recently wanted to find a PDF version of my wife’s resume. I tapped the Windows key once, then typed “resume”. Vista showed me all of the files in the machine that included “resume” in their file name, inside a document, or even in my Outlook e-mail. One whack at the Enter key launched to complete results in a new windows. Pretty nifty… can I say, “nifty?” Is that out of vogue? I suppose it’s better than, “far out!”

    Reply
  2. A concise page with the instructions would help me, and I assume others. It would allow us to make a file of helpful hints to refer to when the problems discussed come up on our computers.

    Reply
  3. I’m a 75 year old NEW user. My buddy, who’s much more experienced at this stuff ran a couple of “System Restores” after I managed to screw things up. Now every time I download something from M/S of Hp,and they have to shut down and restart, I get an error message that this thing can’t locate 3 (or 4) DLL’s. It seems to have renamed them amd I have no idea what the hell a Dll is, or how to locate them. I was able to print where they are and what their new names are. I just click OK, and go from there. I also get another Error message telling me that Vista some damn thing or another can’t be located. I’m not running Vista. I have Win XP Svc. Pack 2. I’ve heard too many horror stories about Vista that has been loaded on a computer that’s been running XP. This thing was “Vista Ready” when I bought it back in Nov. ’06. Some people tell me that if Vista is alreaqdy installed on a new computer, it works fine. Any help you can give me with those DLL’s will be greatly appredciated. I’ll spring for a case of your favorite breakfast food. (How the hell does Pay Pal work? Is it reliable, secure etc?) I read the article and it sounds like this may be the answer to my problem, but I’d hate like to hell to completely destroy my OS. My “buddy” was suposed to show me how to make a set of backup discs, but hasn’t had the time. I’ve been trying to get a set from HP, but so far all I get is the runaround and no positive answers. Any help will be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you. Your humble petitioner, Al. )Don’t let the techie talk confuse you. I know Jack Shit, bit I’ve got a halfway decent memeory.)

    Reply
  4. Sylvia – Yes, there is although it’s kind of hidden. When you click on the start button look right above your pointer. There is a search box right there. (You’ll see a blinking cursor and “Start Search” in there.)

    Reply
  5. when I try to send an email I get this error message
    Quit outlook and use the inbox repair tool kit?? I cannot find it anywhere? I found my outlook pst but it will not open it tries to use the web to locate a program to open the file? so confused?

    Reply
  6. My issue is that my Windows Admin profile folder is corrupted and cannot be accessed. I want to find my emails and remove them from this hard-drive so I can put them in the new computer. Once I FIND the file, how do I copy it? Is there a way to put that file into the Shared folder so I can access it from another account/profile. Or copy to a flash drive?

    I actually learned how to do this YEARS ago, but I’ve forgotten most of it.

    Thanks for being AWESOME and creating this site for us!

    Just use Windows Explorer to drag-n-drop it to a flash drive – that would be simplest. Can’t say where the files would be though since you haven’t indicated what email program you use.

    Leo
    14-Sep-2011

    Reply
  7. Leo,
    I’m using Outlook 2003 and any time I try to access the files under that profile, I’m prompted to enter the password of the admin account, but since that folder has something wrong with it, it isn’t even accepting the password.

    Is there a backdoor to this file that I can sneak into?

    Reply

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