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How do I get Windows File Explorer to display details by default?

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How do I get File Explorer to display details by default?

File Explorer (previously known as Windows Explorer in Windows versions prior to 8) defaults to show files as icons and to hiding some files from you.

That’s not what I want.

Not only am I a control freak who wants to see all of the files and details by default, but even after all this time, there are actually real security issues associated with File Explorer’s choice of default display.

There are several options you can manipulate, and it’s fairly easy to make them the default.

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Change the view

Open File Explorer, either by right clicking on the Windows start menu1 and clicking on File Explorer, or holding down the Windows Key and typing E (for Explorer).

File Explorer on Windows 8.1 Start Menu

Begin by changing the view to what you want it to be. In this example, click the View tab, and then click Details.

File Explorer View Details
This is my preferred view, and what I want to see as the default at all times.

Change other options

Before we go further, I want to suggest you change a couple of other options and make them the new default view as well.

On the far right of the File Explorer window, click on the Options button.

File Explorer Options Button

In the resulting dialog, click the View tab.
File Explorer View Options

As you can see, there is a list of options, some checked, some not. My recommendations for these options include:

  • Always show menus. Check this if you prefer to see the menu bar at all times. This may have little effect in Windows 8 and beyond, since menus appear no matter how it’s set, but since the setting remains, I assume it controls something, and whatever that something is, I’d like it to be menu-based.
  • Show hidden files, folders and drives. I prefer to have this selected over its counter part, “Don’t show…”. You will see more files and folders on your machine, most of which you should typically not need to use. However, it’s often very helpful to be able to see absolutely everything, particularly when trying to diagnose a problem. There’s no real harm in leaving this as “Don’t show…” if seeing those extra files only annoys or confuses you.
  • Hide empty drives in the Computer folder. This removes from view drives like floppy drives or memory card readers that don’t currently have anything inserted. As you might guess, I prefer to see everything always, so I uncheck this option.
  • Hide protected operating system files (Recommended). I have no idea why this is “recommended”, other than to protect you from yourself. Once again, I uncheck this, because I want to see everything on my machine. Doing so causes an additional warning message to appear as well. (They really want to protect you from yourself, apparently.) If you prefer not to see these files, it’s okay to leave this at its default setting.

Peruse the list and you may see other things that you might want to change, or at least know about. In my opinion, however, they can all be left at their default values, with one very important exception.

[Don’t!] Hide extensions for known file types

This option is important enough to warrant some discussion.

The default setting – to hide extensions for known file types – is not secure and should be changed. UNcheck this option.

Here’s the problem. A “known file type” is something like a “.exe” or “.doc” file type that the system has been configured to know what to do with. Instead of displaying “resume.doc”, for example, File Explorer just displays “resume”, and relies on the “Type” column of the display to alert you to the fact that this is a Word document.

Malware authors may try to fool you by placing system files with names like “resume.doc.exe” on your machine. “.exe” is a known file type, so when File Explorer displays this, it displays “resume.doc”. Even though the “Type” column may say “executable program”, reflecting the fact that the full filename ends in “.exe”, you see “resume.doc”, and are very likely to think that this is indeed a document that is safe to open.

The problem is it is not a document, and it is not safe to open. It ends in “.exe” and is an executable program.

You may think that you’re opening “resume.doc”, but you’ll only end up running malware that is packaged in the executable file resume.doc.exe.

Again, if you do nothing else here, simply UNcheck this option.

Make it all the default

My steps might be redundant, for all I know, but this is what I do to make things “stick” and display details by default.

  • Click Apply. You should see the File Explorer window refresh to reflect the new settings.
  • If it’s enabled, click Apply to Folders to set these defaults for all folders of this type. (If it’s not enabled, the defaults have been set.)

All folders of “this type” is somewhat confusing. There are different folder types – My Pictures, primarily a folder for images, might be a different “type” than a plain old folder underneath your computer’s name in the left-hand pane. Similarly, “Libraries” are a different beast altogether in Windows 7 and later.

If you stumble into folders of a different type than the one in which you made these settings, you may need to change the view again, and then come back to Tools, Folder options… and Apply to Folders again to make the change for those folder types.

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Footnotes & references

1: All Windows 8 examples here assume Windows 8.1 or later.

27 comments on “How do I get Windows File Explorer to display details by default?”

  1. I totally agree with Don’t! Hide extensions for known file types. This is something that should be on for all new users.
    One typo, macine should be machine. It’s not one out of 50 articles of yours where I find a typo so this was a special. jk 🙂

  2. Thanks,
    I have been looking for a solution to this problem since I got a new computer, that uses windows 7. This will be a great help to me . I never would have tried the alt key.

  3. Thanks for the tip on the Alt key – I, too would not have found that. However, in your further tips, you have me go into Explorer and then Tools and Folder Options to change settings. I now have IE 9 and under Tools the Folder Options choice is not there. How do I find that menu for checking the folder options?

    This article is about Windows Explorer, not Internet Explorer. The names are definitely confusing.

    Leo
    26-Jul-2011

  4. The «Change the view» procedure does not work for image folders. Any way to display details by default in ALL folders regardless of the type ?

    I just successfully did it for My Pictures, so it definitely can work for image folders. One thing to beware of is that it will not work for folders within “Libraries”. Make sure you’re doing directly to c:whatever the path to the folder is.

    Leo
    26-Jul-2011

  5. I just wish MS would take care of my pet peeve regarding Explorer folder defaults. My default is Details view, however, the file name column is never sized big enough to display the entire file name. I wish MS would include a setting to autofit one or more (or all) columns in details view.

    • You are right about an “autofit” option, but you can set the column widths in Windows 7, and probably other versions but I can’t try them. Menu → View → Choose Details → Width of selected column (in pixels) [for each column] → OK, then Menu → Tools → Folder Options → View → Apply to Folders. (Typical is the confusing way “View” shows up twice in this procedure.)

  6. Hi Leo, thank you for your answer.

    It still didn’t work for me though, so I kept looking and found this.

    Right click on a folder, go in Properties, select Customize, in Customize this folder for, select General Items (it defaults to Images if the folder contains images). Then click Apply this template to all subfolders if you have image subfolders.

    But as far as I can tell, this can’t be applied to an entire drive, so it still isn’t the perfect solution.

    Cheers

    • Hi Pierre,

      Your solution can work for an entire drive, provided you do it from the root folder, e.g. C:\, D:\, etc.
      At least that is what I found in Windows 7.
      The steps have to be tweaked a bit.

      Open windows explorer and go to C:\.
      Select menu ‘Organize’, ‘Properties’, ‘Customize’ tab, ‘Optimize this folder for’ set to ‘General Items’.
      Tick checkbox ‘Also apply this template to all subfolders’. Click ‘Apply’ button.

  7. Unfortunately, sometimes a genuine .doc file isn’t a document but a Word macro that can infect your PC just as easily as a .exe. Not that Leo implied otherwise, I just wouldn’t want anyone to make the assumption.

    Also, even if you show extension for known file types and widen the file name column watch out for ellipses (…) in the rightmost side of the column, for they indicate the file name is continued – someone could have named the file something like FLUFFYKITTIES.JPG .exe. (In case that doesn’t display correctly there’s a couple hundred spaces after the .JPG but before the .exe)

    So, follow Leo’s guidelines for PC security and remain ever vigilant, for the person poses the biggest threat to your computer, even if you’re pretty durn good with the things, is you.

  8. Good article! As far as the pet peev in Windows Explorer type “ctrl+” when you are in Windows Explorer and it will autofit your columns.

  9. Thanks for this info, but what is the equivalent for a Flash Drive. I keep a copy of my Personal documents in folders on my home and work computers and on my Flash Drive in a folder called Home. At home in Windows 7 I snap-fit the My Documents folder next to the Flash Drive folder to update the contents of the Home sub-folders, and they both open in Details view. On the work Windows XP computer the same Flash Drive annoyingly opens in List view, although I managed to get the XP My Documents folder to default to Details. Why this inconsistency??

  10. I used to get infuriated with Windows Explorer until I discovered xplorer² lite (http://www.zabkat.com/) a couple of years ago. Now I see my files the same way in WinXP and Vista and hardly ever see Windows Explorer, and can do so many things so much more easily that I couldn’t begin to list them. And that’s just the free version! Definitely worth a look.

    I use it as well – I need to write it up as a recommendation.

    Leo
    04-Aug-2011

  11. thanks for this, works very well on my works pc. massively helping me navigate. Is there a way to default order by date modified? Icing on the cake…

  12. @Chris
    Here’s some icing for your cake.
    You can set the view to Details View as explained in the article. Then click on the Date Modified in the title bar and it will sort your folder by date until you change it again. You can toggle (switch) the order from latest to earliest and vice versa by clicking again on the Date Modified in the title bar. You can then change the view back to anything you like.

  13. Very happy to hear that Win Explorer has a rational name now of File Explorer. BTW, I run Win 7 and have a gripe about expanding folders. If I start expanding folders in the left pane view, and expand/scroll down so that I’m somewhere well down a tree (but haven’t yet selected a folder to view in the right pane), my Windows Explorer will snap back to the root folder. You then have to scroll down again to where you were (the folders are all still expanded). Is this something I can fix or is it yet another “feature?”

  14. You are a GOD!

    I have had this computer for two days and was ready to throw it off down the hill. All my documents were either showing with details or as large icons.

  15. Hi there; is there anybody that can tell or show me how to change the bitrate in all folder and on my hdd, ive massive collection of music, but i cant seem to change that,, i wanna try change the mayor folder so it apply to all sub folders too,, Thank you kindly, been fighting with this almost 2 months now,,,

    Marlon1968;;;))

  16. Thank you so much for this post – I have wanted to have the “detailed” view as default for so long.

    Keep up the great work!

  17. It’s ridiculous that there isn’t a box to tick that says “I’M OLD ONLY SHOW ME DEFAULT VIEW ALWAYS” and you never ever ever have to ever see a folder not in default view ever again

    doesn’t matter if it’s full of music, or videos, or pictures, or is a new drive you just setup, or is a usb drive, or a floppy disk, or is some fluffy cloud drive, it always, 100% of the time, will show you your files in Detail view.

    i know, i know, i’m old.

  18. Why would anyone WANT to hide file extensions? If checking this option increases risk of getting hacked, why is this set as default?

  19. Hi,
    I have a huge amount of photos to review etc & I need to see the Dimensions option as default on all photos. The Default shows Name / Date / Type / Size.
    I know I can right click on the top bar & check the dimensions box to view but I would like this as default !. Any ideas ?

    Thanks in advance,

    Huw.

  20. It worked. 2018 Win 10. I had given up using the “Apply to all folders” button since it did not seem to work.
    Now I understand the “Folders of this type” nonsense.

    Thanks a lot!

  21. I recognized what a serious security hole “hide file extensions” was the first time I saw it (Win95, as I recall). One of the first things I do any time I get ahold of another computer is turn it off. Every time I see it I wonder what the programmers at Micro$oft SMOKING when they came up with that one.
    Recently I developed a batch file that will fix it not only for the current user, but for ALL users, including .DEFAULT, so that any newly-created users will get it too. My batch file has been growing over the past few months as I find more things to add to it, but in the interest of brevity I will include only the parts relevant to this topic. Feel free to add your favorite additional tweaks.
    Save this to a disk file somewhere, then right-click on it and select “Run as Administrator”. (The tweaks to HKLM won’t work if you don’t).

    REM Global tweaks:
    REM Turn “hide file extensions” OFF and “show hidden files” ON.
    REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\Folder\HideFileExt /v DefaultValue /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
    REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced\Folder\Hidden\SHOWALL /v DefaultValue /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
    REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced /v HideFileExt /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
    REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced /v Hidden /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
    REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced /v ShowSuperHidden /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
    REG ADD HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced /v DontPrettyPath /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

    REM Get path to “Users” or “Documents and Settings” dir.
    echo WScript.Echo CreateObject(“WScript.Shell”).RegRead(“HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList\ProfilesDirectory”) >”%temp%\profpath.vbs”
    for /f “tokens=*” %%i in (‘cscript //nologo “%temp%\profpath.vbs”‘) do set ProfPath=%%i
    del /q “%temp%\profpath.vbs”

    REM Modifies registry keys for all users
    REM Also modify it in the .DEFAULT hive so future users get it.
    @REM This section Copyright Jared Barneck
    @REM Modified by Ken Carlilep0 and Sam Hills

    CaLL :modkey .DEFAULT
    FOR /F “tokens=7* delims=\” %%a IN (‘REG QUERY “HKLM\software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList”‘) DO CALL :modkey %%a
    FOR /F “tokens=*” %%A IN (‘dir /B /A:D-H “%ProfPath%\*” 2^>nul’) DO call :modlokey “%ProfPath%\%%~A”
    FOR /F “tokens=*” %%A IN (‘dir /B /A:DH “%ProfPath%\*” 2^>nul’) DO call :modlokey “%ProfPath%\%%~A”

    REM Going to :eof here ends the whole batch file.
    PAUSE
    GOTO :eof

    REM Modify logged-out users
    :modlokey
    REG LOAD HKU\TempHive “%~1\ntuser.dat” >NUL 2>&1
    if %ERRORLEVEL% == 0 (
    call :modkey TempHive
    REG UNLOAD HKU\TempHive >NUL 2>&1
    )
    EXIT /B 0

    REM Modifications to HKEY_USERS go here:
    :modkey
    REM Turns “hide file extensions” OFF and “show hidden files” ON.
    REG ADD “HKU\%1\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced” /v “HideFileExt” /t REG_DWORD /d “0” /f
    REG ADD “HKU\%1\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced” /v “Hidden” /t REG_DWORD /d “1” /f
    REG ADD “HKU\%1\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced” /v “ShowSuperHidden” /t REG_DWORD /d “1” /f
    REG ADD “HKU\%1\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced” /v “DontPrettyPath” /t REG_DWORD /d “1” /f

    REM Add your user-specific tweaks here. Don’t forget “HKU\%1” to apply them to all users!
    EXIT /B 0

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