I opened an MSN Hotmail attached xls file, made changes to it and then saved
the changed file. Now I can’t find the changed file. It looks like Hotmail
created the file in a Temporary Internet directory. Is it possible to retrieve
This is something that bites a lot of people, even if they’re not using
Hotmail. You open an attachment in an email message that you’ve received, you
make lots of changes to it, and close your work. Then later, when you return to
that email and open the attachment again all your work is gone.
Where did it go?
The problem is that it’s really somewhat unclear as to exactly what should
happen when you open an attachment and then make changes to what you’ve opened.
And in some cases what you might expect to have happen isn’t actually
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When you open an attachment, your email program extracts it from the email,
where it’s specially encoded, and makes a usable copy of the file on disk for
you to open. Where that copy goes depends on how you access your email. If you
are using a web interface, then it typically goes wherever your browser puts
its temporary files. If you’re using a mail program like Outlook, Thunderbird
or the like, the location might be your “My Documents” folder, or the last
place you saved an attachment, or something else entirely.
So you open that copy in whatever location it was placed, and begin making
changes. As in your example you might open an Excel spreadsheet, make changes,
save the file and exit Excel.
Now what? What should happen to that changed spreadsheet?
Some mail programs will, if the original message is still open,
give you the opportunity to update the attachment in the email when you go to
close the email message. Not all do, and this is only available if the message
has remained open while you change the attachment – and a preview pane doesn’t
count. If something causes that message to close, then you’ve lost the ability
to automatically update the attachment with your changes.
And not all email programs even try to track this for you. They don’t offer
you the ability to automatically update the original attachment.
If you’re using Web based email, things are worse. Much worse. There’s
typically no way to update the attachment. Once you download it to your machine
to work on, regardless of where on your machine it’s been placed, that’s it.
You can change that copy, copy that copy, do whatever you want to that copy,
but you can’t “put it back” in the original email so you can find it again
as a way to view the attachment, not as a way to modify it.”
OK, so what do you do if you’re in that situation, as the original question
In IE you can simply open the Temporary Internet Files folder. In IE 7, hit
the Tools menu, Internet Options item,
underneath “Browsing History” click on Settings, and in the
resulting dialog click on View Files. If it hasn’t been too
long, your file should be there. My recommendation: immediately copy it to a
different folder on your machine. “My Documents” is a fine place, if you don’t
have a good idea of where to put it.
And yes, I did say “if it hasn’t been too long”. The temporary files folder
is a fixed size which can be adjusted in that same dialog we found the
View Files button. That means that as new files are
downloaded, old files may be deleted to make room. That’s why it’s called
Temporary Internet Files. Wait too long, and your file will be
If you’ve been using a different browser, or an email program of some sort,
you’ll need to check the options for that program to see where files are
downloaded, or attachments are saved. Find your file there and, if appropriate,
move it to a different folder of your own choosing.
OK, so how can we avoid this problem in the future?
Simple: don’t let the browser decide where it’s going to put your file –
decide for yourself.
Using MSN Hotmail when you click on “Download File”, Internet Explorer will
present you with this dialog:
If you click on Open, as you might be tempted, Internet
Explorer will download it to where it thinks it should: the Temporary Internet
Files folder. Instead, click on Save. IE will the first prompt
you with a “Save As” dialog that will allow you to choose where you
want the file to be placed. Once the file is downloaded, you’ll then be given
this option dialog:
Here you can choose to Open the file from its downloaded
location, or Open Folder, which will open Windows Explorer on
the folder you selected as the file’s destination, or you can simply
Close the dialog and act on the file later.
The key here is that you know where on your hard disk the file has been
placed. Presumably you selected a location that makes sense – be it “My
Documents”, or some folder specific to whatever you’re doing with that
If you’re using other web based mail services, or if you’re using another
browser such as FireFox, the specifics of the steps above may be slightly
different, but the intent is the same: rather than letting the browser decide
where to place your downloaded file, save the file yourself to a location you
know and control, and then open the document for editing, if you so
A lot of people get confused, losing work and often entire documents because
they’re viewing and editing documents that have been sent as attachments. They
rely on the mail program to somehow “do the right thing” and keep track of
their changes. As we’ve seen, not only is often impossible, when it’s attempted
it’s extremely easy to get it wrong.
That’s why I strongly recommend the following:
Think of opening an attachment directly in email only as a way to
view the attachment, not as a way to modify it.
In fact, think of the attachment as part of the original email. You wouldn’t
change the email that someone has written you, so don’t change the attachment.
Leave that original email unchanged, including the attachment(s).
If you need to make changes to a document that’s been sent to you as an
attachment, save the document to a folder on your machine, like “My Documents”,
first. Then edit and save the document there.
If you need to then forward the changes you’ve made to someone else, start a
new mail message or reply to the original and attach the document copy that you
saved and worked on. Be careful: if you forward the original message,
it’s likely to include the original attachment without your edits. If
that’s not what you want, then before hitting send delete the attachment from
the message and attach your updated copy instead.
All that can be summed up this way: never assume that your email is doing
the right thing with your attachments. Be explicit, and manage where they’re