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Why “Always Keep on this Device” Doesn’t

It may not mean what you think it means.

OneDrive
(Image: canva.com)
The "Always keep on this device" feature has misled people into deleting and losing important files. Here's why, and what to do instead.

I’ve heard from people who have lost files because the OneDrive setting “Always keep on this device” didn’t do what they expect.

I have to agree: the wording of the feature is misleading. It implies more than it actually is.

Let me explain the feature and what you need to do to avoid losing files.

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TL;DR:

Always keep on this device?

This feature applies only to files within OneDrive, and only turns off the Files On-Demand feature for individual files and folders. Files deleted from within your OneDrive folder anywhere will still be deleted from all machines synchronized with that OneDrive account, regardless of this setting.

Files on-demand

“Always keep on this device” is a part of the OneDrive Files On-Demand feature, which is enabled by default in OneDrive settings.

Files On-Demand feature
Files On-Demand feature. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

The feature works like this:

  • You have files in OneDrive online, all stored on the OneDrive servers.
  • You connect your PC to OneDrive by running the OneDrive app and signing in.
  • Your files appear in the OneDrive folder on your PC. (Typically “C:\Users\<username>\OneDrive”.)
  • The data for those files is not downloaded. This means the files show on your machine, but they take up almost no space, regardless of how big they are.
  • A file’s data is downloaded only when you first use it — perhaps by opening it in some program.

It’s all about saving space on your PC. There’s no need to have the data for files you never use taking space in OneDrive on your PC.

The problem, of course, is that you need to be connected to the internet if a file needs to be downloaded. If you can’t download the file when needed, you won’t be able to view or work on it.

There’s a feature for that.

Always keep on this device

You can right-click on any file in OneDrive and specify that the file should always be kept on the machine, not just online.

"Always keep on this device" option.
“Always keep on this device” option. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

This means that the file’s data is always present on your machine. It’s like turning off the Files On-Demand feature for that specific file.

In fact, that’s the only thing it does — and that’s the source of confusion.

Deleting is deleting

“Always keep on this device” applies only to files within OneDrive, and only turns off the Files On-Demand feature for that specific file. It does not prevent a file from being deleted.Tweet this!

It’s best thought of as “Always keep the data for this file on this device, as long as it’s in OneDrive”. If you delete it within OneDrive, or if you delete the OneDrive folder, the file will still be deleted.

For example, if you delete the file in OneDrive online, the file will be deleted on all devices synchronizing to that same OneDrive account, regardless of the “Always keep on this device” setting.

That setting applies only to the Files On-Demand feature and nothing else.

Saving a file from deletion

If you want to remove a file from OneDrive without losing the file on your computer, the process is simple:

  1. Copy the file from wherever it lives in your OneDrive folder to any folder anywhere on your PC that is not within the OneDrive folder.
  2. Delete the file from OneDrive.

For example, if I have a file called “falls.jpg” in my OneDrive, it might live on my hard disk as:

  • C:\Users\lnote\OneDrive\falls.jpg

To remove that file from my OneDrive without losing it, I would first copy it to a new location. Perhaps:

  • C:\Users\lnote\ThingsIWantToKeep\falls.jpg

Note that OneDrive is not involved at all in the new location. I can now delete the copy within OneDrive, and the file I copied to ThingsIWantToKeep will remain.1

Do this

Of course, you’re always protected from accidental file deletion if you’re backing up properly. Even then, it’s important to understand how some of the features work. As you can see, features often have names that, while technically accurate, can also be misleading if you assume they do more than they actually do.

“Always keep on this device” is exactly such a feature.

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Footnotes & References

1: You can do both operations at once by moving, instead of copying, the file from OneDrive to the new location outside of OneDrive. In effect, a move is a copy followed by a delete of the original.

21 comments on “Why “Always Keep on this Device” Doesn’t”

  1. “It’s all about saving space on your PC. There’s no need to have the data for files you never use taking space in OneDrive on your PC.”

    It’s also about saving space on your phone or tablet. In fact, I only use it on my phone and tablets as I have enough space to keep them physically on my computers.

    Reply
  2. This article is an excellent description of Onedrive vs PC layout. But I don’t want to use OneDrive at all – just want to have my PC set up the old way where the documents and spreadsheets are created and held on my PC with no outside access or sharing. Could you please tell me how to set up Windows 10 to handle my data that way. Thanks.

    Reply
    • You can place all of your file in a non-OneDrive folder, or you can disable OneDrive:
      Right-click the OneDrive cloud icon in the Notification Area on the right-hand side of the Taskbar. Click “Settings”
      Click the “Account” tab
      Click “Unlink this PC”
      Click “OK”

      Reply
      • Mark – on my new Dell w/W11, I do not have a “One Drive Cloud” in the Notification Area. So now what do I do to disable One Drive?

        Reply
        • Click the little up-arrow (carrot character) near the system clock and see if the cloud icon is there. While you are at it, if you see one or more app icon(s) you want to have displayed on your task bar, you can drag them with your mouse to the area just left of the clock.

          I hope this helps,

          Ernie

          Reply
  3. I back up with Macrium Reflex. I’ve had to use Macrium a number of time since I subscribed to 365 years ago. When Macrium is done restoring my disc image, it appears that I’ve got everything the way is should be.
    I have wondered for some time now, how does Macrium get all the data off of Microsoft’s servers?

    Reply
  4. Since I built this new machine earlier this fall, I have a perfectly good machine that used to be my “production” desktop PC just sitting, waiting for me to decide what I want to do with it. This item makes me think that I may want to repurpose it to be a server for my LAN. All I have to do is download a suitable GNU/Linux distribution. I may have to start doing some research :).

    Thank you for writing this, Leo!

    Ernie

    Reply
  5. Suppose you have two computers and your oldest one is getting too old. You want all your files on the newest desktop and in One Drive. How do you clear off oldest machine without losing files on the new machine? Both have One Drive.

    Reply
    • Disconnect your older computer from OneDrive. See my comment from Dec 28 above for instructions. Once disconnected, deleting them won’t affect the files on the OneDrive servers or your new computer.

      If you plan to install a fresh version of Windows or Linux on your older machine, it’s not necessary to disconnect it from OneDrive. A fresh installation will automatically disconnect that machine from OneDrive.

      Before cleaning your old computer, take a system image backup to preserve any files you might have neglected to copy over.

      Reply
  6. Recently you talked about managing your backup on one drive. One of the folders being backed up was the Documents folder. Is this the same documents folder that you are transferring files to in this article? If so will it then again be under the one drive umbrella and be protected by the one drive backup?

    Reply
  7. Thank you for the detailed article. I intend to use OneDrive, to keep my data safe on office laptop. I just have one question. If office IT team have format re-image my laptop and if I have the option “Always Keep on this Device” enabled then would that delete my OneDrive data as well ? I know I may sound very basic, but though to ask the question, as office IT always have one favourite solution to any problem and that is re-image the laptop. I hope formatting disk or reimaging disk wont delete the OneDrive data or it would hamper whole purpose of the OneDrive backup.

    Reply
    • If a computer connected to OneDrive is formatted, it won’t affect the files on One Drive because the process of formatting the drive will disconnect the computer from OneDrive and nothing will be deleted. It would be similar to removing the drive and destroying it,

      Reply

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