Where have all my files gone?

Long time passing …

The Windows 10 File Storage System

When you create files on your PC, whether they be photographs, letters, spreadsheets, invoices, shopping lists or anything else, they must be stored somewhere.

Windows 10, by default, creates a set of folders to keep your files in.

You have probably come across areas labelled “Documents”, “Pictures”, “Music”, “Downloads” etc. These are the default places that Windows will put your files in.

Woah, slow down, cowboy!

What are these “files” and “folders” you are talking about?

Well, a “file” is a collated set of information, held in one place. Be it a photograph, a letter, an invoice. It may help to think of a “file” as a piece of paper, or maybe several pieces stapled together.

Files may be of different “types”, depending upon what information is in them, and what program was used to make them. Letters, invoices and other text-based information often has the type “txt” (for very simple files) or “doc” (for more complex writing. Nowadays, this is being replaced by “docx”). You don’t really need to know much about types, apart from that they are for different information.

A “folder” is a container that may have other folders, and/or files inside it. The concept is based upon the physical “manilla folders” you would find in a filing cabinet in an average office.

A Manilla Folder, containing some Files.
A Manilla Folder, containing some Files.

Looking at the picture on the right, notice the similarity between this physical Folder, and the yellow pictures (or “Icons”) on your screen. There is a reason for this.

As in a Real filing cabinet, we may have lots of folders. Some may have other folders inside them. Some may have files inside them.

Got that? If not, read it again. Without understanding the basic “Files and Folders” structure, you are storing up trouble for later.

A “File” is a “chunk” of information, similar to a piece of paper. It may have writing, or a photo, on it.

A “Folder” is a container for Files, and other Folders.

In a real office, you may have a “Room”, and in the “Room” is a “filing cabinet”, and in the cabinet are “Drawers”. In these drawers will be “Folders” that contain “Files”.

On a computer, the “Room”, “Cabinet”, Drawers” and “Folders” are all called “Folders”.

So, where were we?

The "File Explorer" Icon
The “File Explorer” Icon

Folders. To begin, click the File Explorer Icon at the bottom of your screen. It looks like a Folder, with a blue “clip” on it.

A Window will open up, displaying your Folders. It should be split into several Sections.

On the Left, we have the Navigation Pane. At the top, we have the Quick Access Section. Under this, you will probably have a “Recent Items” Section.

This is the default Opening View, and slightly different from how we normally use File Explorer. To move into the usual view, we can go into a Folder. To do this, double-click a Folder. Let’s start with “Documents”, which you should see near the top of your screen.

Documents Folder, with many Files and Folders in it
Documents Folder, with many Files and Folders in it

You should have a Window similar to the one shown here. You may have fewer Items within it.  (You will not have the red labels! They are for illustration only!)

Take a moment to familiarise yourself with the different sections.

The Ribbon (at the very top) is where your Tools are.

Below this is the Location Bar, which tells you which Folder you are currently viewing.

The Navigation Pane (on the left) can be used to quickly move between folders. Not all folders are shown here.

The “Files and Folders” section, the main part of the Window, shows what is inside the Folder you are currently viewing.

Using the above example of a Folder with many items in, we can see that each item has a different picture (“Icon”).

The Yellow “Manilla Folder” Icons are Folders, that contain other items. They show a glimpse (“Preview”) of what is in them.

The items without a Yellow Folder icon are Files. Some, such as the “All About Eve album cover” (bottom left) and “Belvedere Castle” (Bottom middle) files show a “preview” (called a “Thumbnail”, after the concept of a thumbnail-sketch) , while others display an Icon that show the File Type, and what program they will open with (e.g. the blue ones are “Libre Office Writer, similar to Microsoft Word. The green one (bottom right) is a Libre Office Calc/Microsoft Excel spreadsheet).

Still with me?

So, hopefully we have a grasp of what files and folders are, and how to recognise them. Let’s try an example:

I have a folder called “BackUp  CDs” (top middle, with the red “Adobe Reader” preview Icons showing that this folder contains some .pdf files).

Remember that we can tell that it is a Folder because it looks like a yellow Manilla Folder!

I shall double-click this to see what is in it:

My "BackUp CDs" Folder
My “BackUp CDs” Folder

Two things to notice:

  1. It looks slightly different; the icons are smaller, and show extra details. This is normal, and one of the many “Views” that you can set. Windows will sometimes try to guess what “View” you want. It can easily be changed from the Ribbon, and we will look at that very soon. For now, it is the same, it just looks different.
  2. The Location Bar. See that it now says “This PC > Documents > BackUp CDs”. This shows us that the “BackUp CDs” folder is inside the “Documents” folder.

Can you identify what is in  here? (Tip: In this “Details” view, the computer tells you what is going on!)


The yellow Items (“Addresses”, “Firefox”, “Games”, etc) are Folders, that contain files/folders. The other items are Files, and their Icon denoted what type of file.

If you do not recognise the Icon of a file, there are two other ways to see what it is.

  1. The “File Extension”. As you can see, files are named in a particular way: “FileName.Ext“, eg. COWS.TXT. This “Three-Letter Extension” denotes what type of file it is. “Cows” is a file of type: “txt” (which, as you may guess, is a “text” file). “mdplogo.gif” is a “gif” file, which is a type of picture. You do not need to know the in-and-outs of what file-formats are, but it is good to be able to recognise some of the common ones.
  2. The entry in the “Type” column! This is only visible in this “Details” view,  but lets you know something about the file.

Quick Aside

File types.

Text documents: .doc, .docx, .txt, .rtf, .odt

Picture files: .jpg, .gif, .png

Adobe Acrobat files: .pdf

We will look in more depth at these later, but for now, just know that different “extensions” mean different types of file.

Back to the Show!

I think it’s time for a break!

Go make a cup of tea, and rest your eyes.

When you get back, look for “Part two”, where we will take our knowledge of Files and Folders, and start to do something with it!

For Part Two, Click Here

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