Plus the one setting you MUST change for security
File Explorer (previously known as Windows Explorer in Windows versions prior to 8) defaults to show files as icons and to hide some files from you.
That’s not what I want.
Not only am I a control freak who wants to see all the files and display details by default, but even after all this time, there remain real security issues associated with File Explorer’s default settings.
There are several options you can manipulate, and it’s fairly easy to make them the default.
Change the view
Open File Explorer either by right-clicking on the Windows Start menu and clicking on File Explorer, or holding down the Windows Key () and typing E (for Explorer).
Begin by changing the view to what you want it to be. In this example, click the View tab and then click 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.
Click on Change folder and search options.
In the resulting dialog, click the View tab.
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 is, I’d like it to be menu-based.
- Show hidden files, folders and drives. I prefer to have this selected over its counterpart, “Don’t show…”. You will see more files and folders on your machine, most of which you typically should not need to use. However, it’s often very helpful to be able to see 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 drives like floppy drives or memory card readers that don’t currently have anything inserted from view. 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 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 try to fool people 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.
Even if you do nothing else, 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.
For related links, videos, and comments visit How to Get File Explorer to Display Details by Default on Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom has been programming computers since 1976, and answering questions about them online since 2003. For more, see askleo.com.