Windows File Explorer is the backbone of the Windows user interface. It’s gone through many iterations over the years. It’s the successor to File Manager, which was Windows’ original interface from Windows 3.X. Since its inception, Windows has tried many things. For example, in Windows 2000, you could play MP3 files directly from the sidebar menu.
Since Windows 8, File Explorer has had a list of favorites. These are commonly-used folders that are linked for convenient access. But where do you found it, and how do you use it to boost your productivity? Here’s everything you need to know about your File Explorer favorites list.
What Are File Explorer Favorites?
File Explorer Favorites are a set of shortcut links, located in the left-hand sidebar. They’re always at the top of the sidebar, so scroll up if you can’t see them. This location makes them very easy to access at any time. You’ll also see your favorites when you download a file from the web or click “Save As” on a document.
Note that Favorites have undergone a slight facelift since Windows 8. As of Windows 10/11, Favorites are now called “Quick access.” They’ve also changed the way they work slightly. In Windows 8, the default shortcuts are Desktop, Downloads, and Recent Places. In Windows 10/11, the defaults are Desktop, Downloads, Documents, and Pictures. You’ll also see your four most recently-used folders.
If you want, you can add additional Favorites or Quick access items. These can be local folders, libraries, and drives. They can also be folders in cloud servers like Dropbox. They cannot be links to individual files or programs. If you try to add a Word doc, for example, Windows will say: “Cannot place in Favorites.”
How to Add and Manage File Explorer Favorites
So, how do you add new Favorites or delete unwanted ones? It depends on what version of Windows you’re using. We’ve detailed the process below, first for Windows 8/8.1, and then for Windows 10/11.
Managing Favorites in Windows 8 and 8.1
There are a few different ways to add shortcuts to your Favorites section. The simplest is to locate the folder, drive, or library you want to add. Then, drag it and hold it over the Favorites section. A message will appear, saying “Create link in Favorites.” Let go of your mouse button, and the shortcut will appear.
Another method is to open the folder, drive, or library you want to add. Without clicking anywhere else on the screen, right click the word “Favorites.” A dropdown menu will appear with several different options. Select “Add current location to Favorites,” and you’ll be all set.
Alternatively, you can create a desktop shortcut to the location you want to add. Drag it to the favorites section in your File Explorer window, and the shortcut will be added. This is needlessly complicated, but it’s still perfectly viable.
You can also customize the way your Favorites are displayed. To change the order, drag and drop the shortcut you want to move. You’ll know it’s ready to drop into place because the words “Move Here” will appear. Just release the mouse button and your list will be re-ordered. You can also make other customizations such as changing the shortcut icons. But this is just a cosmetic tweak, not really a practical feature.
If you want your shortcuts to have a custom, memorable name, you can rename them. Right click a shortcut, and select “Rename” from the menu. Type in your new name and hit the Enter key; that’s all there is to it.
Just like you can add shortcuts, you can also delete them. Right click the one you want to delete, and click “Remove.” You can even remove the default shortcuts, although we wouldn’t recommend it.
Managing Quick Access in Windows 10 and 11
The Quick access section in Windows 10 and 11 work a little bit differently. You can add shortcuts in the same ways you can on Windows 8, but Microsoft has made it even easier. From within a folder, click the Home tab on the top ribbon. At the left, there will be a big tile with a pushpin icon that says “Pin to Quick access.” Click that, and the folder will immediately be added. You can’t add a folder by dragging a shortcut, but that’s a minor feature.
Your options for customizing your shortcuts are more limited than they used to be. You can’t rename them, and you can’t change the icons. However, you can re-order them easily enough.
To remove a shortcut, right click it, the select “Unpin from Quick access,” and it will disappear from the list. Note that you can only delete pinned items with this method. These are indicated by little grey pushpin icons. To delete your most frequently-used files, right-click on the words “Quick access.” Select “Options,” and look near the bottom. There will be an option that says “Show frequently used folders in Quick access.” Uncheck the box, and those shortcuts will go away.
How to Restore Your Default File Explorer Favorites
Let’s say you were experimenting and accidentally deleted the default shortcuts. How do you get them back? Ironically enough, this has actually gotten much harder on Windows 10 than it was in Windows 8.
In Windows 8, all you have to do is open File Explorer and right click on the word “Favorites.” When the menu appears, select “Restore favorite links.” At that point, all of your original favorites will be restored. It will also restore any favorites that had been installed by your apps. The best thing about this feature is that it doesn’t delete any of the shortcuts you’ve created. But if you do want them gone, you can always get rid of them manually.
In Windows 10, things get a little more complicated. First, open file explorer. Then, navigate to the folder %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Recent\AutomaticDestinations.
In this folder, look for a file called f01b4d95cf55d32a.automaticDestinations-ms. The easiest way to find it is just to copy and paste the file name into File Explorer’s search bar. Select the file, and press Delete. Close all of your open File Explorer windows, and open a new one. You should see only the default shortcuts.
If the default shortcuts still aren’t there, don’t worry. You can find them further down in the sidebar under “This PC,” where they cannot be deleted. Just scroll down, right-click the shortcut, and click “Pin to Quick access.” That’s all you have to do.
I Just Upgraded to Windows 10/11 – Where Did My Favorites Go?
We’ve already discussed the differences between Favorites and Quick access in File Explorer. This type of change is common with operating system upgrades. However, it can cause headaches when you upgrade from Windows 8 or 8.1 to Windows 10. When you open up File Explorer, all of your Favorites will be gone, replaced by the default Quick access shortcuts.
Don’t worry. Your Favorites haven’t been lost. Navigate to the folder “C:\users\[your username]\Links.” Inside, you’ll find all of your old favorites. Right click a folder, and select “Pin to Quick access,” and it will be added to your shortcuts. Do this for each one, and your old Favorites will be recovered.
History of Windows File Explorer
Before we wrap up, let’s talk about how Windows File Explorer has developed over the years. It was first launched with Windows 95, and replaced Windows 3.X’s File Manager system. It was also known as “Windows Explorer,” not “File Explorer.” It went hand-in-hand with the development of the Start menu system that Windows still uses today.
With Windows 98, Windows Explorer was integrated with Internet Explorer. You could use buttons and links to seamlessly navigate between your computer and the web. This feature was overhyped, and was scrapped in later versions.
Windows XP saw the introduction of an upgraded sidebar menu with context-specific information. For example, when you selected a photo, it would show all the file data. Windows Vista replaced this with a shortcut sidebar that’s very similar to the one we have today.
With Windows 8, File Explorer got its current name, along with most of its current features. The ribbon toolbar and shortcut links haven’t changed much since then. That said, later versions have seen significant cosmetic upgrades, such as Dark Mode.
Windows File Explorer’s Favorites list is a powerful tool that makes it very easy to navigate. When used properly, these shortcuts allow for quick navigation between your most commonly-used folders. By understanding how to manage them, you can unlock File Explorer’s full potential.
Meet Derek, “TechGuru,” a 34-year-old technology enthusiast with a deep passion for tech innovations. With extensive experience, he specializes in gaming hardware and software, and has expertise in gadgets, custom PCs, and audio.
Besides writing about tech and reviewing new products, Derek enjoys traveling, hiking, and photography. Committed to keeping up with the latest industry trends, he aims to guide readers in making informed tech decisions.