Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Find hidden files

Today’s article was triggered by a reader’s question. The reader had hidden a file, and now could not find it again.

Q: How can I find folders on my computer if they’ve been “hidden”?
I think we have all placed something carefully out of sight from others.. and then forgotten where we’ve hidden it ourselves. If you have hidden a file (or folder) on your PC, and now cannot remember where it is, there are a couple of ways to go about finding it again.

Method 1) If you know what folder you’ve hidden the file in, but not the name of the file, navigate to the folder (in my example, I’ll use the My Documents folder) and do the reverse of the steps I outlined in my article “Create a hidden folder for your private stuff“. Namely, Click on the “Tools” menu and select “Folder Options”.
Now click on the “View” tab. Look down the list to the “Hidden folders” options, and change the radio button from “Do not show..” to “Show hidden files and folders”. While you’re here, uncheck the option “Hide extensions of known file types” if you haven’t done so already. (This is not only good policy, but will help us if we need to use the Search feature.)
(If you are not sure exactly which folder you hid the file in, click on the “Apply to all folders” button, which will unhide all your hidden files.)
Now any files (or folders) you have hidden in the folder (My Documents, in this example) will appear as a slightly ‘faded’ entry. For purposes of demonstration, there was a hidden text file in My Documents titled “hidden file.doc” which is now visible.
If you have done this, and the file you’re seeking does not appear, do the steps shown above and click on “Apply to all folders”, and then open the other folders you think it is possible that you may have used to hide the file inside. Do a little bit of ‘hunting’ through the most likely places.
[Note: This method is not a good way to look for spyware that may have hidden itself on your computer. If you suspect that there may be spyware on your computer, run two different anti-spyware programs in “Full” (or “Deep”) scan mode. I have a list of good (free) anti-spyware programs here.]

Method 2) If you do remember the name of your file (or folder).. or parts of its name, but not its location, the easiest way to find it again is to use an “advanced” option in the Search tool. Open Search (Start >Search) and select “Files and folders”.
srch.jpgNow click on the down-arrow next to “More Advanced Options”, and then place a check in the “Search hidden files or folders” and the “Search subfolders” options.

There are two Search boxes; the top one looks at file names, and examines your directory, and this is the better one to use. (The second one looks inside files for the string of text you’ve entered, and seems to me to only work about half the time.)
Enter as much of the file’s name as you can remember, and to reduce the number of irrelevant results, specify the file’s type– in my example, it’s a text document, so I will add “.doc”. Use the “*” wildcard symbol in front of and behind the letters you don’t remember. Let us say that I remember that I used the word ‘hidden’ in my file’s name, but I can’t remember if I used “Paul’s”.. or if I named it “file” or if I used “document” instead — I think I may have named it “pauls_hidden_doc.doc”, but the only word I’m pretty sure of is ‘hidden’– so the proper entry in the top Search box would look like this “*hidden*.doc” (w/out the quotes). This tells Search to accept any characters before the word ‘hidden’ as well as any after it, and to only look for text files.
This result appeared in less than a second, and happens to be just what I was looking for and, if there had been a document I had labeled “Paul’s hidden letter” (and forgotten it as well) it would show in the results also.

Also, those of you familiar with DOS can use the DIR command with the following switches, /w /a, appended to see all hidden files and folders listed (c:\>dir /w /a).

Today’s free link: It used to be that if you wanted to connect a new TV or stereo that all you had to do was plug it in– and maybe connect one cable or a couple of wires. Nowadays, the assortment of different cables and wires you have to untangle and sort out and properly configure is pretty complex and confusing. There is a Consumer Electronics website that is essentially a wizard which will walk you through setting up your new device’s cables and getting it to work with your existing devices. It also helps ensure that you purchase the right cable for the job. Visit the Consumer Electronics Association’s connections guide for some excellent help and instructions.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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December 4, 2007 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, computers, file system, how to, missing files, PC, tech, Vista, wildcards, Windows, XP | , , , | 24 Comments