Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
It's easy to forget, or never be told, exactly where a file is located on your hard drive. Fortunately, it's easy to search.
This is actually a composite of many questions I get where people are unable to locate a file on their computer. Most common is Microsoft Outlook's PST file, which can be buried in a non-obvious place, but I also get this question relating to everything from downloads to pictures do documents that took hours of work, were saved and then apparently vanished.
In many cases, the tools you use can tell you where the files were placed (for example, you can use Outlook to tell you where its PST file is located). On the other hand, for various reasons, you can't and just want to locate the file yourself.
So, we'll search.
First, by far the best thing is to be logged in as Administrator, or using an account that had administrative privileges. The reason is that limited user accounts do not have the permissions required to search everywhere. For our purposes, that means we need really need to be the administrator.
Second, understand what you know about the file you're looking for. Its name? Fantastic. Perhaps only its type? (.PST, for example)? That's ok, too. The more you do know will help better target and then wade through the results we're about to generate. We may not use everything you know right away, though. More on that in a second.
In Windows XP, click on Start, Search, For Files or Folders...
Now, one of the first things I'm going to do is scroll down in the list of options and click on Turn off animated character:
Now that the dog's gone, click on All Files and Folders to get the search criteria options:
I'm going to look for "Outlook.pst" ... but I'm going to forget that it's called "Outlook", and just look for the ".pst" part. That way I'll find all the ".pst" files on my machine. If I happened to be wrong, and it's not called Outlook.pst at all I'll find it anyway.
Let me explain the options I've selected above, as they are important to what we're doing:
All or part of the file name: this is where I control how specific my search will be. I've opted to only look for ".pst", so all ".pst" files will be found.
A word or phrase in the file: To be honest, I've never used this, and leave it blank.
Look in: This defaults to a selection of the drives visible on your system. I've changed it to search only on my "C:" drive, since I do know that the file is somewhere on that drive.
When was it modified? Again, I never use this, in favor of techniques that I'll describe below.
More advanced options: Absolutely. This is where some of the magic happens.
Type of file: leave this set to (All Files and Folders). We've selected our "type" by typing in ".pst" in the search criteria above.
Search system folders: Make sure this is checked, we want to search everywhere.
Search hidden files and folders: Make sure this is checked, we want to search everywhere.
Search subfolders: Make sure this is checked, we want to search everywhere.
Case sensitive: Leave this unchecked. Windows filenames are not case sensitive, and we don't want to miss a result because we typed ".pst" when the actual filename ended in ".PST".
Search tape backup: Uh, no. Or more correctly, what tape backup? Leave unchecked.
That's it. Click Search
We're scanning the entire hard disk, so depending on the size of that disk, how many files are on it and how fast your system is, this can take a little time. It's worth it.
After my search, my results looked like this:
As you can see I found not one, but three ".pst" files on my disk. Two (my wife's email and archive), and the Outlook.pst I was looking for.
But this information can be a little more useful - for example, there are more columns of information that we can't see just yet.
We can resize the columns of data simply by clicking and dragging the bar between column headers:
That, combined with making our window wider as well (or using the scroll bar at the bottom of the results to scroll left and right through the columns) gives us much more information than we saw originally:
You can see that the file size, as well as the "Date Modified" columns are present. It's that last column I wanted to point out, specifically because of what happens when you click on the column header:
Clicking on the "Date Modified" column causes the search results to be sorted by that field.
This is why I never use date search criteria - it's much easier and more reliable to simply sort the search results by date, and see how old the files are. If I see an Outlook.pst that's two years old, and I know that I got email yesterday, then I know that's not the Outlook.pst I was looking for.
Finally, you can see that I've kept the "In Folder" column too narrow to display the entire path to the Outlook.pst file that was found. One solution is to manually widen the column, as we did above. Another approach, to get that information and more about the file, is to right click on it, and select Properties:
You can see that there's a lot of information about the file, and by hovering the mouse over the "Location" in the dialog the full path is displayed in a tooltip.
Exactly what we were looking for.
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