Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
It's very easy to have Windows locate a file on your machine, but it's also easy to overlook a setting that will allow it to miss some as well.
I'm looking for [... some filename ...] on my machine. I know it's here, but I can't track it down. What am I missing? How to I find the file?
As you might guess that's a composite question - it reflects many different people asking roughly the same question in different ways.
How do I find a file?
There are a couple of ways, and there are a couple of "gotcha's" as well, so let's look at how to track down that file you're looking for.
The traditional way to locate a file in Windows is the Search item on the Start menu.
Except that it's not always visible.
If you don't see Search on your start menu, then right click on Start and select properties. In the resulting dialog:
Click on Customize, then on the Advanced tab, and then in Start menu items scroll down until you see Search:
Make sure that's checked, and then OK your way back out.
To search for a file, click on Start, then Search and then For Files or Folders...:
Now, one might think that searching for a file is as simple as entering it's name into the All or part of the file name: field, and most of the time that is, in fact, enough.
But that's not always the case so we're going to change a couple of search options.
Click on More advanced options:
Make sure that Search system folders, Search hidden files and folders, and Search subfolders are all checked. Many times the files that people are looking for, like email files, are in fact kept in hidden folders, and are not found unless these options are checked.
Now enter the filename and press Search, and if the file is on your hard drive(s), then it should show up.
Now, personally, I find Windows' built-in search cumbersome. Since I'm kind of a old school command line kinda guy it's the Windows Command Prompt that I turn to.
Fire up a Windows Command Prompt (it's typically in Start, All Programs, Accessories). Enter:
to make the current directory the root of the drive. Now enter:
dir /s /a filename
Where "filename" is the full name of the file you're looking for. "/s" means "check all subfolders", and "a" means "show all files, including hidden and system files".
If you only know the part of the filename, you can specify "*" as a wildcard. For example let's say we know there's a file that begins with "pers", and it's a ".pst" file, we can search for "pers*.pst":
Personally I find the command line version quicker and easier, but it's a matter of personal preference. (The downside, by the way, is that the command line search will look at only one drive at a time. If you have another drive type that drive, such as "D:", followed by ENTER, and then repeat your search.)
What's important here is simply to remember to include hidden and system files and folders in your search to make sure you're really searching everything and everywhere.
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