Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

You get an email with an attachment, you edit the attachment and your work disappears. Why that happens, and how to work around it.

I opened an MSN Hotmail attached xls file, made changes to it and then saved the changed file. Now I can't find the changed file. It looks like Hotmail created the file in a Temporary Internet directory. Is it possible to retrieve this file?

This is something that bites a lot of people, even if they're not using Hotmail. You open an attachment in an email message that you've received, you make lots of changes to it, and close your work. Then later, when you return to that email and open the attachment again all your work is gone.

Where did it go?

The problem is that it's really somewhat unclear as to exactly what should happen when you open an attachment and then make changes to what you've opened. And in some cases what you might expect to have happen isn't actually possible.

When you open an attachment, your email program extracts it from the email, where it's specially encoded, and makes a usable copy of the file on disk for you to open. Where that copy goes depends on how you access your email. If you are using a web interface, then it typically goes wherever your browser puts its temporary files. If you're using a mail program like Outlook, Thunderbird or the like, the location might be your "My Documents" folder, or the last place you saved an attachment, or something else entirely.

So you open that copy in whatever location it was placed, and begin making changes. As in your example you might open an Excel spreadsheet, make changes, save the file and exit Excel.

Now what? What should happen to that changed spreadsheet?

Some mail programs will, if the original message is still open, give you the opportunity to update the attachment in the email when you go to close the email message. Not all do, and this is only available if the message has remained open while you change the attachment - and a preview pane doesn't count. If something causes that message to close, then you've lost the ability to automatically update the attachment with your changes.

And not all email programs even try to track this for you. They don't offer you the ability to automatically update the original attachment.

If you're using Web based email, things are worse. Much worse. There's typically no way to update the attachment. Once you download it to your machine to work on, regardless of where on your machine it's been placed, that's it. You can change that copy, copy that copy, do whatever you want to that copy, but you can't "put it back" in the original email so you can find it again later.

"Think of opening an attachment directly in email only as a way to view the attachment, not as a way to modify it."

OK, so what do you do if you're in that situation, as the original question indicated?

In IE you can simply open the Temporary Internet Files folder. In IE 7, hit the Tools menu, Internet Options item, underneath "Browsing History" click on Settings, and in the resulting dialog click on View Files. If it hasn't been too long, your file should be there. My recommendation: immediately copy it to a different folder on your machine. "My Documents" is a fine place, if you don't have a good idea of where to put it.

And yes, I did say "if it hasn't been too long". The temporary files folder is a fixed size which can be adjusted in that same dialog we found the View Files button. That means that as new files are downloaded, old files may be deleted to make room. That's why it's called Temporary Internet Files. Wait too long, and your file will be gone.

If you've been using a different browser, or an email program of some sort, you'll need to check the options for that program to see where files are downloaded, or attachments are saved. Find your file there and, if appropriate, move it to a different folder of your own choosing.

OK, so how can we avoid this problem in the future?

Simple: don't let the browser decide where it's going to put your file - decide for yourself.

Using MSN Hotmail when you click on "Download File", Internet Explorer will present you with this dialog:

Open or Save File dialog

If you click on Open, as you might be tempted, Internet Explorer will download it to where it thinks it should: the Temporary Internet Files folder. Instead, click on Save. IE will the first prompt you with a "Save As" dialog that will allow you to choose where you want the file to be placed. Once the file is downloaded, you'll then be given this option dialog:

Download Complete Dialog

Here you can choose to Open the file from its downloaded location, or Open Folder, which will open Windows Explorer on the folder you selected as the file's destination, or you can simply Close the dialog and act on the file later.

The key here is that you know where on your hard disk the file has been placed. Presumably you selected a location that makes sense - be it "My Documents", or some folder specific to whatever you're doing with that document.

If you're using other web based mail services, or if you're using another browser such as FireFox, the specifics of the steps above may be slightly different, but the intent is the same: rather than letting the browser decide where to place your downloaded file, save the file yourself to a location you know and control, and then open the document for editing, if you so desire.

A lot of people get confused, losing work and often entire documents because they're viewing and editing documents that have been sent as attachments. They rely on the mail program to somehow "do the right thing" and keep track of their changes. As we've seen, not only is often impossible, when it's attempted it's extremely easy to get it wrong.

That's why I strongly recommend the following:

  • Think of opening an attachment directly in email only as a way to view the attachment, not as a way to modify it.

  • In fact, think of the attachment as part of the original email. You wouldn't change the email that someone has written you, so don't change the attachment. Leave that original email unchanged, including the attachment(s).

  • If you need to make changes to a document that's been sent to you as an attachment, save the document to a folder on your machine, like "My Documents", first. Then edit and save the document there.

  • If you need to then forward the changes you've made to someone else, start a new mail message or reply to the original and attach the document copy that you saved and worked on. Be careful: if you forward the original message, it's likely to include the original attachment without your edits. If that's not what you want, then before hitting send delete the attachment from the message and attach your updated copy instead.

All that can be summed up this way: never assume that your email is doing the right thing with your attachments. Be explicit, and manage where they're placed yourself.

Article C2951 - March 3, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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39 Comments
Truman Mason
March 11, 2007 10:36 AM

Easiest way to ensure that you don't lose an opened attachement: Save it immediately to your computer (in My Documents) Now you can't lose it.

ishaq
April 3, 2007 2:18 AM

when i attach files in outlook it goes to other palace not to attahcment place what is the problem

Janice Moosajie
June 18, 2007 6:46 AM

Is there any way to redirect where the saved attachment goes automatically without clicking "File, Save As"?, i.e, direct MS Excel or Outlook to save in one specific place.

Walter Fife
February 28, 2008 6:57 PM

When I found the file I found only the original unedited file not my saved WORD doc. Just to be sure that was the case I repeated the senario with a diffenent WORD doc. edited it, hit save, then closed WORD, found the file, in the temporary folder, but the file was in its unedited state.

robin
October 26, 2008 7:47 AM

You didn't answer the question! LoL You answered regarding webmail. I use OE, it saves to a location that is easy to identify: just open an attachment (any attachment) click file>save as and it'll show you. And THAT'S where the problem starts for me.

The folder name the attachmenet (with hours of editing in) is stored in a gobbledegook system created name G6EFU9P3 (tht's actually where mine is). Using thre Save As option and then simply clicking the UP icon (to get to the next folder up in the hierarchy) I can easily find that my file is stored in: docs and settings > my name > local settings > temporary internet files > IE5 > G6EFU9P3 > filename.

That SHOULD be the end of the problem. However, if I then look for the sub folder Temporary Internet Files under Docs>myname>localsettings it ain't there! Easy, it's a hidden folder. Well it's not enough to click show hidden files, you also have to uncheck the box "hide system folders" and then BINGO the Temporary Internet Files folder is visible.

But is that the end of this tale? No. :( because there isn't a subfolder there called IE5 and worse there isn't one document that relates to todays!

So the question is: how do I get at this REALLY hidden folder caled IE5?

Actually it gets worse! There IS also a folder called Temporary Internet Files under Docs>Default User>Local settings> and it does have an IE5 subfolder. But in that there is no G6EFU9P3 subfolder, and the subfolders that are there (system names too) have only a single ini file in each.

Any ideas? ://

robin

Ideas? You bet.

For starters, you should never count on using that location - whatever it might be - to keep or find documents and attachments. Even though it's Outlook Express, the location is still Internet Explorer's Temporary Internet Files folder (as you've seen), and the files can be randomly deleted as IE manages that cache of files.

If you need the document, if you need to edit the document, always File->Save As (or Save Attachment) to a different location that you control. Like "My Documents". Then edit to your hearts content.

If you still want to see the contents of the temporary internet files folder, either view it from within IE's Tools->Options menu, or make sure that "show hidden files" is enabled in Windows Explorer. And this article will help also: What are those strange folders in my Temporary Internet Files?

- Leo
27-Oct-2008
ekey
November 14, 2008 1:46 PM

Thank you very much, Leo. I was almost heartbroken when Ii found I could not find the edited file. Thank you, I find it now.

Nathaniel
February 18, 2009 2:43 PM

If you enable the addres bar on your file system, when you are enabling viewing of hidden files, then you can type in the ie5 folder, which really is a content folder. There are several.
\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.ie5, \Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.excel, \Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.word, \Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.outlook

Many attachments end up in the last.

I'd like to throw this out: what are the other files. Even after manually and automatically cleaning out Temporary Internet files, there still are 11 or so (including the above content ones). You can find out how many by right clicking Temporary Internet Files and then clicking on properties.

Thanks.

Jeff
March 2, 2009 10:56 AM

Nobody intends to do this Leo, it happens after 72 hours of work, on a Friday, when your boss says, "Can you do just one more thing" and your wife is asking where you are with the Chinese food, with the baby crying in the background. You walk in Monday morning and its gone. And while I know where this file is and have unhidden folders I still can't get to it.

nathaniel
April 3, 2009 12:15 AM

leo- your answer was really helpful however i was unable to retrieve the file this way- I did succeed though eventually- wife was using IE7 and MS word and hotmail. attachment ms word file landed in a temporary folder that she saved, not thin king, and was impossible to find. your method showed an IP address of an attachment loader, but no file.

the fix: I downloaded the file again from hotmail and saved, again in the same file path she did wrong (This is risky, luckily it appended a # to the file and didn;t overwrite the lost one)then I went in and did save as to see where it was, and there was the missing one- a right lick on the save as screen allowed me to order the word files there by date. she had several there.....
DO NOT SAVE AS your prior file name though!!

Now this part is microsoft alchemy- somehowe about 1 hr of tryign later, I simply clicked open, and it brought the mysterious folder up (that was the last known file save path for ms word, i guess) so the file with the hours of edits (to her masters thesis) was there, buried amidst cookies for ll bean and other online ventures.

I hope this is useful for others- no other forum I found online gave a solution, even MS experts said hte file was gone! We are happy, even if it's 130 am!

nathaniel
April 3, 2009 12:29 AM

so a quick follow on to my elation above- I read the otehr posts, and did realize that I could navigate to the file thru a normal file path, when the earlier post referred to UNCHECKING the system folders- never knew about that before, but when I did so I could go right to the offending MS word doc, click, and open it up.

needless to say wife got the message tonight- save, THEN open!

hope others find this thread- it's a VERY common problem!

Angie
April 6, 2009 2:34 AM

I am using Firefox 3.0.8, where did my attachment key gone too. when i want to attach a document, but i cant find my attachment key.

Firefox is a web browser, it has no "attachment key". What email program are you using?
- Leo
06-Apr-2009

Monica
May 12, 2009 8:35 PM

Thank you very much for your help. i had spent hours editing my uni assignment and id lost it. i knew it would be hidden somewherreeee in the computer but not sure where :) with ur guidence i was able to find it. thank you very much :)

lisa
June 12, 2009 2:40 AM

Thanks Leo, I was looking for my saved attachment from my hotmail and lost it. I spent half the night looking for my document. I went to several web sites and was told to type commands in the run. Nothing worked. I couldn't find that file for the life of me. Anyway you saved the day or really the night. Thanks again. PS I will remember to click SAVE AS for my documents.

Marlo Garnsworthy
June 25, 2009 11:50 AM

Leo, I think it's so great you're takig your time to help. This has just happened to me with a word doc from hotmail, BUT accessed through MSN explorer... I've tried so many things, even tech support didn't know and I'm desperate, and I can't find info specific to MSN explorer

MSN Explorer is just Internet Explorer with a different skin. In I.E. you would find the Temporary Internet Files folder identified in Tools -> Internet Options -> General -> Browsing History -> Settings. I hope/assume/expect that MSN Explorer has a similar setting. Once you identify the location of the temporary files, you can look there.
- Leo
26-Jun-2009

LYDIA
June 29, 2009 11:17 AM

I'm on yahoo mail but it does not have attachment on the sreen but if sameone send me an email picture i can save it.

ash
October 27, 2009 3:54 AM

I have tried to do this but when I go to the Temp Internet File that it was saved to I cannot actually open the file, it comes up with a word document with boxes in it?

Marybeth
December 2, 2009 11:08 PM

You just saved 2.5 hours of my life! Thanks you so much for this!!!!

Martha
January 1, 2010 1:48 PM

I have also lost a file, saved as an attachment on hotmail and opened with ms word. It got saved, using save as, but the person who saved it didn't change or look at the file name, just clicked save. It remained open, but when I tried to re-attach it to a new email i had to close it down. The option to save came up again, and i saved it, but then when it came to browsing to find the file to attach, we couldnt see it anywhere. We have tried looking in temporary internet files, and saving the original again to try and trace the route, but we have got nothing. please help!

Tjaah
January 26, 2010 11:12 AM

here you can find you're file back

Go to:
C:\Users\{UserName}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5

right mouse button -> Properties -> advanced -> turn Map indexing on

When indexing is done, type the file name in the search bar at the right

greetings

salma
February 15, 2010 4:25 AM

I don't get my attachment when try to open I only get save but no open

Ben
August 1, 2010 8:39 PM

Hey,

Was using open office, opened the file off gmail, and didn't realize that it was in temp files, continued to save it yesterday, and less than twelve hours later, can't find it

Looked in temporary internet files and yah, can't find it, looked in recent docs as well

half freaking-out - 3 hours with a chinese tutor

Michelle
August 8, 2010 5:21 PM

Same problem with me! I OPENED an excel document and edited it. After editing it, I saved the file. There was no box that came up asking me where to save the file.

Now, I want to find that file, but can't find it on Temporary Files.

Can you help me? (I'm using G-mail and Internet Explorer. I edited the file on the 6th, and its currently the 9th)

Andy
November 11, 2010 2:02 PM

Wow, I can't thank you enough. My Mum called yesterday in a total pickle after working on a document from an email attachment for ten hours, only to find it had disappeared after closing Word.

I looked through many sites which stated that there was simply nothing to be done but accept the tragedy.

Thanks to you my Mum has her document back and probably an extra year to live..

Georgia
March 20, 2011 6:59 PM

Please help. Okay, I'm using Word 2010, opened a one paragraph essay from a hotmail file and completely written it again to about 2 pages, saved it (Ctrl+s) closed it, but when I went to send it back to my Email account for school it was gone. Did all the steps above but cannot retrieve it anywhere. Like, literally, at all. I've gone to temporary files (its only been about 20 mins now) but still nothing. Is there nothing else I can do? Am I going to have to stay up for another 3 hours to re-re-write it?

Dila
April 18, 2011 1:36 PM

Hi,
Actually, i opened an attachment from hotmail and edited, then instead of save as i have clicked on save. I have closed the doc file and then i realise that a one day work has been lost. Is there a possibilty that i recover my edited doc. I've tried several solutions like opening with notepad, changing the extension of the tmp files etc... but in vain..
Please help....

The article you just commented on addresses exactly this. It's probably in your internet temporary files folder.
Leo
19-Apr-2011

Barry
May 9, 2011 7:38 AM

Using IE7, when I click on an attachment in an email, it gives me the virus check progress, and if clean the button to download the attachment. When I click on download, it used to give me the option to either open, or same. Now it doesn't, it just dissappears when I click download, and I can't find where it's being downloaded to. In Chrome, it will show or open the download.

Lisa Setser
June 12, 2011 3:05 PM

OK - I went to my temp internet files - what am I looking for exactly? And IF I find it what do I do with it then?

Lisa Setser
June 12, 2011 3:23 PM

THANK YOU!! I found my Excel doc with all the editing!! You are WONDERFUL!!! Lisa Setser

Nicolas
June 26, 2011 8:00 PM

Thank you Leo, I found your tutorial and helped a friend recover a very important file she was using for study.

Best regards,

Nicolas.

Adam
June 27, 2011 1:47 PM

thank you so much, you have saved me HOURS of re-typing thought I'd lost my work forever you are the best!

Ana Romay
July 19, 2011 11:58 PM

Hi Leo,
I did what you said, I saved the attachment to my desktop and work on it for a few lines just to make sure that it would be saved.
I close the folder and reopened again to check if the saved lines where there, and guess what?
They were there!!!!!!!.
You know how many times I worked on that attachment? at least 8 times just to see that they were not saved.
You are a genius!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thank you so much,
Ana Romay

AB
September 23, 2011 11:13 AM

YOU are a computer GOD!!!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!

muhamad
October 18, 2011 12:53 PM

hello, i need help. I wrote an essay for my school and i saved it on my e -mail, and then i came home and i wanted to work on it little more, i opened my e-mail and started working on it without saving it on my computer. Each time i added some paragraphs, i saved by pressing Ctrl+S, but i don't know where it got saved . plz help me... thanks

That's pretty much exactly what the article you just commented on talks about. What's missing?
Leo
19-Oct-2011

Brian
January 27, 2012 10:59 PM

I am still confused about this. I can't seem to make sense of all the temporary internet files I'm seeing. How can I tell which one would be my Excel email attachment?

I'd look for the one that ends in ".xls" or ".xlsx" and is dated recently, around the time you edited it.
Leo
28-Jan-2012
Candace Kuykendall
February 22, 2012 7:22 PM

Hi. My husband did this with his school assignment that he had emailed to himself at work and did not save to the computer. He followed your instructions and found the file in the temp folder, but it won't let him open it. Says "word cannot start the converter". HElp!!

Per Andersson
March 27, 2012 1:51 AM

Hi, for the second time I have made the mistake to edit a word file opened through the browser (and not 'saved as') I´ve set explorer to show hidden files and folders (as suggested here) which made the folder 'temporary internet files´ to show up. However, I cannot see the IE.5 folder and its subfolders where my word document should be. Any ideas?

zain
April 20, 2012 2:33 PM

bless you, i can't thank you enough,

Ian Crane
July 3, 2012 9:58 AM

Sometimes you find that you've opened an attachment from an email with the intention to view, but then start making changes. In that case, you can use Save As from within the program that you're using to edit the document and save it to a new location that you know how to find.

Also, be aware that opening confidential documents from within the email leaves copies of it on your hard drive in the temp folders Leo describes. Deleting the email does not necessarily clean up the temp file, so you could have multiple copies of confidential information in your temp folders that you thought you deleted!

It's good to be aware of the way this works.

Zuania
February 1, 2013 3:51 PM

I WAS JUST ABOUT TO GIVE UP WHEN I READ THE ARTICLE, FOLLOWED THE INSTRUCTIONS AND THERE WAS MY LOST DOCUMENT! YOU ARE A GENIUS! I LOVE YOU! I REALLY CAN'T THANK YOU ENOUGH YOU HAVE TRULY SAVED MY LIFE! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!! MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS!

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