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Downloading a file from the internet is easy - typically just a click or two. But knowing, and controling, where a download goes is a little more effort.

When I download ebooks off the internet, I can never find them. Where do they go on my computer?

It depends on how you download. Typically they go into your "My Documents" folder, so we'll look at how best to check that.

But it's also possible that they went into the same folder as the last download - which means that if you ever changed the download folder for one item, you might have moved where everything thereafter is placed. We'll look at that, and how to fix it as well.

There's another place that downloads often end up that's kind of dangerous, as its "cleaned up" every so often - meaning you could eventually lose your download. We'll look at what that is, and how to avoid it.

And we'll look at how to find your file, regardless of where it landed.

First, here's an example PDF file for you to download - it's a PDF version of my article "How do I keep my computer safe on the internet?" This is the link to the PDF version:

I'm going to assume you're using Internet Explorer for this article. The topics are similar for other browsers, but the specific words and look might be somewhat different.

Right click on the link to the PDF, click on Save Target As..., and you should get a dialog similar to this one:

Save As dialog for PDF download

If you look at the top of that dialog, you'll notice Save in: says "My Documents". That's a folder on your machine into which the downloaded file is going to be placed. In reality, it's located in a folder with your user name, which in turn is located within the "Documents and Settings" folder on your "C:" disk drive. My username is "LeoN", so the download is going to land in "c:\Documents and Settings\LeoN\My Documents\safeontheinternet.pdf".

If that's the case, you can locate the document again by using Windows Explorer (Windows-Key "E", on keyboards with a Windows Key, or just right click on your My Computer desktop icon and click Explore). In Windows Explorer you'll see something like this:

Windows Explorer open to show My Documents Location

Except for the red arrows which are all pointing to places that your "My Documents" folder can be found. In fact, there's one more:

Windows Explorer open to show My Documents Folder

There I've opened the folder "c:\Documents and Settings\LeoN" where you can see the actual location of "My Documents".

In all of those cases, if you click (or double click) on "My Documents", the right hand pane will show you its contents, and one file will be the file we just downloaded:

My Documents Folder showing PDF document

Now, as I said, Internet Explorer remembers the last place you placed a downloaded file, and remembers that for the next time. For example I've created my own temporary folder called "c:\t" that I download to by default. When I do a Save Target As..., I get the following:

Save As dialog for PDF download to c:\t

Note that the Save in: doesn't indicate "My Documents", but rather just my folder name, "t". Unfortunately that doesn't tell you the whole story. Like "My Documents", you can't really tell where the folder is. It could be a top level folder - like "c:\t" - or it could be somewhere else - perhaps "c:\documents and settings\LeoN\t". To figure out where, just click the dropdown arrow after the "t". You should see something like this:

Save As dialog for PDF download to c:\t showing location

Here you can see exactly where my "t" folder is located - at the root of the C: drive.

This is also how you can select a different location. Just click in that dropdown the drive, or top level directory you would like to place the file. Then in the resulting file list, double click on each successive sub folder you want until you reach the location you want to place your file. For example if we wanted to reset things to the default, I'd click on LEO (C:) in that drop-down list, then in the file list below it double click on Documents and Settings, then double click on my user name, LeoN (you'd double click on your own user name, of course), and then double click on My Documents. Click on Save, and the document is downloaded and placed where you've specified.

"...the 'right' solution for downloading and viewing a PDF is not to just click on it, but rather right-click, and 'Save Target as...' to a location you choose."

I mentioned that there were "dangerous" places that your file could get downloaded. By dangerous, I simply mean that the file can eventually be lost.

If you single click on the link to the PDF file, the file will simply be downloaded and displayed. Note that it never asked you where. Therein lies the problem.

When you click on a link such as this, Internet Explorer downloads the file to a temporary location. The same temporary location that IE uses to cache all of your internet content images, media and other files. The problem with this is that as the temporary location fills up, files will be deleted to make room. Including, eventually, your PDF.

That's why the "right" solution for downloading and viewing a PDF is not to just click on it, but rather right-click, and "Save Target as..." to a location you choose.

What if you still can't find or figure out where your PDF ended up?

It's time to search.

Hit the Start menu, Search item, and then the For Files or Folders... item. You should get a dialog much like this:

Empty Search Results dialog

Enter only a part of the file name, preferably just the part before the period. We'll see why that's important in a second. Using our example file we would search for "safeontheinternet".

Click on the down arrow next to More Advanced Options, and make sure that Search system folders, Search hidden files and folders, and Search subfolders are all selected:

Search Results dialog Options

Now press Search. As it searches, files matching will be listed on the right hand side. In my case you can see that I have many files that match the criteria - not just the ones I downloaded into "My Documents" and "c:\t", but also my originals, as I created this documents.

Search Results

One of the reasons it's so important to specify that hidden and system files should be searched, is that this will cause the search to include IE's temporary files. If you find your document there, you can then move it to some other, more permanent location.

The reason that I indicated you should only specify part of the file name is that IE will often change the name slightly by appending information as it puts it into the temporary folders. Searching for "safeontheinternet" may well find copies of the same file with a slightly different name, where searching for "safeontheinternet.pdf" would not.

Article C2775 - August 31, 2006 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

September 1, 2006 8:05 AM

Note that you don't have to pull down the dropdown list for the directory tree to find the full path. Simply hover the mouse over the arrow, and a tooltip will pop up showing the full path. (This is quicker than opening the dropdown on systems with numerous network connections.)

September 1, 2006 7:34 PM

Make a directory "Downloads" and put them all in it.

September 2, 2006 3:31 AM

Safer still if you have more than one partition create a 'Download' on a partition as far away from C: as possible. That way if you need to reinstall on C: sometime you still have the downloads intact, useful if you haven't backed up your downloads.... Haven't tried downloading to a cd/dv/rw but is another option perhaps?

David Heym
September 2, 2006 1:36 PM

Interesting article. Thanks for the info. Question: The right half of your explorer window is divided into these different categories--Files, Drives, Devices, etc. How did you get this kind of a display? The right half of my Explorer window just shows the folders within the folder highlighted on the left. I searched through your previous Explorer questions/answers and couldn't find an explanation for this.

Cliff Lapp
January 1, 2007 12:07 AM

Typically, I specify the specific folder for ALL my downloads.
Occasionally, I am not allowed to make any choices, and it downloads automatically to a "temp" folder.
I recently was given 20 free downloadable music tracks by a magazine I subscribe to. When I looked for the files, they are NOT in the Temp Internet Folder, and I can't find them in any other folder.
I can play these tracks only out of the "recent" tracks in my media player.
Then, I disconnected from the Internet, and they wouldn't play. So, I suspect that even though I was told the were "downloading" onto my hard drive, I think they were not, and they are ONLY contained on a server.
Did I download them, or was I mislead into thinking that they would download?

Ben Martinka
August 14, 2007 10:10 AM

I'm already familiar with all the techniques in this article. But I have a related question. I frequently download many files from the web in a session and save them to specific local or network folders from Internet Explorer (or from Microsoft Word or Acrobat, etc. if I open them first). How can I get either application to remember the last folder used in the Save As dialog? It defaults to My Documents every time and I have to relocate the folder over and over.

Karma Autumn
November 11, 2008 7:42 AM

I've read the article and tried to print it out to no avail. I am just starting to understand my computer and your print outs are invaluable. Please, how can I download a file from My Documents to C Drive?

Terry Hollett
September 1, 2009 3:58 PM

Ever since I can remember, I have created a folder called Downloads (c:\downloads) and thats where everything goes from downloads, to pictures, to saved emails, and so on.

You might want to point out where other browsers download by default - Firefox uses the Desktop. I use the Opera browser and been using it so long I forget where they set up the default download folder. My is set for c:\downloads...of course.

Everything stays there until I get a chance to save it to my CD-RWs.

September 2, 2009 6:36 AM

A great way to find files you have downloaded is to use the "Everything" utility. It will start with a list of all files, then you type in whatever characters you are seeking, and the list will shrink to show only file names containing those characters.

July 7, 2010 2:19 PM

i recently had ..clean my mac' clean my mini mac
i don't see any downloads / documents when i finally figured out where to go??
did i erase them ??huumm

Victoria English
December 16, 2011 1:19 PM

Thank-you so Much for the hair-saving knowledge you've shared..!!! :)

Lise Lafontaine
March 3, 2012 9:09 PM

Good tip for downloading pdf. Still have to search for files too often. Worse cases are "zip" files. Can you give me a method to open them? Keep up the good and much-needed advice; should be more advertised as first time I landed on your site simply because I didn't know...Thanks, Lise

Windows includes support built in for zip files. Simply double click on the file in Windows Explorer.
jeff gonzales
May 2, 2012 11:22 PM

I have a detailed technical question...

The article addresses where downloaded files end up, however they apparently are downloaded to a temporary place before being moved to the location mentioned in the article or specified by the user.

One can observe this when downloading a large file, say greater than 30 MB. First you get the usual dialog box asking where you wish to save the file to. Then the file downloads. Then a box pops up saying that the file is being copied to the destination that you selected.

If the downloaded file is small, this box doesn't appear, or appears and disappears so quickly that you can't see it. As I mentioned, if the downloaded file is large, then this coping takes a while (a few seconds) and you notice this copy occuring by the pop-up box.

Saving this first to a hidden location [it is in the temporary internet files\\content.ie5 or so] makes sense in the case that the download is interrupted and the partial file which would appear to be downloaded is actually truncated, and corrupt. Thus, it makes sense that IE waits to copy the entire successfully downloaded file to the location that you specified originally.

However, suppose that you have 200 MB of free space on your disk, and you want to download a 150 MB file. This should work, but does not. The file may download successfully, leaving you with 50 MB free disk space. Then when IE tries to copy the 150 MB file that is already on your hard drive to the download location that you specified originally, it FAILS since there is no space left!

IE obviously should MOVE the file to your destination rather than copy, it which leaves 2 copies on the disk.

If you run into this situation, you can attempt to look through the CONTENT.IE5 areas to locate the file that was downloaded but not copied over to your desired destination. You can then work with the file, or MOVE (not copy if running out of disk space) it to a useful location. Note that the file name of this temporay file may be cryptic.

If you can't find it, then you just wasted your 150 MB download bandwidth, as you'll have to free up some space, and download the same thing again.

Note that for the power users, you can use something like wget to fetch a file outside of IE and avoid this problem if you have a URL. wget does not make a secondary copy.

OK, long winded background.

What I want to know is if there is some way to set IE to download DIRECTLY to my desired location without doing the temporary file save and buring twice the disk space as necessary ????

Thanks !!

Not that I'm aware of. You might try a different browser, since not all act the same way. Some do download into the destination to a temporary name and rename on completion.
Justin Goldberg
July 17, 2012 6:00 PM

I used the everything utility to find that on Windows XP, IE8 saves the "temporary downloads" to a folder called "C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\CVLARQOK\filename.ext" with it's real filename. Also the folder was _not_ the last modified folder in "C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\".

My suggestion is use everything search (from voidtools) to find the file or search under the Content.IE5 folder.

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