File Explorer

Updated: 11/06/2021 by Computer Hope

Alternatively referred to as Windows Explorer or Explorer, File Explorer is a file browser found in every version of Microsoft Windows since Windows 95. It is used to navigate and manage the drives, folders, and files on your computer. The image below shows File Explorer in Windows 10.

Windows 10 File Explorer

Note

Don't confuse File Explorer with Microsoft Internet Explorer, which was the default web browser on Windows 8.1 and all earlier versions.

How to open Windows Explorer

There are several ways to open a new Explorer window, which vary slightly depending on which version of Windows you are running.

Tip

If you repeat any of the options below, you can open two or more separate Explorer windows.

In all versions of Windows

  • Press Windows key+E (hold down the Windows key and press E).
  • Click Start and select Run (or press Windows key+R), type explorer or explorer.exe, and press Enter.
  • If displayed on the Windows desktop, click or double-click the My Computer icon (named Computer in Windows Vista & 7, and This PC in Windows 8 & 10).

In Windows 10

In Windows 8 and 8.1

Right-click the bottom-left corner of the screen to open the Power User Tasks Menu and select File Explorer (or press E).

In Windows 7 and earlier versions

Right-click Start and select Explorer or Open Windows Explorer.

File Explorer sections

Below is a diagram of the different sections of File Explorer, with brief explanations of each.

Sections of File Explorer

  • Toolbar - A quick menu for navigating around File Explorer. You can customize what is shown here by clicking Customize Quick Access Toolbar.
  • Ribbon - Each section of the Ribbon, Home, Share, and View, has multiple options for accessing features and executing actions in File Explorer. For example, Home has standard features like copy and paste, and adding a new folder.
  • Back, Forward, Up - Pressing Back takes you to the last folder you were viewing. Pressing Forward, moves to the next folder. Pressing Up takes you to the drive or folder location of the object you're viewing, or to the Desktop folder, depending on your location in File Explorer.
  • Left Pane - Shows all the main devices and drives that are connected to your computer. It also shows the network your computer is connected to, if any.
  • Status Bar - Shows the number of files or folders in each location and each file or folder's size.
  • Address Bar - Shows your current location in File Explorer. You can also use this to type a drive or file you want to access.
  • Search Bar - Allows you to search for a drive, folder, or file name.
  • File List - Displays the current list of files in the selected drive or folder.

Examples of how Windows Explorer could be used

Windows Documents

Below are examples of what can be done in Explorer.

Open a document

Microsoft made it easier to find your documents in Windows by creating a My Documents folder. In Explorer, you can open My Documents and double-click a document file to open the document.

Open a program

Although most programs create a shortcut to programs in the Start menu or Start Screen after installing, you can also open a program through Explorer. To open a program in Explorer, browse the Program Files folder by opening the C: drive and then double-clicking the Program Files folder. In the folder list, find the program you want to open and double-click its folder. In the program's folder, find the executable file and double-click that file to run the program. Since file extensions may be hidden, you can determine an executable by looking for a file with the same name as the program.

Search for a file or folder

In the Search tab, you can find files or folders on your computer. Press the F3 shortcut key to open search at any time while in Windows Explorer.

Other system tasks and functions

Using Windows Explorer, you can also perform any of the system tasks listed below.

What did Explorer replace?

Before Windows 95, computers using Windows 3.11 used File Manager to manage the files on their computer.

Where is Windows Explorer on macOS, Chromebook, and Linux?

Windows Explorer is only found on the Microsoft Windows operating system. For the macOS, Chrome OS, and Linux versions, see below.

Apple macOS

Users familiar with Apple computers can think of Explorer as the Windows equivalent of the macOS Finder. If you're using an Apple computer, see our Finder page to help explore the files on your computer.

Chrome OS

Chrome OS uses My Files as the equivalent to Windows Explorer. To open My Files, click the App launcher in the bottom-left corner of the screen. In the App Launcher, click Files.

Linux

With Linux, there are multiple variants, each with a file explorer equivalent to Windows Explorer.

My Computer, Operating system terms, View buttons