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How To Use Windows File Explorer

Windows File Explorer (sometimes called Windows Explorer, File Explorer or simply Explorer) is the central hub for accessing and saving files and folders on your PC.

You’re using File Explorer whenever you open a folder, search for a file, access a USB drive or save a file.

How To Open Windows File Explorer.

To open Windows File Explorer in both Windows 10 & 11, left-click once on the File Explorer icon (the yellow folder) on your Taskbar.

Or you can use a keyboard shortcut. Hold down the Windows logo key and then press the letter E.

File Explorer icon indicated on Windows 10 taskbar. Also, a keyboard shown with Windows key and letter E marked.
Opening File Explorer on Windows 10.
File Explorer icon indicated on Windows 11 taskbar. Also a keyboard shown with Windows key and letter E marked.
Opening File Explorer on Windows 11.

If File Explorer Is Missing From Your Taskbar.

If you can’t see the File Explorer icon on your taskbar you can replace it easily enough. File Explorer Is Missing From Taskbar.

Finding Your Files With File Explorer.

All your files (whether they’re pictures, documents, videos, music or anything else) are stored on your computer inside of folders. To find any file, you’ll first have to find the folder that it’s stored in.

When File Explorer opens you’ll see that it’s split into two panes (or panels). The left hand pane is called the Navigation Pane.

The top half of the navigation pane is called the Quick Access area. It’s here that you’ll find your user folders, Desktop, Downloads, Documents, Pictures, Music & Video.

Using the navigation pane quick access area, you can “jump” from folder to folder simply by left clicking once on the one that you want.

For example, if you wanted to view the contents of the Pictures folder, you’d just click Pictures in the navigation panel.

How to use Windows File Explorer.
If you’re looking for an image that’s inside your Pictures folder, then click Pictures in the Navigation pane of File Explorer.

After clicking Pictures (or whichever folder you chose) in the navigation pane, the centre pane will change to display the contents of the Pictures folder.

To open a file or folder, double left click on it in the centre pane.

This works the same for all folders, not just the Pictures folder.

The Windows File Explorer centre pane is highlighted. Showing the contents of a Pictures folder.
Contents of my Pictures folder.

Windows 10 Quick Access Area.

In Windows 10, the Quick Access area of File Explorer is a little different. Not all your user folders will be displayed. That’s because in Windows 10, the Quick Access area adapts to the way you’re using your computer. Or more specifically, the folders that you’re using.

Folders that are popular (being used regularly) will be “promoted” onto the Quick Access area. While folders that aren’t being used will be removed to make way for them.

For example, on this Windows 10 computer, you can see that both the Music & Video folders are “missing” from the Quick Access area.

Music and Video folders are missing from the Quick Access area of Windows 10 File Explorer.
Windows 10 quick access area.

To find the “missing” folders, left click once on This PC.

You’ll see all your user folders appear in the centre pane of File Explorer, including the elusive Music & Video folders.

How to use File Explorer.
You can find any “missing” folders by clicking on This PC.

Pin The Music And/Or Video Folders.

If you’re using Windows 10 and the wanted to have the Music and/or the Videos folders in the Quick Access area, then you can “pin” them. Pinning and unpinning folders is what we’ll look at next.

How To Pin & Unpin From Quick Access.

When you’re using a folder regularly, it’s worth taking a moment to “pin” that folder on to the Quick Access area of File Explorer. Pinning the folder will make it much easier and quicker to find and use.

You can pin any folder that you want to Quick Access and then unpin it when you’ve finished with it.

As an example, let’s say you wanted to pin a folder from your Pictures folder called Holidays 23.

Open File Explorer and then left click Pictures in the Navigation pane.

The Pictures folder will open in the centre pane.

Right click once on the Holidays 23 folder, on the menu that appears, left click

Pinning a folder to Quick Access in Windows File Explorer.
Add folders that you use regularly to Quick Access by pinning them.

The folder that you just pinned will appear at the bottom of the Quick Access area.

You can open it by left clicking on it once.

Pinned folder appearing on Quick Access.
Any folder that you pin to Quick Access will appear at the bottom of the list.

Unpinning From Quick Access.

Having too many folders pinned in the Quick Access area will obviously be counter productive, since you’ll end up having to scroll through a long list looking for the folder that you need.

It works best, similar to the Start menu and taskbar, when you only keep the folders that you really need pinned to it. Less is definitely more as they say.

When you’ve finished using a particular folder, you can simply unpin it out of the way.

To unpin a folder, right click on it once, then left click “Unpin from Quick Access”.

Unpinning a folder from Quick Access in Windows File Explorer.
Unpin folders that you’re not using.

Accessing Drives In File Explorer.

On your computer, any device that can hold data (files and folders) is considered to be a “drive”. That’s what Windows will call it.

Internal hard drive (hard discs, local disks, system discs), USB sticks, external hard drives, CD/DVD drives (internal or external) and even your mobile phone or digital camera.

To find the drives on your computer, open File Explorer and then left click once on This PC. The centre pane will show all the drives connected to your computer.

How to use Windows File Explorer.
File Explorer in Windows 10.
How to use Windows File Explorer.
File Explorer in Windows 11.

If You Can’t See Your Drives.

Sometimes when you open File Explorer and click on This PC, you won’t be able to see your drives. That can happen because the Devices and Drives section of File Explorer is “collapsed”.

To expand the Devices and Drives section (so that you can view your drives), left click once on the tiny arrowhead beside Devices & Drives.

Devices and Drives section of File Explorer is closed.
When the Devices and Drives section is closed (collapsed)
How to use File Explorer.
Expand (or open) it by clicking on the arrowhead.

To access any drive on your computer, find it in File Explorer and then double left click on it.

In this example, I’m opening my USB stick.

Opening a USB drive in Windows File Explorer.
To open the USB drive, double left click on it.

File Explorer Summary.

Take the time to get to grips with how File Explorer works. How you can access folders and drives by using the navigation pane. Even if you don’t really save that much on your PC, you will encounter Explorer from time to time.

Over the next few pages of the course, creating folders, saving files, copy and paste all rely on using File Explorer.

Next Page

It’s All About The Folders

How to create, name, rename & delete folders on Windows computers.

A place for everything and everything in its place. Using folders to keep related files together just makes sense

How to create, name, rename & delete folders on Windows computers.
Next Page

It’s All About The Folders

A place for everything and everything in its place. Using folders to keep related files together just makes sense

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