How to view all hidden files and folders in Windows 10

By default, Windows 10 hides many files and folders from your view. First of all, it hides the items that you have set as hidden, as well as those set as hidden by other user accounts, the apps that you use, and Windows 10 itself. Second, the operating system also hides from view the files and folders that are critical to its operation, so that users do not delete them or change them in ways that lead to malfunctions. If you want to view all the files and folders that are hidden in Windows 10, read this guide and learn how:

NOTE: In Windows 10, there are two categories of hidden files. To view them both, read all the sections in this guide, not just the first. At the end, we also give you examples of the difference between the settings that you can change.

How to enable the viewing of hidden files in Windows 10

Open File Explorer and then click or tap the View tab and then, in the Show/hide section, check the box for "Hidden items."

File Explorer - Enable the viewing of Hidden items

You immediately start seeing the files that were hidden by you, other user accounts, Windows 10, and the apps that you are using.

How to enable the viewing of hidden system protected files in Windows 10

Open File Explorer, click or tap the View tab and then the Options button. This opens the Folder Options window, where you configure how File Explorer works.

File Explorer - Accessing Folder Options

In the Folder Options window, click or tap the View tab. In the list of Advanced settings, uncheck the box that says: "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)."

Folder Options - Enabling the viewing of protected operating system files

You are warned that you have chosen to display protected operating system files (files labeled System and Hidden), in File Explorer. To go ahead with this change, click or tap Yes.

The Warning shown by Windows 10

Then, in the Folder Options window, click or tap OK to save your settings. From now on, Windows 10 and File Explorer are going to make visible all the files of the operating system that used to be hidden from view.

What is the difference between seeing hidden files and protected operating system files?

By default, Windows 10 does not show you any hidden files. Therefore, your desktop is going to include only the files and shortcuts that you or your apps have added to it.

The Windows 10 desktop

When you disable the "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" setting, on your desktop, you are going to see two desktop.ini files that store information about how the desktop is displayed by Windows. Not only that, but you are going to see desktop.ini files everywhere, in all the folders on your computer.

Two desktop.ini files on the Windows 10 desktop

IMPORTANT: By default, the protected operating system files are hidden by Windows, because they are critical to how the operating system works. You should not delete them or edit their content, unless you know what you are doing.

To get a better perspective on how many hidden files and folders you might start seeing, after you enable the two settings discussed earlier, open File Explorer and go to: C:\Users and then double click or double tap on your username. By default, in this location you see only your user's folders like Documents, Music, Pictures, and so on.

The Users folder for your account

When you check the first setting from this guide (Hidden items) you start seeing a few new folders, like AppData, where all your Windows apps store data and settings for your user account.

The hidden AppData folder is now visible

When you uncheck the second setting from this guide - "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" - you now see a lot more folders and files, like Local Settings, SendTo, Start Menu, and so on. All these additional folders are used by Windows to interact with your user account, and remember your settings.

All hidden and protected operating system files are now visible

Did you enable the display of all hidden files and folders?

To view everything that is hidden on your Windows 10 PC or device, you need to go through both settings covered in this guide. However, we advise against the display of operating system protected files and folders, because most users do not know how to manage them, and they may end up messing up their computers and Windows 10 devices. Before you close this guide, tell us which of the two changes in settings you performed, and why. Comment below and let's discuss.

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