Customizing Windows 10 File Explorer

An essential element of Windows, File Explorer is not fixed. It has many customization options allowing you to adapt it to your needs, your tastes and your habits. Follow the guide!


  • Organize the main window
  • Change the content of the navigation pane
  • Change the appearance of the displayed elements

It’s been around for so long that you forget that it can do much more than just display a window of folders and files. Windows File Explorer – most of the time just called Explorer – is full of customization possibilities that make it easier to use Windows on a daily basis. Of course, it still lacks some key functions whose absence, in 2021, remains incomprehensible, like tabs, for example. For the time being, you will have to install a utility to take advantage of them (read our Windows practical sheet: adding tabs to Explorer windows). And, obviously, we won’t have to count on Windows 11, which is scheduled for release this fall, to see this function appear.

In the meantime, Explorer, which can be accessed at any time by pressing the keyboard shortcut Win + E or by clicking on the folder-shaped icon in the taskbar, offers a number of settings to suit your needs. You can organize its window to keep in view the items you consider important and that you use several times a day, adopt a more or less detailed view or even obtain a quick preview of a file. A real time saver for all those who spend several hours a day in front of their PC screen.

How to organize the main Explorer window?

Since the Explorer window is where you perform most of your actions in Windows, you might as well make it as comfortable as possible to meet all your needs. A few adjustments are all it takes to give it the look you want.

Navigation pane

  • Placed on the left side of the Explorer window, the Navigation pane allows you to display several items in order to access more easily the contents of the computer’s storage space, but also the devices connected to the local network. At the top of the Explorer window, click on the View tab. In the tool ribbon just below it, click on the arrow of the first Navigation Pane button and check the eponymous box.
  • Immediately the pane appears. Just click on one of the items in it to see its contents appear in the main area of the window.

View pane

  • The View pane is located on the right side of the Explorer window. It allows you to preview a file such as an image, a video (but without playing it), a text document, etc. In the Explorer tool ribbon, click on View Pane on the right to bring it up.

Details pane

  • This pane replaces the View Pane. Instead of displaying a preview of a selected file, it shows technical details such as its "weight" or type and, if it is an image or video for example, the resolution, frame rate, etc. Simply click on the Details pane at the top left of the Explorer window to display it.

Separate windows

  • When you double-click on a folder icon, its contents are displayed in the same window. You can make it appear in a different window. Click on the View tab at the top of Explorer, then on Options on the right of the tool ribbon, and finally on Change Folder and Search Options.
  • In the window that appears, check the box Open each folder in a new window.

How do I change the contents of the Explorer navigation pane?

Of course, the navigation pane on the left of the Explorer window is not fixed. You can adapt it to your needs very easily.

Quick access

  • This is the first item that appears in the navigation pane. It groups the items you use most frequently. You can customize it as you like by following the tips in our Windows 10 tip sheet: customize Quick Access.
  • By default, File Explorer opts for a layout that favors the display of files in Quick Access mode. If you don’t like it, you can change it to show all the items on your PC instead. To do this, read our practical information sheet Opening Windows 10 Explorer directly on this PC.

The libraries

  • Your usual folders (Documents, Pictures, Music, etc.) are not displayed by default in the navigation pane. To fix this, click on the View tab of Explorer and then on the Navigation Pane arrow of the tool ribbon. Check the Show Libraries box.
  • Your different libraries will be displayed in the left pane. If you do not want any of them to be displayed, right-click on the name of the library and choose Do not show in the Navigation Pane.

How do I change the appearance of the items displayed in Explorer?

Some people prefer to enjoy large icons while others are more comfortable with lists of files. Explorer can adapt to everyone’s tastes and present each item in the way that suits them best, with more or less detail depending on their preferences.

The size of the icons

  • Display a folder containing many files in an Explorer window. Click on the View tab and then move the mouse pointer – without clicking – over the names of the different presentation types: Very Large Icons, Small Icons, List, etc. The presentation of the content changes immediately. However, it is not applied until you click on a presentation mode.
  • Six display modes are available. But there are two more. Click on the arrow pointing down to the right of the Details mode.
  • You can now enjoy a Mosaic or Content mode.


  • Do you prefer the Explorer to show neutral icons rather than thumbnails of your documents (or vice versa)? You can do that. Click on the View tab of Explorer, then on the Options button on the right of the tool ribbon and choose Change Folder and Search Options.
  • In the window that appears, click on the View tab and then check (or uncheck) the box Always show icons, never thumbnails. Click on Apply then OK.
  • Depending on your choice, you will be able to use thumbnails (useful for quickly identifying images, for example)…
  • … or simple icons.

Extensions and hidden files

  • Explorer also offers to display the file extension or even the normally hidden elements (sensitive system files). Follow the advice of our Windows practical sheet: displaying extensions and hidden files to achieve this.

Viewing by group

  • Several display modes allow you to list the files contained in a folder by organizing them chronologically in a way that can be confusing: Today, yesterday, long ago, etc. You can remedy this by opting for a more traditional classification by following the advice in our handy sheet Using group view in Windows 10 Explorer.


  • To select your files, you can click directly on their name. If you select many files that are not contiguous, you will have to hold down the Ctrl key. It may also be easier to use the checkbox principle. In this way, a click in the small box displayed to the left of the file name is enough to select it. To take advantage of this option, click on the View tab of the explorer. To the right of the tool ribbon, check the check box for items.
  • The items listed in the Explorer window will now have a checkbox that you can select.

Add the trash can

The trash can of Windows 10 is a folder like any other… or almost. As such, it can also join the File Explorer. To know how to integrate it, read our handy sheet Showing the Recycle Bin in different places in Windows 10.

Sort files

  • If you present your folders and files by list in the Explorer, you can sort them according to the criteria of your choice: the type of file, the date of modification, its weight, etc. Display your list of files and then click on the desired column header to sort.
  • If you have chosen to sort by the Modified on option, click on the arrow to the right of this sorting option in the column header. Here you can choose a modification date or choose one of the more relative options below the calendar.
  • The sorting options are not limited to just three criteria. Click on the View tab at the top of the Explorer and then click on the Sort by button. Then choose the option you are interested in.

Customize the Windows 10 File Explorer


Organizing the main window
Modifying the contents of the navigation pane
Change the appearance of the displayed items

It has been around for so long that we forget that it can do much better…

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