How to Customize File Explorer in Windows 11 

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File Explorer is one of the best features in the Windows operating system. If you're a Windows user, you'll end up using it to view what’s on your hard drive, open all your software, and manage your files. Therefore, File Explorer is one of the Windows 11 apps you really can’t do without.

Microsoft has given File Explorer a new look in Windows 11. It still retains all its customization options, but how you access them has changed slightly. These are the various ways you can customize Explorer with those options.

Change File and Folder Icon Sizes

Windows 11’s File Explorer app includes all the same view options it did before, along with one new one. Those view options enable you to choose different icon sizes for folders and files displayed in Explorer. You can also select different layouts for viewing folders’ contents.

To change the icon sizes, click the File Explorer taskbar button. Then click the View button on Explorer’s new command bar to bring up the menu shown directly below. There you can select extra-large, large, medium-sized, and small icon options.

There are four layout options just below those icon size settings. You can select to view files with alternative list, detail, tile, or content layouts in Explorer. The List and Details options display additional date modified and size information for folders and files.

Compact view is the new File Explorer customization you can also select on that menu. That option removes the additional visual element padding added to Explorer in Windows 11. Selecting it makes the left panel’s folder navigation more compact as in the snapshot directly below.

Show or Hide Panes, Item Check Boxes, and File Extensions

The View menu includes an additional Show submenu. Select Show on that menu to reach the options in the snapshot directly below. Clicking Navigation, Details, and Pane options there will show or hide those Explorer features.

There are three other noteworthy customization settings below the pane options. Selecting the Item check boxes option will display small checkboxes beside selected folders and files. If you select File Name options, Explorer will include extensions for identifying formats at the end of all files. The Hidden Items option there shows all files and folders marked as hidden.

Change Folders’ Icons

There isn’t much variation in Explorer’s default folder icon scheme. However, you can customize folders by changing their icons. Adding new icons to your most important folders will make them more identifiable. This is how you can change folder icons in Explorer.

  1. Right-click a folder in Explorer and select Properties.
  2. Then select the Customize tab shown directly below.
  3. Press the Change Icon button.
  4. Choose an alternative icon for the folder from the System32 folder.
  5. Click the OK option.
  6. Select Apply on the properties window.

If you want to look for new File Explorer folder icons beyond the System32 folder, check out the IconArchive website. That site includes a multitude of visually appealing icons you can freely download and add to your folders. Enter the keyword folders in the IconArchive search box to find some new icons. To download one from there, select it and click the ICO button.

When you’ve downloaded some new icons, you can add them to your Explorer folders as outlined above. However, you’ll need to click Browse on the Change Icon window. Then select the downloaded icon from a different folder, and press the Open button.

Change Advanced Settings for Files and Folders

Explorer’s Folder Options window includes many advanced settings for folders and files. From that window’s View tab, you can configure how Explorer displays files and folders in greater detail. This is how you can change the way Explorer displays files and folders via Folder Options.

  1. Click Explorer’s See more button (with three dots) to open the menu in the screenshot directly below.
  2. Select Options on that menu.
  3. Then click the View tab shown directly below there.
  4. Select or deselect the advanced settings there to configure how Explorer displays files and folders.
  5. Press the Apply button to save your new settings.

To get a better idea of how those advanced options change the way Explorer displays folders and files, experiment a bit by selecting and deselecting them. Then have a look through Explorer to see the effects. You can always restore the default configuration by clicking the Restore Defaults button.

Enable Single-Click For Opening Files and Folders

By default, Explorer is configured to open items when you double-click them. However, you can change that by selecting a Single-click to open an item option. Then Explorer will open files and folders when you single-click them instead. This is how you can enable single-click for opening items.

  1. Open Folder Options by clicking the See more button and Options in Explorer.
  2. Select the Single-click to open an item radio button on the General tab.
  3. Then select either the Underline icon titles consistent with my browser or Underline icon titles only when I point at them option.
  4. Click Apply to save the new settings.
  5. Select OK to close Folder Options.

Customize File Explorer With Winaero Tweaker

If you want more File Explorer customization options, check out the freeware Winaero Tweaker. That’s an advanced customization program with which you can further tweak File Explorer to your liking. You can download and install Winaero in the following steps.

  1. Open the Winaero Tweaker website.
  2. Click the Download Winaero Tweaker option on that site to save the program’s ZIP archive.
  3. Bring up File Explorer’s window.
  4. Open the Winaero ZIP archive you just downloaded.
  5. Click the Extract all option on Explorer’s command bar.
  6. Select the checkbox for the Show extracted files when complete option.
  7. Click Extract to finish.
  8. Then double-click WinaeroTweaker- in its extracted folder.
  9. Go through the setup wizard to install the Winaero Tweaker.
  10. Open the Winaero Tweaker software.

The File Explorer section of Winaero Tweaker includes 21 customization settings. Double-click File Explorer on the left side of the window to view its options. Winaero Tweaker includes full descriptions of what all those options do. These are some of its more notable customization settings or Explorer:

  • Navigation Pane – Custom Items: A setting for adding Control Panel applets, system locations, or user folders to the navigation pane.
  • Navigation Pane – Default Items: This option enables you to selectively remove default items from Explorer’s navigation pane.
  • Customize This PC Folder: You can add custom icons to This PC folders with this setting.
  • Customize Quick Access Item: This setting enables you to add a new icon to the Quick Access item and rename it.
  • Customize Libraries Item: Select this option to change the Libraries item’s icon and rename it.

You can also restore the ribbon tabs from the old File Explorer with Winaero Tweaker. To do so, double-click the Windows 11 category and select Enable Ribbon in Winaero. Click the Enable the Ribbon UI in File Explorer checkbox. Then press the Restart Explorer button to apply.

Now you’ll see the old View, Share, File, and Home tabs in File Explorer. You can select Explorer’s aforementioned customization options on the View tab. Press the Options button there to open the Folder Options window.

Configure File Explorer to Suit Your Preferences

So, there are many ways you can customize File Explorer with its built-in options and third-party software. With Explorer’s built-in customization settings, you can reconfigure how it displays files and folders. Winaero Tweaker’s additional settings are also a good extension to Explorer’s built-in options. You can make Explorer better suit your preferences with all those customization options.

— Update: 20-03-2023 — found an additional article How to customize File Explorer in Windows 10 from the website for the keyword how to customize explorer in windows 10.


The File Explorer program, formerly known as Windows Explorer, has been a core element of the operating system for decades. Like most of the various portions of the OS, they have given it a noticeable overhaul in Windows 10. There are plenty of new tools to get acclimated to, though the basic layout and functionality will be familiar to anyone who has used Windows XP or later. Here’s a quick guide on some finer points of the new File Explorer.

Quick Access

The Quick Access area, which by default is the first section of the Navigation Pane in the left-hand column, is essentially a Bookmarks bar for File Explorer. It shows both your most recently accessed folders and pinned folders (folders that you manually assign to this area) to get to and from any folder in Windows with ease. You can do this with any folder in Windows — just right-click or long-press any folder on any screen, then click Pin to Quick Access.

Michael Crider/Digital Trends

Now you’ll be able to open this folder from any other folder instantly. Dragging and dropping files and folders will move them (or copy them, if they’re on a separate drive). To remove a folder from the Quick Access view, simply click the Pin icon to the right of the folder label. To remove frequently accessed folders, right-click the folder, then select Remove From Quick Access.

OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service, gets a dedicated folder beneath the Quick Access area. Other folders on your computer are available in a tree view below OneDrive.

Ribbon interface

Most user interface space of File Explorer is dedicated to displaying icons and the tree view on the left side because opening and moving files and folders are what you’ll be doing 90% of the time. More advanced functions are available in the ribbon interface (introduced in Windows 8), which you can open by clicking Home, Share, or View. You can make this area visible at all times by clicking the Down button next to the folder name in the window header, then de-selecting Minimize the Ribbon.

Michael Crider/Digital Trends

The Home ribbon isn’t all that useful, if only because the functions inside it are all available as standard clicks or well-known keyboard shortcuts, like copy and paste. Share shows functions that are less common: You can use these buttons to send specific files or folders to a ZIP archive, print or fax documents, burn files to a CD or DVD, or share them using Windows’ built-in networking tools.

Michael Crider/Digital Trends

The View tab is where some more interesting tools are located. Here you can enable or disable the Navigation pane (where the Quick Access section is) and show or hide separate panes for Preview (which will show larger versions of things like photos or videos) and Details (which show more technical aspects of a file or group of files at a glance). In the Layout section, you can select entirely different views for this specific folder. More advanced tools are available by clicking the Options icon, then clicking Change Folder and Search Options. Try out all the different view options — you may find that some of them are very useful, especially in folders with large amounts of files.

File menu

In later versions of Windows, they moved a lot of the functionality in the File menu to other portions of File Explorer, but there are still a couple of handy tools here for power users. For both the Command Prompt and Windows PowerShell tools, the File menu will let you open new instances with the current folder already active (which can save a lot of tedious typing). Need administrator privileges? Just hover over the icon, then click Open Command Prompt/Windows PowerShell As Administrator.

Michael Crider/Digital Trends

There are a couple of other tricks as well. To quickly get to a Quick Access folder without using the mouse, click Alt + F to open the File Menu. From here, click any number key to open the corresponding Quick Access folder in sequence. You can also use the Change Folder and Search Options view to pin or unpin any folder with ease.

Picture tools

File Explorer contains some basic photo tools as well, but they’re hidden by default. Open a folder with photo files inside, then click on one. A new yellow tab, Picture Tools, will appear above the Manage Ribbon tab. Click it, and you can quickly access tools to rotate a photo left or right, start a slideshow with the default photo viewer, or set a photo as your desktop background.

Michael Crider/Digital Trends


File Explorer has a search bar, just like most modern internet browsers. It’s an integrated part of Windows, but when you use the Search function in File Explorer itself, your search will be limited to the folder you currently have open (plus any files contained in folders inside that folder).

Michael Crider/Digital Trends

This is especially useful if you have dozens or even hundreds of files in a folder. When you type the name of the document in the Search function, it will pull up a list of relevant results. Word documents and PDFs might show up as results if they contain a word similar to your search term in the body of the file itself. If you’re not sure where exactly one of your search results is located, right-click it and select to open the relevant folder instantly.

Clicking the search bar will also open the Search Tools portion of the Ribbon interface (which is usually hidden). This gives you options to narrow your search according to date, file size, file type, or within a specific folder.

Unfortunately, the File Explorer search doesn’t have all the functionality of a full Cortana search. If you use terms that are too general, you won’t be able to find what you need.

Useful keyboard shortcuts

While File Explorer has dozens of keyboard shortcuts, here are some of the most useful:

  • Windows key + E — open a new instance of File Explorer from anywhere in Windows.
  • Alt + P — show or hide the Preview pane.
  • Alt + Shift + P — show or hide the Details pane.
  • Alt + left arrow key — go back one folder in your history.
  • Alt + up arrow key — go up one folder in the folder tree.
  • Ctrl + N — open a new File Explorer window.
  • Ctrl + E — activate the Search bar.
  • Ctrl + Shift + N — create a new folder in the current folder.
  • Ctrl + mouse wheel up or down — increase or decrease the size of icons and thumbnails.

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