How to show hidden files in Windows 7

Why is Microsoft hiding files from me!?

Before you start concocting convoluted conspiracy theories you should know that Windows usually hides core system files as a protective mechanism.  If someone inadvertently (or purposely) tampered with these hidden files it could render your computer unusable.  Most of the time it’s good that Windows guards itself this way because most people don’t have any reason to view hidden files; however, we can easily change the behavior of Windows and make it reveal all files.

Showing Hidden Files

When you need to see everything in Windows you can do it in a few steps:

Click Start and type

show hidden

then press Enter.

A folder options dialog box pops on the screen with the View tab selected.

If you look closely (you shouldn’t have to scroll) you’ll see a little radio button to the immediate left of Show hidden files, folders, and drives.  Click it and choose OK.

Windows 7 Show Hidden Files and Folders

That’s it.

Now you’ll see all the files Windows was hiding from you; well at least most of them.

If you want to see absolutely everything then you can go back into Folder Options and uncheck Hide protected operating system files (Recommended).  But I strongly exhort you to abstain from that.  Unless you really know what you’re doing you can irreparably goober your computer and leave it pretty dilapidated if you change or delete one of these files.  If you really need to see hidden stuff just use the first option, Show hidden files, folders, and drives and you’ll be okay.

Two thoughts

Incidentally, some people purposely hide files to reduce clutter but I should note that this doesn’t clear up space on your drive.  The files still physically resides on your disk so hiding files won’t clear up any space.

Also, don’t rely on hiding files you don’t want people to see.  You might think, “Oh, I doubt my wife knows about this feature, I’m going to hide my finances from her by right clicking the Excel workbook, going to Properties and checking Hidden under Attributes.

Windows 7 how to hide a file

But this is a bad practice known as security through obscurity because you’re relying on ignorance (your wife’s ignorance to be exact and women are smart) rather than sound security principles to protect an asset.  If you really don’t want your wife snooping around your workbook you should password protect the file and store it on a secure cloud server.

I mean, I can’t say what that’ll do for your marriage (I hear trust is pretty big) but it’s better security than simply hiding a file.

Advanced Stuff

There’s also a registry hack that will show hidden files, folders and drives even if Hide empty drives in the Computer folder is checked in Folder Options.

Make sure you backup the registry before you make these changes because you don’t want to get yourself in a quandary that you can’t climb out of.

Click Start and enter

regedit

The Registry opens.  In the left pane, right click the top node named Computer and choose Export.  Save the export in a safe location and then proceed.  If you inadvertently delete something in the Registry you should be able to restore things by simply importing the copy you just exported.

How to backup the Registry in Windows 7

Now on with the fun stuff:

Keep expanding the Registry keys (the little folders) in the left pane using this path:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced

You can confirm the location by looking at the status bar along the bottom edge of the Registry Window
Windows 7 Registry Hack Showing Hidden Files

Now in the right pane, right click Hidden, choose Modify and enter 1 for the value.  Click OK.

Windows 7 Show Hidden Files Registry Hack Modify Values

Changes are immediate so you don’t need to reboot and can reverse them anytime by changing the value for Hidden back to 0.

If you scroll down the right pane you’ll see a Registry hive called SuperHidden.  That’s the setting for showing or hiding protected operating system files.  Changing the value to 1 or 0 shows or hides these protected files respectively.  In other words, 1 brings them to light and 0 send them back into the shadows.

Why do people show hidden files?

You might be wondering why anyone would ever want to do this?  Sometimes people can’t see certain files such as Adobe Photoshop Elements albums or sometimes people are trying to manually remove viruses and Trojans from their computers.  In these cases, the only option might be to show hidden files.

If you still can’t see hidden files after following my suggestions then make sure your Antivirus software isn’t protecting against these changes.

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