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How To Read Hidden Folders In Windows XP

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/8/2009

When you open a folder on your computer, you might not be seeing everything that is in there. Some files and folders are hidden from view for a variety of reasons. Here's how to see everything you've got.

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    Just because you don't see something doesn't always mean that it's not there. In Windows XP, certain objects are hidden from the normal folder display. Many of these are things like system files and other things that the average user will never have any need to see or alter. More advanced users may find that some of these files and folders need to be tweaked or even removed in order to accomplish certain tasks, such as those that change the way that Windows itself works. Whichever category you're in, there are just a few simple steps to looking at hidden items on your machine.

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    Two avenues

    To enable viewing of hidden files and folders, there are two options for access.

    The first is by going to the Start menu and opening Control Panel (this is in the Settings sub-menu for those using the Classic Start menu). Once there, find Folder Options on the list and open it. In the pop-up window that appears, select the View tab. Under the heading of Advanced Settings, there is a clickable circle about halfway down to Show Hidden Files and Folders.

    This list of options can also be brought up through any Windows Explorer window. Simply go to the Tools menu and select Folder Options. You will receive the same pop-up window, so just follow the same steps from there.

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    Extra option

    Even after doing this, not every single hidden file is now available for viewing. Within the options list that allowed you to see hidden folders is yet another advanced option that reveals hidden files. It is two steps below, marked as Show Protected Operating System Files. Right by the option itself is a note that Windows recommends not revealing these files. Unless you're a very advanced user, with specific training, it's best to follow this suggestion. Even small changes in certain critical system files can severely affect your computer - even make it stop working entirely.

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    If it doesn't work

    In order to change the way that folders are displayed, you need the correct permissions. Make sure you have Administrator privileges on your computer and try again. Another problem that sometimes comes up is a viral one. The easiest way to fix this is to just run your own anti-virus checks and repairs, then try again. If it still doesn't work, then you'll have to fix it yourself.

    From the Start menu, select Run and type "regedit" into the window that appears. You will then get a window with a file tree on the left. Expand the tree in the following order:

    2. Software
    3. Microsoft
    4. Windows
    5. Current Version
    6. Explorer
    7. Advanced

    From there, simply double-click Hidden on the right, and set the value to 1. This will allow you to once again change the Folder Options and reveal those hidden files.