How to find lost files in Windows XP

It can be frustrating trying to find files on your computer. This article will explain how to locate missing files if you’re using Windows XP.

Question: I downloaded several files but now I can’t find them on my computer. Can you help? —D.S.

Answer: There’s a search function in Windows XP that we’re going to use to locate your files. Of course, the file doesn’t have to be a downloaded file to use this technique — you can use it to locate any file on your system.

If you have an older operating system like Windows 95/98 or ME, you can use the search function in a similar manner, but the procedure is not the same as the instructions below. Regardless, you can get started by clicking Start, then Search or Find (depending on which version of Windows you’re running), and then exploring the various options.

Here are the detailed search instructions for Windows XP owners:

  1. First, click the Start button (bottom left of your screen), then Search, then select For Files or Folders. A window will open with a details box on the left hand side that looks like this: (See picture of “Search box from Windows XP”)
  2. Next, click on the green arrow next to All files and folders unless you know specifically what type of file you’re looking for. If you have downloaded a picture, a music file or video, or a document such as a Word file or PDF, click on the specific search option item that relates to that kind of file.
  3. A new box will open. Type in all or part of the file name as you’re sure of in the top field that says: All or part of the file name. If the file was called “”, then type it in. If you don’t remember, type in part of the name such as paint. The less specific you are, the more likely that you’ll find all kinds of files like that that are already on your system. The more specific you are, the more restricted your results will be.
    As an option, if you don’t remember/know any part of the file name, but you know or can guess a word or phrase that would be in it, type that into the box marked A word or phrase in the file. Generally speaking, it’s better to use that ption only if you have no idea of even part of the file name, since searching the contents of every file for a specific word or phrase can take your computer quite a bit more time than looking only at file names. Still, it can be a life-saver if youre drawing a blank on the file name.
  4. Then, in the Look in: field, leave your “C drive” selected unless you know for certain that the file is on another another drive. If you want to search all drives including CD drives and a floppy drive (if you have one), click the drop down box and select My Computer.
  5. Finally, click the Search button. All the files that match your search criteria will appear on the right side of the Search window.

If you do not know the name or contents of the file, another way to search for your missing file is to leave the first two search fields blank and click When was it modified?. Click Specify dates and, in the pulldown box, choose Created date if this is a file newly downloaded (or created by you) or choose Modified Date if you know the date of the last time you accessed the file. The gray boxes will become white and display today’s date in both the From and To boxes. Next, click the Search button. The program will find all the new files created today. There will probably be a few if you have been using the computer today so hopefully you will recognize the downloaded file that is missing.

UPDATE: Since this article was originally written, there have been many solutions to searching added by software companies.

A free solution that I particularly like is Google Desktop Search and another free one TechnologyTips uses is Copernic Desktop Search.

If you want to use a professional version of a desktop search, I suggest Disk Search Assistant .