Windows’ Special Folders

A Special Folder

Microsoft Windows has so-called special folders. Things like the Control Panel, the Recycle Bin, and Internet Explorer’s Temporary Internet Files. They’re designed to act differently to standard folders in varying ways – this post focuses on the Recycle Bin, and the difficulties of copying one from another Windows machine.

There are different ways to create special folders, and honestly, I’d suggest not to unless you understand them. You could create one by ending a directory name with the CLSID (To quote Microsoft: “a globally unique identifier that identifies a COM class object”). On creation, that part of the filename would become completely invisible rendering the contents of the directory inaccessible without knowing the ‘true’ filename e.g.
SomeFolder is actually named SomeFolder.{d20ea4e1-3957-11d2-a40b-0c5020524152}.

The other method is the desktop.ini file that resides within a folder. If a folder is behaving unusually – this is generally the culprit and deleting it will restore normal folder operation.

Sadly it isn’t all that easy to delete said file from special folders, as it causes them to act in a way that denies attempts to access it through the standard file browser.

I came across this recently when backing up a Windows install from another hard drive. Having mirrored the C:\ drive, I wanted to remove the backed up files that were in the recycle bin permanently. I had witnessed hundreds of files copying over (taking up valuable space), but realised I was unable to delete them from the backup. Clicking into the …\backup\recycler\ folder left me looking at my own recycle bin.

Windows, in its infallible understanding had found a desktop.ini file declaring the folder a recycle bin, converted the folder into one, and in doing so – blocked me from accessing any of the files that were really in the folder. Useful.

To restore the access, you have multiple options:

  • 1. del recycler\desktop.ini
  • 2. notepad recycler\desktop.ini, and edit out the CLSID line
  • 3. Don’t take my word for it – Explore a bit:

The simplest way to do this is to use a non-standard file browsing utility, 7-zip for instance. This doesn’t react to desktop.ini files, leaving you free to explore without barriers.

Opening up 7-zip and navigating to the right place gives an ability to see what’s actually hidden in those folders, it also means you can deal with any desktop.ini files you find are stopping you using the folder naturally.

I’ve written this because it’s useful if you know that a special folder is denying you access to known files inside it, or if you want to check. I don’t recommend playing with ini files or special folders unless you understand them, and take no responsibility for any damage or loss of functionality you cause.

(This was a backup of an XP install, I believe it’s ‘$RECYCLE.BIN’ rather than ‘recycler’ these days.)

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