Q. I recently performed a clean install of Win10. I decided to use a second drive to store all my Windows libraries. I used Windows File Explorer to move all libraries from C:\users\user-profile\library-name to L:\library-name. There’s no longer any user content in C:\users\user-profile\library-name.
But now File Explorer shows two copies of each library folder: the new folders on L: plus the original (now empty) locations, each with a line through it.
When I delete the empty folders, Windows later recreates them.
Would you please help me get rid of the unwanted library folder icons?
A. This is a minor problem that’s easily fixed. When it comes to moving default folders, problems can be much, much worse than this!
Your issue is caused by two separate factors.
The first is simply procedural — the top-level library folders shown in File Explorer aren’t actual folders, so they require special handling.
The more significant issue involves the whole rationale for moving libraries (or any default system folder) in the first place.
Let’s take both issues in sequence.
The Windows Library is a two-part system: It’s made up of virtual folders that link to real content that’s stored elsewhere.
The standard, top-level folders — Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. — shown in File Explorer’s Libraries section (Figure 1) are all virtual. They contain symlinks to actual content that resides elsewhere.
(Note: If you can’t see Libraries in File Explorer, see the related Microsoft Support page.)
A symlink is a special class of local shortcut. Acting somewhat like a hyperlink on the Web, it transparently connects a virtual file or folder to a real file or residing anywhere on your system — on any partition or drive, local or networked (for more info, see the MSDN symlink info page.)
When you first set up Windows, the OS automatically creates default content folders (Documents, Music, Pictures, etc.) with symlinks to the associated Library folder. (These are the folders that Keith referred to as C:\users\user-profile\library-name.)
By default, Windows automatically stores content types it recognizes, such as DOCX, JPG, MP3, and so forth, in these predefined folders. Those files then show up in the associated, virtual, top-level Library folder. This default setup ensures that Libraries can work from first boot, with no manual user setup needed.
If you wish to move the contents of a default Library folder (e.g., the content inside C:\users\user-profile\library-name\) to a new location, you certainly may do so. I’ll link to articles with more how-to information in a moment, but here’s the quick version:
Leave the default content folder in place. Create a new folder with a new and unique name in the location of your choice (for example, at L:\new-library-name). Copy/move/add the files you want to the new folder and then connect it (using symlinks) to a library folder — either an existing, top-level folder (Documents, Pictures, Music, etc.) or an entirely new top-level folder with the name of your choice.
This process might be unfamiliar to you, but it’s not hard.
That gives you the how. Now here’s the second issue: Why mess around with default folders at all?
Sure, Windows lets you put almost any folder in almost any location. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
The practice of system-folder relocation dates back to the earliest days of Windows when data-eating crashes, hangs, and unexpected shutdowns were a routine hazard. In that environment, it made some sense to get your valuable data off the C: drive and out of harm’s way.
Moreover, drives were small; many PC owners needed to add additional drives, and they scattered default folders to wherever there was room.
But with today’s Windows, on current hardware, those reasons typically no longer pertain. File-scrambling OS crashes are now extremely uncommon, and what risks remain can be fully addressed through built-in mechanisms.
As for disk space, today’s hard drives are dirt cheap and gigantic, compared to those in early Windows systems. And almost any system (new or old) can be equipped with inexpensive secondary storage, when needed. If, for example, space gets tight on drive C:, you can move the contents of a default Library folder to an external drive and leave the original folder in place. This way, you get the benefits of elbow room without breaking anything.
In short, I believe that moving default folders is a solution to problems that mostly no longer exist.
Worse, altering the default system folders could create new problems on an otherwise-healthy system. Keith was lucky in encountering only a minor problem; other readers weren’t so lucky.
And possibly more trouble is on the horizon. As Windows evolves and becomes increasingly self-maintaining, changing default folders adds needless risk and complication to Windows’ automatic updates, backups, restores, indexing, cloud-syncing, and so on. It’s far simpler and more certain to leave default folders alone. In other words, let Windows store and recover data in the places it’s pre-wired to use.
For those reasons, I’ve argued, for some time now, against the practice of moving default folders. Consider altering Windows’ default folders only after you’ve investigated and rejected all other options.
Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter,. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.