How to copy files in Windows

Submitted by Andy on Thu, 18/07/2019 - 13:43
Man standing next to large foler of documents

In this guide I will show you different ways to copy files between folders (or drives). I will also cover using removable drives e.g. flash drives or memory cards.

This guide assumes that you have a basic understanding of using a Windows 10 computer. The instructions will be similar for other systems.

You will need to know the following terms:

  • Mouse
  • Keyboard
  • Menu
  • Ribbon (toolbar)
  • File Explorer
  • Window

You also need to know the following actions:

  • Start the computer
  • Sign in
  • Open applications
  • Basic keyboard use (using key combinations)
  • Basic mouse skills (clicking, dragging, right clicking and double clicking)

If you are not familiar with these concepts you should learn them before continuing. There are free or inexpensive courses available to guide you through the basics.

Before you start you will need to start and sign in to the computer.

Step 1 - Insert removable drive (optional)

If you are copying files from removable media e.g. a memory card, flash (USB) drive or optical disk you need to insert the drive or media before you start.

The exact instructions depend of the type of media being used. Once the removable media has been inserted Windows should notify you that the new drive has been added. I may give you the option to open File Explorer. Letting it open File Explorer will save you time in the next step.

Step 2 - Open File Explorer

You should mow you have the source drive and destination folders ready. The tools that you are going to use for copying files is the Windows 10 File explorer. If you inserted removable media you may already have File Explorer open.

To open File Explorer (single left) click the File Explorer icon on the taskbar.

File Explorer on the taskbar

If the File Explorer icon isn't on the taskbar it can be opened from the start menu. It is located in the Windows System folder in the start menu.

You can work with a single File Explorer window open. However it can be easier with 2 windows open. One opened on the source folder the other showing the destination.

File explorer windows open

Step 3 - Select the files to copy

Method 1 (mouse only)

To select 1 item

To select single item (single left) click on the item to be selected.

To select multiple items

To select multiple items:

  • Move the mouse pointer just outside the items you want to select
  • (left) click and continue to hold the mouse down
  • drag the mouse across the items so they become highlighted
  • let go of the mouse button
  • check that all the required items a still selected

The animation below shows this type of selection in action.

Selecting multiple items using a mouse only.

Method 2 (mouse and keyboard)

While selecting items with the mouse only is possible it can be very inefficient and fiddly. Thank fully there are some keyboard shortcuts / actions that can make selecting multiple items easier.

Action Keyboard /mouse combination Description
Select all Ctrl + a Press and hold the "Ctrl" key while pressing the "a" key. Release the "a" key then the "Ctrl" key.
Select a range of items Shift click Click to select the first item required. Press and hold the "Shift" key then click on the last item in the required range. Now release the "Shift" key.
Select multiple items Ctrl click Click to select the first item required. Press and hold the "Ctrl" key then click on the next required item. Continue to hold the "Ctrl" key and repeat the previous step as required. Now release the "Ctrl" key.


Step 4 - Copy or move the files

Method 1 (using menus /ribbon)

This first method is probably the easiest for beginners. It uses the File Explorer ribbon as shown below.

File explorer ribbon

With the files selected in you source folder (single left) click the "Copy" button on the ribbon. If you want move the files you should click the "Cut" button instead of copy.

Now open your destination folder and (single left) click the "Paste" button. You files will now be copied (or moved) to the destination folder.

You might have noticed that there are "Move to" and "Copy to" buttons on the ribbon. These buttons allow you achieve the same actions in a different way. When you (single left) click the the "Copy to" button a list will drop down giving you the option to copy files to standard locations. At the bottom of the list there is a "Choose location ..." option. Clicking "Choose location ..." option will open up a "Copy items.." dialog that you can use to navigate to the destination folder.

Method 2 (drag and drop)

You can copy items between folders without using the buttons on the File explorer ribbon (too/bar). First make sure you can see both the source and destination folders in File explorer.

To copy the files (single left) click inside your selection of files and hold the mouse button down. Make sure all the items you selected are still selected. Now drag the mouse so the file icons are in (or on) the destination folder. let go of the left mouse button to drop the files in the destination. If you are new to using a computer this can take some practice. If you drag and drop between folders on the same drive you may find that Windows will move the files rather than copy them.

If you want to be be sure the files are copied you can use the keyboard while dragging the files.

Action Keyboard combination Description
Copy Ctrl Press and hold the "Ctrl" key while dragging the files. Let go of the left mouse button then the "Ctrl" key.
Move Shift Press and hold the "Shift" key while dragging the files. Let go of the left mouse button then the "Shift" key.

Method 3 (keyboard)

Using the keyboard to copy files is often the quickest and most reliable way. With the files selected in the source folder copy (or cut) the files using Ctrl + c (Ctrl + x for cut). Navigate to the destination folder and paste the files (Ctrl + v). The table below shows the keyboard combinations.

Action Keyboard combination Description
Copy Ctrl + c Press and hold the "Ctrl" key while pressing the "c" key. Release the "c" key then the "Ctrl" key.
Cut (copy then remove) Ctrl + x Press and hold the "Ctrl" key while pressing the "x" key. Release the "x" key then the "Ctrl" key
Paste Ctrl + v Press and hold the "Ctrl" key while pressing the "v" key. Release the "v" key then the "Ctrl" key

Step 5 - Remove the drive (optional)

If you inserted removable media you will eject the media. For optical media like CDs or DVDs you can just press the eject button on the drive. Alternatively you can click the eject icon next to the drive letter in the File Explorer window.

If you are using a USB drive you will need to safely eject the drive. The most reliable method is to click the "Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon" on the task bar.

Safely remove hardware button

To eject the media click on the name of the drive (or device) you wish to eject.

Safely eject removable drive

After a few seconds you should see a notification like the one below. The notification tells you that you can now safely remove the drive.

Drive safe to remove notification

If the drive is still in use you will get a notification that the drive is in use and you should try again. If you get this notification you should close all the File Explorer windows and wait a few seconds before trying the safe removal procedure again.