Copying and Moving Files

by Eric Moore



Although copying and moving files and folders are relatively simple processes, it is my goal to explain the process in detail for all users from beginners to advanced power users.  The different methods of copying and moving, as well as some helpful tips and shortcuts will be discussed.


Conventions Used

These instructions apply to copying and moving both files and folders, so I may use the term "item" to generically refer to a file or folder. Using drag and drop and the context method are applicable to working with items displayed in Windows Explorer as well as items on the Windows desktop.

All instructions involving the mouse will assume the user has a right-handed mouse.  For a left-handed mouse, the user should left-click when the instructions say to right-click and vice versa.  If a specific button (left or right) is not specified, the left button is assumed.

The labels for menus and Windows dialog controls, such as buttons and tabs, are printed in italics (e.g., Send To). File names are displayed using the Courier New font (e.g., RESUME.DOC).

The labels for keys on the keyboard are printed in capital letters.  For example, the Control key would be indicated as CONTROL or CTRL.

Instructions for navigating menus will the summarized by listing the main menu and submenu options in italics, separated by small dots.  For example, to open the Windows Control Panel from the Start menu, you would click Start, click Settings, and then click Control Panel.  The notational shorthand I would use in this instance would be:  Start Settings Control Panel.


Using Drag and Drop

Probably the most popular method of copying and moving items is by dragging and dropping with the mouse. To drag and drop an item, left-click the item and continue holding down the button while dragging the mouse. When you do this you will see a shadowy image of the item move along with the mouse pointer. When you find the desired destination, move the pointer over the folder so it is highlighted and then release the mouse button. If you wish to cancel the operation, drag the mouse pointer to the title bar of the Windows Explorer window, the Windows toolbar at the bottom of your screen, or somewhere else until you see the mouse pointer change to a black circle with a slash through it. Then release the mouse button to cancel the operation.

Whether an item is copied or moved depends upon where you drag it. If the destination folder is on the same drive as the original folder, the item will be moved and the original will disappear from the original folder. If the destination folder is on a different drive, the item will be copied and the original will remain where it is. A key to telling the difference between whether the item will be moved or copied is to note the mouse pointer. If the pointer includes a small plus sign inside a square box, then the item will be copied (See Figure 1).

FIGURE 1: Dragging the mouse to copy a file

If no plus sign appears, then the item will be moved (See Figure 2).

FIGURE 2: Dragging the mouse to move a file

You may override the default behavior by using the keyboard while dragging and dropping the file. If you wish to copy the item rather than move it, hold down the CONTROL key. If you wish to move the item rather than copy it, hold down the SHIFT key. In either case you should see the mouse pointer change to reflect whether the item will be copied or moved.


Using the Context and Edit Menus

Another way to copy and move items is by using either the context menu or the Edit menu. To use the context menu, right-click the item and select Copy if you wish to copy the item, or Cut if you wish to move the item (See Figure 3).

FIGURE 3: Using the context menu to copy a file

The next step is to open the folder where you wish to copy/move the item and then right-click anywhere inside the folder window and select Paste from the context menu.

You may also do the same by first selecting either Edit Copy or Edit Cut from the Windows Explorer menu (See Figure 4). Then open the destination folder and select Edit Paste to copy/move the item to the new folder.

FIGURE 4: Using the Edit menu to move a file

In addition to copying an item to a new folder, you may also create a duplicate copy in the same folder as the original. You may do so by either using the menus as described above, or by holding down the SHIFT key while dragging the item to an empty space in the same folder window as the original (See Figure 5). Windows will give the new item the same name as the original item, beginning with Copy of. So for example, if you create a duplicate of a file named Letter.doc, the new file will be named Copy of Letter.doc. This is a good tip if you wish to make changes to a file but wish to retain an earlier revision.

FIGURE 5: Using the mouse to create a duplicate file in the same folder as the original


Using Hotkeys

In addition to using the mouse and menus, you may also use keyboard shortcuts as a quick way to copy and move items. The keys that you may use are:

Hotkey Action
CTRL+C Prepare the file to be copied
CTRL+X Prepare the file to be moved
CTRL+V Paste the file in the new location

As an example for moving a file, do the following:

  1. Click once on the file to highlight it.

  2. Hold down the CONTROL key while pressing the X key on your keyboard.

  3. Open a window displaying the folder where you wish to move the file.

  4. Hold down the CONTROL key while pressing the V key on your keyboard.

If you wish to cancel the operation after pressing CTRL+C or CTRL+X, press the ESC key.


Using the Send To Menu

A quick way to copy or move an item to another location is to use Send To. If you right-click an item and select Send To from the context menu, you will see a list of destinations to send the file to (See Figure 6). When Windows is installed on your system, it creates a destination for your floppy drive. Depending on your Windows installation, you may see other drives and folders listed as well.

FIGURE 6: Using the context menu to copy a file to a floppy disk

You may create a new destination for the Send To menu as follows:

  1. Right-click the drive or folder that you would like to add to the list of destinations and select Copy (See Figure 7).

  2. Open the folder, C:\Windows\SendTo, right-click anywhere inside the folder and select Paste Shortcut from the context menu (See Figure 8). You may wish to rename the new shortcut to something meaningful to you.

FIGURE 7: Marking a folder to be copied


FIGURE 8: Pasting a shortcut of the folder in the Windows SendTo folder

Once you have pasted the shortcut, you may then use the new destination by right-clicking an item, selecting Send To, and then clicking the icon for the new destination you just created (See Figure 9).

FIGURE 9: Using the new Send To destination to copy a file to D:\MY PROJECTS


Copying and Moving Multiple Items

A group of files may be selected a number of ways through Windows Explorer or on the Windows desktop:

  1. A series of files may be selected by left-clicking the first file name and then holding down the SHIFT key while left-clicking the last file name.  Windows will then highlight all files in between the first and last.

  2. Individual files may be selected one-by-one by holding down the CONTROL key while left-clicking each file name.

  3. A group of files may be selected by holding down the SHIFT key and the left mouse button while dragging the mouse.  This will draw a dotted rectangular border that you can use to "lasso" the files to be selected.


Undoing a Copy or Move

If you wish to undo a copy or move, you may immediately do so through Windows Explorer by selecting Edit Undo Copy or Edit Undo Move, or by pressing CTRL+Z. Be sure to note what the Undo option will do, as it also tracks other file operations such as renaming and deleting items.