Windows 7 Tip of the Week
Smarter File Copying

Tip date: April 2, 2010
Tipster: Nick Shoust

If you've been a Windows user for a long time, you probably know that drag and drop file/folder copy operations differ somewhat depending on the locations of the source (where the files are coming from) and target (where the files are going to). So, for example, if you were to drag a file or folder from one location to another, and both locations were on the same hard drive or partition, Windows would move the file (and not create a copy of the file at the target location). However, if you drag and drop a file between two partitions (or hard drives), or to a network location, the default action is to copy that file. That is, when the file operation was complete, there would be a copy at the source and a copy at the target.

Note: For purposes of this discussion, we're going to treat a single files and folders as a single entity. It doesn't matter what you're copying or moving; the end result is the same.


Understanding default file copy operation behaviors is important. But so is understanding how you can work around these defaults to ensure that you always do what you mean to do. There are many ways to do so, including interesting Cut/Copy/Paste options that mimic how we work with documents. But for purposes of this tip, let's stick with methods that work with drag and drop.

Force copy. To copy a file regardless of the source and target destination, hold down the CTRL key while you drag and drop.

Force move. To move a file regardless of the source and target destination, hold down the SHIFT key while you drag and drop.

Force a create shortcut. To always create a shortcut to the source file, hold down CTRL + SHIFT while you drag and drop.

To always get a choice. This is my favorite option, and is actually the way I drag and drop files most often, in order to be sure it does what I want. To get a pop-up menu of file operation choices, drag with the right mouse button instead. When you release the file at the target location, you'll see the following context menu appear, with Copy to, Move to, and Create shortcuts here choices. Perfect!

Windows 7 Tip of the Week