How To Cancel Drag And Drop Operations In Windows

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 10, 2011
Tutorials, Windows, Windows tips

Drag and drop operations can be very handy in Windows Explorer. You can use drag and drop to quickly copy or move files to another location, for instance to move files into a program window or another folder on the computer's hard drive. Sometimes though you may start a drag and drop operation only to realize that you have selected some files or folders that you do not want to copy or move.

I know quite a few users who drop the selection into the same folder in this case to cancel the drag and drop operation. Since the files and folders exist in that folder, the operation is canceled and no files are added, moved or copied. When I'm saying moved or copied I mean that you can select the type of operation after you have started dragging files around but before you dropped them in a new location.

If you drop them while holding down the Shift key on the computer keyboard you move the files, while dropping them without additional key will copy the files.

But it is not always this easy. Especially not if you mistakenly drop the selection on a folder in the Windows Explorer location. If you do that, files and folders get moved or copied into that folder.

The correct way of canceling a drag and drop operation is to click the right mouse button once you have started to drag the files and folders around.

Windows will automatically cancel the operation so that everything is returned to its initial state. This only works for drag and drop operations in Windows Explorer, and not in third party applications like Firefox or Google Chrome.

Do you use drag and drop in Windows Explorer? If so, did you ever encounter a situation where you had to cancel the operation?


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  1. kum said on September 2, 2022 at 6:42 am

    Is there a folder location (e.g. dumpster) where we can restore/recover files+folders which were included in a user-drag&drop win10 execution but user pressed cancelled before the drag&drop window completed?

  2. Elizabeth said on December 19, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    My problem is when I accidently drag and drop a folder and don’t realize it until later when I am trying to find it. I then have to search in all my folders for the missing one. Is there a way to turn off the drag and drop feature so I can’t accidently do it. I would rather copy and paste. That way I know what I have done.

  3. Anaconda said on July 18, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    Apparently you could cancel a drag & drop action in early Mac OS systems by using the menu bar.

    I assume this is similar to dropping the dragging objects to the task bar in Windows.

  4. Vivek said on September 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Or … drop the item in taskbar (or somewhere where it cannot be dropped)

  5. Mark said on September 11, 2011 at 10:34 am

    “Ctrl z” is good if you’ve already released mouse button.

  6. zach said on September 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

    actually the ESC key will work in most cases…. :)

  7. c said on September 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    just put the cursor in a section of the window until i see the unavailable symbol

  8. Virtualguy said on September 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    The other “right way” to cancel a drag & drop is to simply hit the escape (Esc) key. Also, hitting the escape key doesn’t result in an unwanted context menu, like you get when you right-click.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on September 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      You are right, hitting the Esc key works as well.

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