How to force Windows to copy, move or create file shortcuts

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 9, 2012
Tutorials, Windows, Windows tips

You can use Windows Explorer to move and copy files, or create file shortcuts, for instance by right-clicking selected files and folders and selecting the option from the context menu that pops up. If you prefer drag and drop operations, you may have noticed that Windows Explorer sometimes moves files, sometimes copies them, and sometimes creates file shortcuts instead.

The source and target locations determine whether dragged and dropped files get moved, copied, or if a file shortcut is created instead.Moving means that files are moved from one location to another, so that the file is only available in the new location after the operation. Copying on the other hand creates a copy of the file and places that in the selected new location. File shortcuts finally point to files but do not alter them or their location in any way. he following rules apply:

  • Files are moved if you drag and drop the files into another location on the same partition. If you drag and drop files from c:\users\downloads\ to c:\users\my pictures\ you will notice that they are moved to the new location so that the files are only available in that location after the operation.
  • Files are copied if you drag and drop them to a location on another partition. If you drag and drop the c:\users\downloads\ files to d:\downloads\, you will notice that they are copied to the new location so that the original files remain in the downloads directory on the c: drive.
  • If you drag and drop files to the start menu or the taskbar, a file shortcut is created instead pointing to the original file location.

You can force copy, move and shortcut operations with the help of shortcuts:

  • Hold down Shift to move files regardless of destination. You can use it to move files to another drive.
  • Hold down Ctrl to copy a file regardless of destination.
  • Hold down Alt to create a shortcut to the selected file

Windows Explorer displays the selected operation in an overlay. This is done immediately if you use one of the shortcut keys, or once you drag the selected files over a new directory on the system.

move copy shortcuts windows explorer

Have another tip on how to handle file operations in Windows Explorer? Let me know about it in the comments below.


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  1. Miguel said on November 11, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Just read this article about using the Ctrl and Shift keys to force copy and move operations while using drag and drop… I used those a lot back in the old days of the “File Manager” on Windows 3.1 :D

    Anyway, didn’t know that Alt could be used to create a shortcut. Thanks :)

  2. Ken Saunders said on November 11, 2012 at 2:40 am

    The shortcuts are helpful, thanks.
    I prefer these over drag and drop because it’s it’s quicker.

  3. Loic said on November 9, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    You can drag drop a file with right click. It will open a menu where you can choose to copy, move or create shorcut.

  4. Q said on November 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Martin, Shift + Ctrl also can be used to create a shortcut. I prefer Shift + Ctrl to Alt because it is more usable (due to conflicts of other behaviors (such as with menus) that occur when the Alt key is depressed).

    Also, by default (can be changed in the Windows Registry), for Windows 2000/XP/Server 2003, when a file on an NTFS partition is moved to an NTFS partition destination, its permissions are also “moved” (set to match the original permissions).

    I do not recall whether the move/copy/create shortcut behavior between partitions can be adjusted via Windows Registry.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      Great tips, thanks.

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