How to Find the Hidden Files on Your Phone or Computer

Your phones and computers hold more than you might realize. The files that you can view by default on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS are by no means everything that’s stored on those systems.

These hidden files are typically used by the operating system and the applications you’re running to store data that you don’t normally need access to—indeed, data that can interfere with the smooth running of your device if it’s edited in the wrong way or deleted.

User settings and app configurations are often saved as hidden files, for example. Programs need these files to run, but users don’t really need access to them. Hidden file caches are common as well, temporary stores of data to speed up software operations.

This guide comes with a warning then—you edit or delete hidden files from your devices at your own risk, and you really shouldn’t have to do anything with these files anyway.

Viewing them can be useful, though, in terms of troubleshooting problems you might be having with your phone or laptop, or for trying to work out exactly where all your digital storage space has got to. Here’s how to make these files visible.

Windows

Some Windows files are more hidden than others.

Screenshot: David Nield via Microsoft

You can view hidden files on Windows by opening up a File Explorer window, switching to the View tab on the ribbon bar, and checking the Hidden items box. Windows will remember your choice until you uncheck the box again, even if you close down File Explorer or reboot your computer.

Hidden files and folders appear with slightly faded out thumbnails in File Explorer, so they’re easy to see at a glance, and they’ll also show up in searches once you’ve made them visible. To make a file hidden, or to unhide a file, right-click on it and choose Properties and General: You’ll see the Hidden check box at the bottom.

There is another category of hidden file on Windows: Even with the Hidden items box checked, Windows still keeps key operating system files out of sight so they can’t be tampered with. To see these files, from the View tab in File Explorer click Options, open the View tab, and uncheck the Hide protected operating system files (Recommended) box in Advanced settings.

macOS

You can get to the hidden macOS Library folder from Finder.

Screenshot: David Nield via Apple

The easiest way to see hidden files on a computer running macOS is to use the Finder app. Open it up, then use the keyboard shortcut Cmd+Shift+. (that’s the period key) to unhide files and folders (or to hide them again). The setting stays in place until you change it (across reboots and so on).

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