How To Find A File You Just Saved That’s Now Missing

How To Find A File You Just Saved That’s Now Missing
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If you open an attachment from within your email program and then save it, the file may seem to have disappeared. Similarly, files you download from the web can be hard to find if you don’t know where the default download location is. This guide is here to help new computer users retrieve those missing files.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

Default Locations for Web Downloads

When downloading files from your browser, they’ll typically be saved in a “Downloads” folder on your computer (or, in some cases, your Desktop, depending on your setup).

  • On Windows XP, it’s under \Documents and Settings\[username] \My Documents\Downloads
  • Vista and Windows 7, the path is \Users\[username] \Downloads
  • For Mac, the full path is /Users/[username] /Downloads
  • On Linux it’s home\[username] \Downloads

Here’s how to change the default download location (just don’t save everything to your desktop haphazardly like in the image at the top of this article!):

Chrome: Go to the wrench icon on the browser tool bar and select “Options” (or “Preferences” on Mac). Click the “Under the Hood” tab and find the “Downloads” section where you can click the “Change” button to select where your files will be saved for each download, or you can choose to be prompted for a location on a case-by-case basis by checking “Ask where to save each file before downloading.”

Firefox: Go to Tools then “Options…” (or on Mac, Firefox, then “Preferences”) and under the General tab you’ll find the option to change where the downloads are saved. As with Chrome, you can select to always be asked where to save files.

Internet Explorer: In IE9, click the gear icon in the toolbar then “View downloads.” At the bottom of the downloads window is an “Options” button. Click that and you can change the default download location.

Safari: Click on Safari then “Preferences…” and under the General tab, click the drop down menu beside “Save downloaded files to:” to choose a different folder.

Files Opened from Email Programs

Depending on your email client and operating system, opening and saving attachments directly from the email could place them in a temporary folder that’s hard to find. Outlook is notorious for this, though Office 2010 seems to have cleaned up much of this problem (e.g., opening a Word file attached in an email and then clicking Save will actually prompt you for the folder where you want to store it).

If you can’t find a file attachment, however, one thing you can do is search for the file. Windows Vista and 7 have pretty good search features. Enter part of the file name in the search input box at the top of Window Explorer.

Another thing you can do to find the temporary folder is go back to Outlook, for example, and open up another attachment. When you go to the File > Save as… menu, you’ll be shown the temporary folder location Outlook is currently using for the attachments and will likely find your missing file there (note: Outlook changes these randomly generated folders. In my example, opening a zipped file from within an email put it in Melanie > AppData > Local > Microsoft > Windows > Temporary Internet Files > Content.Outlook > 9PDH6FAT. Tomorrow that folder may be different).

  • If you use Picasa and open a picture from Outlook, you could also right-click on the picture and choose “Locate on disk” which will bring you to the temporary folder.

To avoid this problem in the future, instead of opening attachments directly from the email, right-click on the attachment and choose to “Save As” the file so you can select where you want the file saved (e.g., your Documents or Pictures folder). Then open the file from Windows Explorer instead.


  • I had this incredibly frustrating issue at work the other day. The problem here is, that my work place blocks access to a lot of areas of the computer and I was not able to locate the file at all. Mind you, I had changed information in it, before saving it, and it was essential I find it again. A 20 minute call to IT did not result in success either and I ended up having to chase down people for the information I lost as a result.

    • Andrew, a user of mine had this problem and I discovered what happened.

      We found the attachment (a Word document) in her /User/$username/Cache/TemporaryFiles/Outlook Temp folder and saved it to a safe location. As soon as we quit Outlook, ALL FILES AND DIRECTORIES within the Outlook Temp folder were wiped out. If this situation happens to you again, YOU CANNOT QUIT OUTLOOK before discovering them, or you will lose those files forever.

  • For Windows users: find and download Everything (free). It’s a lightning-quick search tool that’ll knock yer socks off. Mac users not happy with Spotlight should try HoudahSpot (not free but pretty worth its relatively low price).

    Andrew, I came here hoping for a way to force Outlook to save attachments someplace more sensible. Freaking MS and their buried “temp” folders…

  • this is gibberish, i know nothing about computers. i have a windows 7 computer and i need a file opened under an email. i have no idea how to follow any of your steps.

  • On the Mac, you can make use of the underlying UNIX operating system and its wildcard feature. Open a Terminal or X11 window and from your home directory type: ls -l */*Temp . After that doesn’t work, look a level deeper with ls -l */*/*Temp . OK, that didn’t find anything either. Success for me came with ls -l */*/*/*Temp , which then listed the files in my Outlook Temp directory. You can then use: cp */*/*/*Temp/filename Desktop , for example, to copy the file to your Desktop. If you are fortunate, as I was, to have only one directory of the form */*/*/*Temp , you can go to it with: cd */*/*/*Temp . When you then issue a pwd command, you’ll get the full path, which on my Mac was: Users/{myusername}/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/Outlook Temp . Incidentally, I am running SnowLeopard and Office2011 for Mac.

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