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Using the Recycle Bin

The Windows Recycle Bin can't prevent every file management disaster, but it can help you recover if you accidentally delete a crucial file. When you use Windows Explorer to delete a local file, it doesn't actually disappear; instead, the Recycle Bin intercepts and stores it. The file remains there until you empty the Recycle Bin, or until the Recycle Bin reaches the maximum capacity you've established for it and begins tossing out the oldest deleted files to make room for new ones. As long as that file remains in the Recycle Bin, you can recover it intact.


Remember to verify that your files are actually being stored in the Recycle Bin by looking at the properties of that icon (addressed in more detail in the following section). In the Recycle Bin properties, you can specify whether to utilize the Recycle Bin as temporary undelete storage by choosing or not choosing the Remove Files Immediately When Deleted option.

The Recycle Bin is far from perfect, and every Windows user should be aware of the following serious limitations:

  • If you open a shared folder on any computer connected to yours over a network, files you delete in that folder are not saved in the Recycle Bin.

  • When you delete files on a floppy disk or other removable media, they're gone for good.

  • Using the DEL command from an MS-DOS Prompt window removes the files permanently, without storing safe copies in the Recycle Bin.

  • The Recycle Bin does not save a file or group of files that exceed the available disk space specified in the Recycle Bin properties. You receive no warning about the impending permanent loss of those older files or folders.

  • If you use the Save As dialog box in a program to save a file using the same name as an existing file, the existing file does not go into the Recycle Bin.

If these limitations disturb you, check out Norton Utilities (http://www.symantec.com/nu/), Lost and Found (http://www.powerquest.com/lostandfound/), or other third-party programs, which can expand the capabilities of the Recycle Bin to cover some of these situations.


To delete files completely without using the Recycle Bin, hold down the Shift key and press the Delete key, or right-click and choose Delete.


When you delete a folder, you also delete all files and subfolders within that folder. Check the contents carefully before you trash an entire folder.

Recovering a Deleted File

To recover a deleted file, open the Recycle Bin (you'll find its icon on the desktop). Browse the contents until you find the file or files for which you're looking. (Unfortunately, there is no way to view the contents of a deleted file without restoring it to a folder.) To return one or more files to their original locations, select the file icons, right-click, and choose Restore from the shortcut menu. To restore the file to another location, such as the Windows desktop, drag the icon or icons to the location where you want to restore them.

The default Web view of the Recycle Bin folder includes two buttons, as seen in Figure 3.10. The Empty Recycle Bin button does exactly what its name implies–it permanently deletes the contents of the Recycle Bin. One confirmation dialog box stands between you and the shredding of those files. The Restore All button also does exactly what the name implies–it moves every deleted file out of the Recycle Bin and puts it back in its original location.

Figure 3.10 Be extremely careful with the Restore All button, which can undo all of your careful file organizing work.


The Restore All button works without requiring confirmation from you. Inadvertently clicking this button can create an unbelievable mess if the Recycle Bin contains hundreds or thousands of files. Be extremely careful that you don't click this button by accident.

Changing the Size of the Recycle Bin

By default, the Recycle Bin sets aside 10% of the space on every local hard disk for storing deleted files. If your hard drive is nearly full, that might be more space than you want to reserve. On the other hand, if you have ample disk space, you might want to reserve more space for the Recycle Bin.


On systems with more than one drive, you can choose different Recycle Bin settings for each drive. For the drive that contains your data files, you might choose to set aside a larger-than-normal Recycle Bin; on a drive that contains system and temp files, you could probably get by with a much smaller Recycle Bin.

To adjust the Recycle Bin's appetite, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Recycle Bin icon and choose Properties from the shortcut menu. The Recycle Bin Properties dialog box appears (see Figure 3.11).

  2. Figure 3.11 The default setting is to use 10% of hard disk space for storing deleted files. Use this dialog box to adjust this setting.

  3. Each drive has its own tab in the dialog box. Use the option at the top of the Global tab to specify whether you want to configure the drives independently or use one setting for all drives.

  4. Use the slider control on the Global tab to change the percentage of disk space reserved for the Recycle Bin (adjust this setting on each of the dialog boxes for individual drives). You can choose any setting between 0% and 100%, but the most realistic settings are between 3% and 20%.

  5. To stop using the Recycle Bin completely, check the box labeled Do Not Move Files to the Recycle Bin.

  6. To avoid seeing the confirmation dialog box every time you move a file to the Recycle Bin, clear the checkmark from the box labeled Display Delete Confirmation Dialog.

  7. Click OK to save your changes and close the dialog box.

Emptying the Recycle Bin

Under normal circumstances, you should never need to delete files from the Recycle Bin. When the Recycle Bin is full and you delete a file, Windows automatically deletes the oldest files in the Recycle Bin to make room. If you run short of hard disk space–when installing a new program, for example–you might need to clear out the Recycle Bin to make room. To delete all files from the Recycle Bin, right-click its icon and choose Empty Recycle Bin.


The most efficient way to make extra disk space available is to use the Disk Cleanup tool. From the Start menu, choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup. Next, choose the drive you want to manage. Check the boxes to clean out unnecessary files from common temporary storage folders and from the Recycle Bin.


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