Keyboard Shortcuts 101: Ctrl, Shift, and Faster File Management

Keyboard shortcuts can be intimidating to novice users, but learning just a few can speed up the way you use Windows. This article I'll teach you a couple super-easy tips for managing your files using keyboard shortcuts.
Published: Feb 28, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: XP / Vista

If you've read many of my articles you might have noticed that I'm big on keyboard shortcuts. The mouse is a great invention, and I prefer having one to not having one, but a lot of tasks can be done much more quickly and easily with they keyboard than with the mouse, or by using the two in concert. In this article I'll show you a few of the simplest and most useful keyboard functions for dealing with files in Windows, beginning with Ctrl and Shift.

Select consecutive files with the Shift key

Here's a common scenario: You're browsing a folder full of files--say, documents or photos--and you want to select (highlight) some, but not all, of them to copy or move to another folder, or to delete them. The most intuitive way to do this is to click and drag the rectangular "lasso" around the files you want. This works quite well for up to one screen's worth of files, but if your folder has hundreds of files that span many "pages," it may be problematic to scroll from the first of the files you want to the last while dragging and without overshooting the last one. To the resue comes the Shift key. Here's how you use it:

  1. Click once (with the left mouse button) on the first of the files you want to select (and then release the button).
  2. Scroll down until the last of the files you want to select is visible.
  3. Hold down the Shift key (left or right, either will work) and click once on the last of the files you want.

Now your files are selected and you can copy or move them in the normal manner (see Right-click-drag below for a quick way to get more options while dragging).

Select or deselect individual files with the Ctrl key

Say you want to copy a bunch of files, but they aren't consecutive, so the above trick won't work. Instead of copying a few at a time, use the Ctrl key. The Ctrl key's function is to let you add files to or remove them from the current selection. Clicking on a file that wasn't already selected will select it, and clicking on a file that was already selected will un-select it.

As an example, suppose there are six files on the screen named A, B, C, D, E, F and you only want to copy files B, D, and E. You could do them one at a time, or you could do this: Click on file B to select it. Then hold down the Ctrl key and click on D to select it as well--now both B and D are selected. Then keep holding down the Ctrl key (if you've released it already you can just press it again) and click on file E to select it as well. Then you can copy them as a group.

This works in reverse as well. Say you have the same files--A through F--and you want to copy all of them except for C and D. First select all of them using the Shift key as above or by dragging the lasso around them (or Ctrl+A as described below). Then hold down the Ctrl key and click on files C and D--they will be un-selected, but the rest of the files will remain selected. While six files is a trivial example, this works for as many files as you want--dozens or hundreds or more.

The Ctrl key can be used along with the mouse to un-select multiple files with the lasso, and you can you can use it with the Shift key as well to un-select several consecutive files.

Select all files using Ctrl+A

It's not uncommon to need to select every single file in a folder for some operation, and it's not uncommon to see people do this by dragging the lasso around all the files. A faster way to do this is with the Select All function, which is hidden under the File menu in Windows XP and the Organize menu in Windows Vista. But that's not the fastest way--the fastest way is to hold down the Ctrl key and press the A key once. That will immediately select every file in the current folder. This is easy to remember--"A" is for "All." Once you've selected them all you can un-select ones you don't want with the Ctrl key as above.

Rename files with F2

The Function keys--F1 through F12--at the top of the keyboard often intimidate novice computer users, not least because it can be hard to remember which does what. One that's very useful to remember, though, is F2. When you have a single file selected (highlighted), pressing F2 is equivalent to going to the File (or Organize in Windows Vista) menu or right-clicking and choosing Rename. The fastest way to rename a file is to simply click on it, press F2, enter the new name, and then press enter.

You can also rename multiple files at once using F2. Simply select all of the files you want to rename and press F2. Then type in your new name and press enter. All of the files will be given the same name, but those after the first will be followed by a number in parentheses.

Right-click-drag for more options

This isn't a keyboard shortcut, but it's worth mentioning: When you drag a file or files in Window, the default operation is to copy them to wherever you drag them to (though this depends on the type of file). You can use the Cut and Paste options under the File or Organize menu (or Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V) to move them instead, but there is another way if you'd rather drag and drop: Instead of clicking and dragging with the left mouse button, use the right mouse button. Then when you drop the files a small menu will pop up giving you the option to copy or move the files or create a shortcut. I use this function a lot because then I always know exactly what will happen when I drag and drop files.

Beyond file management

I've written about these functions in the context of file management, but I'll share a secret with you: Most of these keyboard shortcuts also work in other programs. In Windows the F2 key is a universal "edit" shortcut: You can press F2 in Excel to modify the contents of a cell or in Outlook to rename a folder. Ctrl and Shift can be used to select and deselect multiple items in many programs, including on web forms with scrolling selection boxes or your Outlook inbox. I recommend trying them everywhere--you may be surprised where you'll find they work.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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