Hit the ‘show hidden files’ option in Windows Explorer and you are likely to find many instances of thumbs.db and desktop.ini files. What are they and why so many? Windows itself creates these to speed file operations and save settings for the future. Which is fine until things get out of hand.
Let’s start with thumbs.db. This is a cache file effectively – a “thumbnail database” containing thumbnail images of all the image files in a given folder. Windows Explorer creates this cache of thumbnail images so it can load up faster next time you open that folder to view the contents. It saves Windows explorer re-generating thumbnail images each time.
Desktop.ini files are not only hidden files, but classed as protected operating system files. You can only see them if you enable the “Show Protected Operating System Files” option in Windows Explorer. Normally .ini files are for initialisation or other configuration settings. Desktop.ini is a bit of both.
If the layout or settings for a folder are changed, a desktop.ini file is generated to save those changes so that the folder is opened in the same state the next time it is viewed. What confuses people is the name. Desktop.ini doesn’t apply solely to your Windows desktop layout – although the operating system treats the desktop as just another folder. The ‘desktop’ in desktop.ini is just a metaphor for any folder viewed in desktop mode through the graphical user interface.
Sometimes both thumbs.db and desktop.ini files start popping up in plain sight. This is usually because you changed the file properties of the contents so that hidden or system files are no longer marked as such. This can happen either when copying a folder with all its contents, or when doing a blanket properties change within a folder. Deleting them does no good as they are automatically generated by the Windows file manager whenever it looks into a folder and doesn’t find one.
They are completely harmless and usually tiny. The only way to stop seeing them is to reset the file properties to hidden and system or to turn off the viewing options in Windows Explorer.