Why does the Links folder keep re-creating itself?


Those of you who dislike the Links folder have probably tried to delete it, only to discover that it keeps coming back. Why is that?

This is Internet Explorer trying to do some auto-repair. It noticed that the Links folder is missing, so it figures, "Gosh, it must be corrupted! I'd better fix the problem by creating a replacement."

People complain that computers can't perform self-repair, and then when the software tries to perform self-repair, they get mad. "But I wanted it to stay broken." You can't win.

The way to indicate, "Yes, I know about the Links folder, but I don't want to use it" is to hide it.

This is extraordinarily similar to a problem some people have with Device Manager. They don't want Windows to use a particular device, so they delete it. And then it gets re-detected and added back.

Because when you delete the device, you're saying, "Forget everything you know about this device." Then when it gets re-detected, Windows says, "Gosh, here's a device I've never seen before! The user must have bought it recently. Let me add it to the device tree so the user can use it."

In other words, Windows behaves the way it does because the alternative is even worse: You buy a device, plug it in, and nothing happens.

If you have a device that you don't want Windows to use, go into the Device Manager and Disable it rather than deleting it. This means, "Yes, I know about this device, but I don't want to use it."

Comments (49)
  1. Cooney says:

    People complain that computers can’t perform self-repair, and then when the software tries to perform self-repair, they get mad. "But I wanted it to stay broken." You can’t win.

    Sure you can – offer the option of not using the links folder. If the folder keeps getting nuked, pop up a dialog saying ‘You appear to have chain-nuked the links folder. Would you like me to stop creating it?’

  2. Anon says:

    "You buy a device, plug it in, and nothing happens"

    This happens a lot in OSX.

    It must be following the old Unix idiom of staying quiet until something fails :)

  3. Jack Mathews says:

    Don’t auto repair things that don’t need repairing.

    Change the device manager so that deleting a device isn’t easy if it’ll just be redetected. Put up a warning saying "hey, deleting this device won’t do what you want. What you really want is to disable it."

    If the auto repairs do stupid, counter intuitive things, then fix them to be intuitive rather than blaming the people for not liking the system. If the people don’t get it or don’t like it, Windows has failed. Not the people.

  4. mike roome says:

    personally, i always just abused the links folder as a set of secondary program launcher menus on my taskbar (since the folders open as menus when you click on them, rather than opening the folder in explorer, which is what folders in normal explorer toolbars do (unless you hold the ctrl key down, in which case they open as menus… not that that fact is documented anywhere, afaict…)).

  5. Mozilla Firefox doesn’t let you delete its equivalent of the Links folder (which is where the bookmarks appearing on the toolbar are stored). Its folder is more appropriately named "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder" by default though to express what it is for. It also prevents you from deleting it in the first place.

    The annoying thing about Internet Explorer’s behavior is that it lets you delete it in the first place giving the impression that it can be removed. Another thing to add to the bad usability list.

  6. Luke Skywalker says:

    The My Pictures folder is also somehow "hardcoded" into Windows. If you delete the folder, it keeps coming back.

  7. Tim Robinson says:

    Mozilla Firefox doesn’t let you delete its equivalent of the Links folder

    How can it possibly do this? The user will always be able to delete folders from their hard disk at will, unless there is some restriction imposed by the administrator (and even then, the administrator will be able to do it).

  8. Dworkin says:

    Just disable the vile WFP and nuke the entirety of IE. Use Firefox or somesuch instead. So you have no folder history, who cares?

  9. sweavo says:

    until XP "plug in a bit of hardware and nothing happens" would have been preferable to what actually did go on. Since there is already an "add new hardware" menu option, this was not a biggy. Either way is fine, but it’s painful for the user when there’s a change of paradigm (how many people here cursed PnP-ISA back in the day and cried ‘I knew where I was with jumpers!’?) … it’s doubly painful when it’s not clear what the paradigm is. The UI needs to present a consistent interface. Put control either with the browser: when the users delete the links folder they get "this is a special folder and will be re-created if you run IE again" or with the user: when IE is run it says "The folder containing your links was deleted. Do you want to re-create it? Yes / No"

  10. "Change the device manager so that deleting a device isn’t easy if it’ll just be redetected. Put up a warning saying "hey, deleting this device won’t do what you want. What you really want is to disable it.""

    Actually this isn’t correct. Deleting a device and letting Windows reinstall it can be a very useful troubleshooting method if you have faulty drivers, etc. So you do actually want to delete and not disable it. Popping up a message would be as annoying as Clippy in Word. Microsoft tried to go that "guess what people want to do" route before and it failed.

  11. Tom Foulkes says:

    > Mozilla Firefox doesn’t let you delete its equivalent of the Links folder

    >How can it possibly do this?

    Mozilla’s bookmarks are not stored as shortcuts in the filesystem. They are, instead, stored as a single HTML (!) document in the profile directory.

    Regardless of this, I think it’s quite clear that both IE and Mozilla could prevent their Links "folder" from being deleted by making it special; don’t actually store that it exists, just assume it does. The data has to live somewhere, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily have to have a relationship with the Favorites/Bookmarks storage, and deleting the contents doesn’t necessarily have to make the folder itself go away. That was just a design decision by the IE developers.

  12. Raymond Chen says:

    I find it ironic that people’s suggested solutions are "Add more annoying dialogs that nobody will bother reading"…

  13. Merle says:

    "My Photos" is not only asinine, but irritating. I’ve noticed other atrocities like "My Music Files" under more recent MS OSes.

    I got rid of "My Documents" by mapping that to C:Temp, but "My Photos" keeps appearing.

    Is there any way to get rid of that?

  14. Jack Mathews says:

    Well, it’s also not our full time jobs to come up with solutions. Want some dialog-less solutions?

    For the Links folder, don’t recreate it unless someone tries to drag a link to the Links toolbar.

    For the device manager, don’t let a device get deleted until it’s disabled. When a device is enabled, disable shows up, delete (or uninstall) doesn’t. Once it’s disabled, you can uninstall it if you still need to.

  15. The biggest problem with the Links toolbar is that I always delete the defaults and organize my personal links the way I want. Everytime I install an update to IE, it adds back the default links and alpabetizes the personalized links. It should be smart enough to see that the links toolbar has been customized and leave it alone!

  16. Luke Skywalker: Here is how to ‘Stop Windows XP from creating the My Pictures folder’:

    http://www.annoyances.org/exec/show/article05-100

    It looks like they use the same technique that I have used for the ‘Links’ folder.

  17. DanYan says:

    I think that there is a mixed metaphor used here. If you delete an ordinary file from your computer, it’s gone (pretend the Recycle Bin doesn’t exist). If you delete a device or the Links folder, they automatically come back. Why are these handled differently? As an experienced user, I understand that I can delete a device to have it re-install itself. Still, wasn’t there another option?

  18. Raymond Chen says:

    I guess I don’t understand the question – I listed the options ("hide" for Links, "disable" for devices).

  19. Mat Hall says:

    That Links folder, and all the "My This" and "My That" folders bug the jeebus out of me. An (easy) option to turn them off would be much appreciated!

    Related to the "deleting devices to reinstall the drivers", how come Windows sometimes can’t see the file it’s looking for when (re)installing the drivers, even when it’s staring them in the face? I was installing a SCSI scanner at work last week, and XP popped up the dialog saying it couldn’t find XYZ.sys (I forget its actual name) and would I be so kind as to look for it myself; the path in the text box said "E:Driver2" (which is where the drivers should be), I clicked "Browse" which showed me the contents of that folder, and lo and behold, there was XYZ.sys!

    It’s not the first time this has happened — my cable modem is a bit flaky and the drivers "uninstall" themselves now and again. XP prompts me to browse for usbcm.sys so it can copy it to WindowsSystem32. Its default browse location is System32, wherein there’s a file called usbcm.sys that it copies from System32 to, er, System32, and it all starts working again…

  20. Anonymous Coward says:

    This is my favourite way of blue screening XP, and is due to the convenience/hardware detection.

    You need a USB to serial cable and attach the serial part to a GPS outputting NMEA information. (That results in a continuous stream of serial traffic).

    Plug in the cable and XP detects and installs the USB to serial bit. Then it decides to look for a serial mouse on the end of the cable and the NMEA information happens to be at the same baud rate as serial mice but the data sure is different.

    XP happily tries to interpret it as mouse data and blue screens.

    It also does similar things if you have a cell phone on the end of the serial bit of the cable, but in that case often ends up disabling the USB to serial cable because it doesn’t

    like what is on the end. (This is especially noticable after doing a resume from hibernation).

    Now I would be over the moon if there was a tickbox somewhere that I can use to point out that I don’t own a serial mouse and to please stop looking for things on the end of my USB to serial cables ….

  21. Raymond Chen says:

    Mat: You’ll have to talk to the device management people about why they can’t find the driver. "My Xyz" is already a slated topic for mid-September.

    Anonymous Coward: Did you try googling for <disable serial mouse detection>?

  22. Anonymous Coward: We had the same issue with NT’s printer driver detection logic when we were working on SCP: SCP abused the parallel port by using the port to connect our SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) cable, but NT would attempt to detect the presence of a printer on the machine.

    This wasn’t a problem, except one of the data lines that NT used was tied to the reset line on our processor. So NT would come up, attempt to detect the printer, and reset our device.

    Not fun. We ended up googling <disable printer detection> and turning it off :)

  23. My gripe with the Links folder is the content that MS decides that I need to have there, even after removing it. It appears that even if you don’t want the "get free hotmail" or "windows catalog" links mixed in with your legitimate links you have no choice. The flaw to me is why a service pack or indirect update requires re-populating the MS advertising.

    I guess it’s similar to the prompt you’d get from a initial install or profile on a win2k box though. "Would you like to make msn.com your home page?" When you choose no, guess what page you "still" inherit as default. =)

  24. Chris Altmann says:

    Jason, I guess I don’t get it. You replaced a single functioning menu item that you don’t want with a single non-functioning menu item. What exactly did you gain here?

    I would agree with those here that say make the links folder non-deletable or perhaps optionally visible. Or maybe move it above the separator at the top of the Favorites menu to empahsize its special status. You’d probably want to do that on the list in the organize favorites dialog as well. Oh and the "create in" list in the add to favorites dialog too. On second thought, nevermind. There are more important things to take care of in IE.

    Not putting the "ad" links back when they’ve been deleted would be a nice touch.

    FWIW, I use the links bar all the time. I also use all of the "My" folders.

  25. Jon Potter says:

    If the user physically clicks on the Favorites menu, right-clicks the Link folder, chooses Delete, and then chooses ‘Yes’, wouldn’t it make sense for IE to remember this rather than just assuming that the folder somehow got corrupted or otherwise disappeared?

    There are far too many "Windows knows best" features in Windows. If it’s smart enough to make these decisions for the user it should be smart enough to realise when the user has decided against them.

    Or, just make it an option (either through the UI or via the registry). There’s nothing wrong with choice.

    Just my opinion of course.. :)

  26. I always thought the ‘Links’ folder was just a way to get a bit of advertising for the URLs that appear in it. Once I deleted the folder, assuming (as anyone would) that it is *just* another folder, I expected it to stay deleted. I was annoyed to find that it returned. How was I supposed to know it was special? After all, the ‘Favorites’ menu is the place the user is *meant* to customize. So, I customized it. Yet, Windows refuses to accept my customization. I, personally, do not view this as a form of self-repair. If nothing was broken, there is nothing to repair.

    I resolved this annoyance by placing a file with the same name as the folder in the directory, knowing that Windows does not allow two files / directories to have the same name in the same location. Yes, I could have hidden it, but my technique also works for other annoying programs that seem to want to customize your Favorites menu for you.

  27. Raymond Chen says:

    IE doesn’t know that the user has manually messed with their Favorites. IE just says "Put one of those cool menuthingie black boxes here" and the menuthingie takes over from there. When you break a large program into smaller pieces, you have to decide how tightly bound those pieces should be. More tightly bound = you can detect things like this, but it also makes testing and program maintenance harder since the pieces don’t operate independently any more. Standard engineering tradeoff.

  28. The folder recreating it and getting rid of it from the UI are two different problems.

    To get rid of it from the UI, right-click on the toolbar, and deslelect "Links" from the menu.

    Voila.

    Chris, Jon, Geoff, Claw… try that instead of coming up with alternate ways of doing it.

    The only remaining problem is that Links should be treated as a Shell special folder, and have associated additional UI logic related to deleting that folder – which becomes a minor, almost unnecessary thing.

  29. Why does the Links folder keep re-creating itself? Why windows keeps recreating things you deleted and how to fix it….

  30. Thales says:

    Cool! Now I’d like to know why Windows Explorer keeps forgetting I set it to show the "Status Bar".

  31. Phaeron says:

    The device manager analogy isn’t very good because end users aren’t expected to manually change and arrange their device drivers on a daily basis.

    I dislike the "Links" entry because having a category in your web browser favorites called "Links" is about as useful as having a folder on your hard drive called "Files." People might be less inclined to nuke it if it had the word "bar" or "band" in its name.

    It also tends to be one of the folders that magically accumulates junk. For instance, my untouched Links folder contains Free Hotmail, Windows, and Windows Media, none of which I added, and none of which are my favorites. Why bother deleting the unwanted items when you can just nuke the whole category?

  32. Claw says:

    I think the main complaint which you haven’t addressed, Raymond, is that the Links folder behaves differently from all other folders *with no indication that it’s special*. With the Device Manager example, every single device node will behave the same way when deleted instead of disabled. However, with the Links folder, deleting it will bring it back while deleting other folders will not bring them back. This is the cause for confusion.

    Chris Altmann’s suggestion to move it above the separator could be one way to help, or perhaps have Explorer enforce that the folder not be deleted. That at least would give the user some indication that the folder is special.

  33. Alex says:

    "Cool! Now I’d like to know why Windows Explorer keeps forgetting I set it to show the "Status Bar"."

    I don’t know why IE does it but at http://blogs.msdn.com/tonyschr/archive/2004/06/15/156787.aspx Tony Schreiner says the bug is fixed in XPSP2 – along with text being cleared from address bar as you typed it if the page refreshed/navigated to another page.

    I hated the ‘Links’ folder in IE (smacks of a Miscelleanous folder i.e. a dumping ground) – but I already knew the ‘make it hidden’ trick from using ICQ that made a reincarnating folder of it’s own that bugged me even more.

    On the side issue of the My XYZ folders – I really used to hate that too but since I’ve started using several PC’s (work, home & laptop), it really does help you find files without religously recreating your ‘custom’ hierarchy everytime. That said I’m still not sold on the idea of referring to ‘MyStrings’ in VS 2005 resource files.

  34. Frederik Slijkerman says:

    On a related note, the name ‘Favorites’ always annoys me when I just save a page that I need with some API references. I don’t exactly call the MSDN page for SHBrowseForFolder my favorite web page.

    What’s wrong with ‘bookmarks’ anyway?

  35. Jeremy Morton says:

    FWIW, I love the "My" folders and use them constantly. Especially having My Documents redirected to a network share so that all my machines point to the same place. I liked this so much at work, that I set it up at home.

  36. Gabe says:

    What I want to know is why does it take so long to delete the files in the IE cache? (Tools > Internet Options > Delete Files) As many of you know, if the cache folder gets to big, IE starts slowing down and behaving badly. I’ve set all our machine to a max of 100mb, and it still takes some machines 10-15 minutes to delete the cache (Modern P4s). What up with that?!

    Oh yea, when is MS going to fix the download.ject security hole in IE?!

  37. Mat Hall says:

    Oh yea, when is MS going to fix the download.ject security hole in IE?!

    Real Soon Now, i.e. SP2.

  38. Simon,

    I’m not against the Links folder at all. Just like Chris stated after me, I use it all the time as my "true" favorites that I have available to me quickly. I just dislike that the contents of it get mucked with, thus forcing me to clean it up, when I install MS updates.

  39. Nate says:

    I’m sorry but "blame the user for not understanding the underlying operational model" is not good design. Maybe it should work the way the user expects to work? I believe there’s even a word for that: intuitive.

  40. Chris Altmann,

    I am not sure what you are getting at either… :) After deleting the ‘Links’ folder, I created a zero byte file named ‘Links’. This file will not appear in the menu, and because of its name, Windows cannot recreate the folder that I wish to remain deleted.

  41. I’ve used to get rid of these auto-repairing folders by deleting them and then creating a hidden file instead with the same name.

    It’s especially useful with ICQ: it creates a subdirectory named AteBrowser and dumps there all the ads it downloads. If you delete this directory, ICQ will re-create it. But when I blocked it this way, ICQ cannot recreate the directory, and it doesn’t waste my bandwidth for the ads anymore.

  42. McGroarty says:

    Personally, I’d love to know about this Program Files/Xerox folder. Not only does it get recreated, but you can’t delete it from within XP. It’s protected by the OS.

  43. To McGroaty: go to the System Properties and turn off System Restore.

  44. Here’s a better way to permanently delete the IE "Links" folder, not just hide it.

    Open your trusty registry editor to:

    HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftInternet ExplorerToolbar

    Set "LinksFolderName" to an empty string. Don’t delete the value, just set it to an emtry string

    Now delete the folder on disk and Windows will no longer create a "Links" folder. I can’t guarantee this will work for every OS and every IE version, but on Win2K IE6 it works like a charm!

  45. those of you criticizing the "My Xyz" Folders are obvisuly not sys admins. the ability to redirect the My Doc’s folder to a network share via GPO makes my life (and any other Sys Admin) so much easier. Users can now go & logon to any workstation, have their documents there and easy to find. Add that to shadow copy services, they can even restore previous backup’s on their own, without calling an IT person to pull backup tapes out and restore the word document they saved over last week and didn’t relise it untill today(actually happened earlier today)…

    just because you don’t understand why something works in a way you don’t fancy or agree with, doesn’t mean there is a very good and legit reason for it. Microsoft is a business, they design their software primarily around the needs of Enterprise Customers(the ones that pay them billions each year in licensing fees), and then add in the other features to apease the smaller home users later, and as a secondary concern.

    While maybe 2% of their customer base has a big "problem" with the links folder and the way it operates, the other 98% of their customers have more important and productive things to do with their time then worry about a Links folder that can be completly hidden from view with 2 clicks if the default layout with it "all the way to the right, nearly off the screen anyway" isn’t good enough for you.

  46. Gene says:

    I also didn’t see any use for the Links folder, and so forcibly removed it with regedit.

    On the other hand, I don’t understand why some people are so annoyed with "My XYZ" folders. Seems like a convenient and logical way to organize your stuff. In fact, I took to it so much that I created My Finances, My Car, My Letters, My Purchase Receipts, My Traffic Tickets, and a bunch of others.

  47. Trent Glascock says:

    How could IE automatically re-creating the "Links" folder possibly be construed as auto-repairing? What will not work correctly if the Links folder is not there?

  48. Raymond Chen says:

    The Links menu of course.

    With that I’m going to close commenting.

    http://weblogs.asp.net/oldnewthing/archive/2004/02/21/77681.aspx

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