Why can’t you rename deleted items in the Recycle Bin?


I misread a question from commenter Comedy Gaz, so let's try it again. (Good thing I held one last Suggestion Box Monday of the year in reserve.)

Why can't you rename deleted items in the Recycle Bin?

Okay, first of all, "Why would you want to do this?"

I see no explanation for how this could possibly escape the 100-point hole every feature starts out in. I mean, these are items you deleted. Why do you care what their names are? Are you renaming it so you can find it again later? Why would you go to the effort of locating an item in the Recycle Bin, and then not bother recovering it? It's like calling the Lost and Found at Grand Central Terminal, and saying, "Hi, I left my umbrella on the Danbury train last Tuesday. It's blue with white snowflakes. Yes, that's the one. No, I don't want to come in and get it. Could you just dye it green, and paint a yellow smiley face on it? Thanks."

The purpose of the Recycle Bin is not to provide another place where you can organize your data. The purpose of the Recycle Bin is to give you one last chance to recover the data you deleted by mistake!

What would be the point of writing the code to allow the name to be edited, update the name in the Recycle Bin databases (watch out for the cross-process race conditions!), then locate all the other open Recycle Bin windows and tell them, "Hey, if you were showing the name of deleted item number 51462, please go refresh it, because it has a new name"? That's a lot of code to be written and tested (and re-tested every build) for a pretty dubious scenario in the first place. (And why stop at just the file name? Why not let people edit the Original Location and Date Deleted too?)

From an information-theoretical standpoint, renaming an item in the Recycle Bin would be a falsification of the historical record. The information about the items in the Recycle Bin describe the item at the time it was deleted. Its name, the folder it was deleted from, the date it was deleted. If you could change the name of an item in the Recycle Bin, then that record would be incorrect. "This icon represents the file that you deleted from folder Q, except that the name I'm showing you isn't actually the name. It's some bogus name that somebody edited."

It'd be like asking the church to go update its registry to change your birth name. "Yes, I know that I was born baptized with the name Amélie Bernadette, but please change your files so it says that I was baptized with the name Chloë Dominique. Thanks."

The church isn't going to do that because that would now be lying. You were baptized with the name Amélie Bernadette. You are welcome to change your name to Chloë Dominique, but that doesn't change the fact that you were baptized with the name Amélie Bernadette.

Comments (30)
  1. Frank says:

    This might sound crazy, but I actually had a need to rename a deleted folder in recycle bin – I deleted a souce code folder on the desktop, and copied in an updated source code folder from the company network (the folder names/locations were the same for the deleted folder and the updated folder). For some reason, I needed to look at the deleted source folder again. Restoring the deleted folder would overwrite my updated folder. I guess I am looking for a function that would "Restore to another location/Restore with a different name". However renaming a deleted folder would do the trick for me. I am not saying I need this feature implemented, I am just showing one of the reasons why someone would want such feature.

  2. Robert Easton says:

    Actually in Britain, at least, you can get your birth certificate name changed. If you are transgender you can as an adult get your name and gender changed on your birth certificate. Perhaps the better analogy for the recycle bin would be getting the name of a dead person changed.

  3. @Frank:

    I have that same situation occur a few times. However, you can simply drag & drop files/folders out of the Recycle Bin to the location of your choice. That trick has saved me a lot of time.

  4. Jonathan says:

    @Frank: And if you must restore to exact previous location, you can rename the new code.

  5. Frank says:

    Thanks y'all. Never occured to me I could drag a deleted item from the recycle bin to some other locations :D

  6. Haven't you heard of people who keep their important documents in the Recycle Bin? (and people who keep important messages in the Deleted folder of their email program)? Not kidding. They get very surprised when some IT guy purges those without asking.

  7. [I see no explanation for how this could possibly escape the 100-point hole every feature starts out in.]

    Every Halloween, undead feature requests dig themselves from the 100-point hole, and limp around looking for dev brains. Now a major feature movie.

  8. Destroyer says:

    "The purpose of the Recycle Bin is not to provide another place where you can organize your data."

    Love it. Like alegr1, the amount of computers (personal and corporate (when the recycle bin is not disabled)) I see that have gigabytes worth of data in the recycle bin and are actively being used (that is, when you ask them if they want it, they claim they do) is ridiculous.

    As for messages in "Deleted items" in Outlook. Oh my goodness, don't go there.

  9. Frank, you *can* restore a folder to a different parent folder, avoiding the name collision. I just tried it on Windows 7. There is a "Move here" menu item in the context menu.

  10. monochromatic says:

    I've wanted to rename stuff in the recycle bin for exactly the same reason as Frank. As for why people think it's a reasonable thing to ask for… I'm guessing a lot of people assume the Recycle Bin is pretty much just like any other folder. Under that assumption, being able to rename stuff doesn't require extra code. *Disabling* renaming is what would require extra code.

    Now, when you think about it, the Recycle Bin obviously does not behave just like a regular folder (it can hold multiple items with the exact same name, for example). But to a first approximation, it sort of does look a lot like any other folder.

  11. I agree why would anyone want to do this? Just cut and paste items and then do what you wanna do with them.

  12. I've sometimes wanted to open a document in Recycle Bin to see what it contained, but it is easy enough to drag it out onto the desktop for a peek.

  13. Gabe says:

    The problem with dragging files from the Recycle Bin to the Desktop in order to open them is that once you delete them again, they lose their origin and deletion times.

    It effectively rewrites history, or at least changes the meanings of the terms — "Original Location" means "where was the file last opened from" and "Date Deleted" means "when was the file last opened". It also means that "Restore" and sorting by "Date Deleted" no longer do what you want.

  14. Mark says:

    That umbrella thing made me crack up.  How do you come up with gems of analogies?

  15. James Curran says:

    Raymond, you never addressed the actual question.  Why CAN'T renaming be done?

    The Recycle Bin or at least it's Windows Explorer representation, is (much) like any other folder, where renaming is allowed.

    So the question isn't "Why can't we have a special case to allow renaming?", but rather, "Why did you already create a special case to prevent it?"

  16. Joshua says:

    The designer of Recycle Bin could never thought of this kind of misuse/feature of Recycle Bin.

    Ah yes the mantra. Do not prevent the user from doing stupid things as that would also prevent the user from doing clever things.

    Not to be taken literally of course. rm -rf / deserved to be blocked as it is usually generated by accident (expanding unset variables). But most of the time, preventing stupid gets in the way.

  17. farseerfc says:

    [Haven't you heard of people who keep their important documents in the Recycle Bin? (and people who keep important messages in the Deleted folder of their email program)? Not kidding. They get very surprised when some IT guy purges those without asking.]

    Once I saw this clever girl setting before me, deleted all photos that she wanted to *keep* into Recycle Bin, and then Shift+Deleted all other photos, and then restored the photos that she had just deleted from Recycle Bin.

    I asked the reason why she would do this. The answer is that multi-selection and inverse selection in Explorer are only apply inside one folder, and you can not quickly open one of the selections to see the details. Cut and move to a temp folder will also do the trick but the photo viewer she was using did not support the cut file operation. Delete into Recycle Bin is the only supported operation by the photo viewer.

    The designer of Recycle Bin could never thought of this kind of misuse/feature of Recycle Bin.

    [that is a high-risk maneuver, since the Recycle Bin auto-purges when it gets full, and if she selected more pictures than fit in the Recycle Bin, it would have purged some of them. -Raymond]
  18. alexcohn says:

    @Gabe: that's true, a Copy operation for an object in Recycle Bin could IMHO pass the 100-point barrier.

  19. Damien says:

    @James Curran – I believe Raymond has addressed similar issues in the past – you *assume* that the rename operation is available everywhere and has been selectively disabled, when in fact rename has to be *implemented* in each scenario where it would make sense. A normal folder window containing files is *different* to a recycle bin window containing deleted files.

    [IShell­Folder::Set­Name­Of does not write itself. Somebody has to write it. Writing it takes time and testing. The people who wrote the folder view for normal files decided to go to that extra effort. The people who wrote Recycle Bin and Control Panel and Add/Remove Programs did not. -Raymond]
  20. Raymond, you never addressed the actual question.  Why CAN'T renaming be done?

    >

    The Recycle Bin or at least it's Windows Explorer representation, is (much) like any other folder, where renaming is allowed.

    Because the Recycle Bin as you see it in Explorer is not a folder. It's an illusion. The renaming function was not written for this view.

  21. Joshua says:

    You should tell that clever girl that Recycle Bin has finite space.

    10% of 1TB is huge.

  22. MikeBMcL says:

    10% of 1TB is huge.

    Not if you're a professional photographer working with uncompressed image files it's not. You could get up there with a few thousand images in no time at all.

    Also, you're assuming a 1 TB drive; the first consumer 1 TB drive only came out in 2007 and even now its common to find laptops with less than that.

  23. Nicholas says:

    > You should tell that clever girl that Recycle Bin has finite space.

    10% of 1TB is huge.

    Clever girl is probably also clever enough to know that the Recycle Bin space reservation is configurable.  She's probably clever enough to increase the size to accomodate all the files to keep.

  24. Raphael says:

    "Once I saw this clever girl setting before me, deleted all photos that she wanted to *keep* into Recycle Bin, and then Shift+Deleted all other photos, and then restored the photos that she had just deleted from Recycle Bin."

    You should tell that clever girl that Recycle Bin has finite space.

  25. Mark says:

    The link to the Lost and Found is broken.

    [That's the danger of having a long queue. I replaced the link with something vaguely equivalent. -Raymond]
  26. Alexey says:

    That lost-and-found example sounds just like something Randall Munroe might come up with.

  27. Gerv says:

    @Robert Easton: or, maybe, the idea of falsification of historical data is, you know, bad. "You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts" applies to birth certificates just as much as anything else. I think Raymond's right to classify a birth certificate altered in the way you are talking about as a lie. He's just stating a truth which is obvious to anyone in any context except when it's politically inconvenient.

  28. Horst Kiehl says:

    @Gabe: If you drag items from the Recycle Bin elsewhere you resurrect them and give them a place to be again. When you redelete them afterwards, this is a new deletion, from their new life and possibly new place. This is not rewriting history, just recording a newer part of it.

    It seems like the feature you are looking for is Previous Versions. The Recycle Bin isn't meant to be a zombie diary.

  29. I can't quite believe that I am the first person to observe that nobody is "born with a name".  Names are just labels, and these labels can be changed pretty much at whim, there are just procedures to be followed in order to do so.

    Not picking nits, just noting a flaw in the chosen analogy.  As Robert Easton opined, asking to have you name changed post-mortem is the specific scenario to draw upon (not via a will or other legal contrivance, but actually rising up from the grave and asking for your headstone to be engraved with a new name…)  :)

    [s/born with/baptized with/g -Raymond]

Comments are closed.