Why don’t I get a file deletion confirmation warning from Explorer when I undo a copy?

If you use Explorer to copy a file, and then press Ctrl+Z to undo the copy, and you had file deletion confirmation enabled, then Windows 7 would display a confirmation dialog to verify that you really want to delete the file. But Windows 8 no longer shows that confirmation dialog. A customer wanted to know why.

Overwhelming customer feedback indicated that even though it technically meant deleting a file, the confirmation dialog when undoing a copy was unnecessary. Undo operations in most programs do not prompt in general, not even if the Undo is potentially destructive (such as undoing a Paste operation). All you're doing in this case is deleting a copy of a file; the original is still there, so there's no data loss. And if you forgot where the original was, you can get the copy back by Redoing the operation.

Comments (28)
  1. Andrew says:

    I find that Explorer gets more helpful and intuitive with every version of Windows. This is a great example.

    1. jimbobmcgee says:

      Except that ‘click to permanently get access to this folder’ awfulness. I hate that.
      Does it still do that in >Win7? That needs to be disableable…

      1. xcomcmdr says:

        I fail to see what you are talking about… ?

      2. Mike Dimmick says:

        What, you mean the UAC dialog that requires you to give permission for it to completely overwrite the ACL for the folder? No, that hasn’t gone away.

        1. jimbobmcgee says:

          That’s the one. Shame. You’d think a little registry value would be a simple-enough thing to save some pain, there…

  2. KeyJ says:

    Does Explorer at least check if the original is *really* still there before deleting without confirmation? Because it’s totally possible that the original file(s) have, in fact, been removed by some other means, e.g. another program running in the background, or someone simply removed the media from which the file(s) have been copied. Of course, you could argue “well, the user pressed Ctrl+Z, so (s)he obviously didn’t want the file(s) at their target location”, but still, it’s a scenario of potential data loss.

  3. ZLB says:

    I’m not sure about this one.

    Can’t undoing a copy be destructive if the source of the copy is deleted/removed? This will also cause the re-do to fail.

    I’m pretty sure I have managed to lose a file like this.

  4. Joshua says:

    Right up until you undid a 4 hour remote DB copy.

    1. Rick C says:

      Something like that, though, is probably important enough you shouldn’t be just using Explorer, but using an actual tool, even if it’s just a batch file.

      1. Joshua says:

        Why would I use a batch file for something I’m doing once?

        1. db says:

          On the other hand, why would you use Explorer for anything other than very simple and basic tasks?

          Doing a 4 hour copy with Explorer is just laughable. You can’t be serious.

        2. Pete says:

          My experience is if you copy something else to the clipboard, it will interrupt a long-running (e.g. 4 hour remote DB) copy and paste operation. So there’s one reason not to use copy and paste in Explorer for a long-running copy.

        3. Vince says:

          So you don’t accidentally undo it, of course.

        4. Rick C says:

          I didn’t see you say you were only doing this once.

      2. Lightie says:

        And what makes Explorer not “an actual tool”? It’s Window’s standard file management program, used in this case to manage files.
        So why not use it? And you cannot claimit doesn’t work since it did copy, after all.

        Therefore: I, too, want a confirmation dialog, or at least the option to have one — what’s one more checkbox in Explorer’s options? — for such a destructive operation that might cost very much time and nerves.

    2. So hit Redo (Ctrl+Y) and bring it back.

  5. Mc says:

    I hate the “If you change a file name extension, the file might become unusable.” prompt when I rename files which I do quite often. I wish there was a way of disabling this prompt (or a “don’t warn me again” checkbox).

    1. xcomcmdr says:

      And it’s misleading too. The file hasn’t changed at all, only it’s associated name, jeez !
      Also, I don’t remove/change extensions that often, but when I do I’d like not to be interrupted by a useless confirmation.

      1. DWalker says:

        As Raymond has pointed out, with more options you get more complexity. A checkbox to disable this feature would require testing, translation into other languages, etc.

        However, this is one area where I wish the OS would have a check box.

        Sometimes I am changing a file extension in order to MAKE the file BECOME usable. :-)

        1. Scarlet Manuka says:

          If you consider “usable” as “having an associated program with which to open it”, then indeed you don’t get this warning if you are making an unusable file usable. It’s not Windows’ fault that it doesn’t understand the contents of your file well enough to know what the extension *should* be; it can only tell whether it has a program to send it to or not.

    2. Indeed, this has always annoyed me too. I often create plain text files with a lot of different extensions.

    3. Hari says:

      A user who has changed options to show file extensions would be knowledgeable enough to change the extensions.

  6. MarcK4096 says:

    I’m always pleasantly surprised when Explorer is able to undo a complex file operation for me.

  7. Max says:

    Redo only works if you don’t do anything else first. If you Undo an operation, don’t realize your mistake right away, and carry out some other operation before you realize you undid the wrong thing, then you’re in trouble – Redo is only an available option if the last thing you did was an Undo or Redo.

  8. CTRL+Z to Undo the accidental Copy change and CTRL+Y to Redo the Copy change in Explorer will work provided you did not do anything else in between the time period of the File Copy process completion locally.

    But does it work for file copied to a Network Drive or Network Shared Folder or DFS NameSpace Folder?

  9. sh_code says:

    I had no idea explorer had undo function, let alone that it was bound to ctrl z and was mimicking the intuitive app-based undo

  10. Jolyon Direnko-Smith says:

    Interestingly this also seems to apply to MOVING a file (or rather, UNDOing a file movement).

    In the case of a copy the “no data loss has occurred” argument applies (but only to the original file). In the case of a non-undoable MOVE, there is also no data loss, but in this case because the undo can’t be done. But there is nothing to TELL you that it can’t/couldn’t be undone.


    “Undo a copy” – no confirmation or completion message = It worked (and if it didn’t, it doesn’t really matter. you thought you were going to remove 1 copy of the file but you still have 2 copies. No biggie).

    “Undo a move” – no confirmation or completion message = It worked (but if it didn’t then your 1 and only copy of the file isn’t where you likely think it is).

    It’s definitely an edge case but edge cases can be the ones that cause the greatest headaches because the subtleties can be lost in the frustration of the confusion arising at the time. The real answer here would be a user visible/accessible non-intrusive notification/log for completed operations combined with intrusive notifications in the event of failure.


    1. Jolyon Direnko-Smith says:

      Oh geez. Scrap that. A failed MOVE operation (involving an unplugged USB drive in my test case) DID result in an error. But it was **BEHIND** ALL my other windows on my desktop. As a result, I only just found that error notification after having moved on to other work for the day and stumbling across that error message from all that time ago, lurking behind my open apps.

      Although that’s not much better than NO notification at all, imho.

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