I'm merging some old backup archives and getting rid of duplicates in the process, and I am frustrated by the fact that Microsoft has made it so difficult to find empty folders in Windows.

The Windows Search is not very helpful in this either. Windows Search is helpful only to some extent. For instance, if I am dealing with picture files like JPEG, PNG, BMP, etc. I'll give you an example below.

Figuring out if a folder is empty...

I often have the Thumbs.db files in picture folders. These files were generated by previous versions of Windows. Now, if I have merged two big backup archives containing picture files (getting rid of duplicates and saving orphan files), then these Thumbs.db files are left behind in one of the locations. Thus, the folders appear to be containing files, i.e. if I select these folders and press Alt+Enter to view properties I can read the "Contains" section to make sure the backup folder is really empty before I delete it.


If it's not empty, it will say how many files it contains. Since the Thumbs.db files are left behind it will say that it contains files, thus giving me a false positive. Because I'm not interested in knowing if a folder contains the Thumbs.db files, I have no use for them. They are just garbage from previous Windows.

So what I can do here is use Windows Search and do a search for *.db in that folder and delete all Thumbs.db files it finds. I can then check properties once again, and if it shows up 0 files I know I can delete the folder with all of its subfolders with confidence, knowing I'm not deleting any picture files.

If it still turns up a number greater than 0 then that means there is one or several files in that folder structure that is not an Thumbs.db file, but rather a picture file or some other file with a different extension. And I have to open up each folder, one by one, working my way down the folder tree until I find the file or files that might be important and copy them to a new location before I delete the folder. I could use Windows Search to figure out the search paths to this or these files. But that's about as helpful Windows Search gets.

So while Windows Search is helpful to some extent, it does not directly address the problem of finding empty folders!

My proposition...

Since Alt+Enter is the best way of knowing whether or not a folder contains files, this is the idea I have come up with.

In the Windows Explorer window, if you are using the "Details" view you get a list of files and folder with all the different columns such as Name, Date modified, Type, etc. You can also add several more columns if you right click on one of them and then click "More".

Now, wouldn't it be great if there was a "Contains" column you could pick? That way you could get an overview of how many files and folders all the different subfolders have in a given parent/root folder.

But the so called software engineers and designers at Microsoft are obviously not that bright. They want you to keep pressing Alt+Enter on each and every one of the subfolders, or right click on each and choose Properties. I checked! There is no "Contains" column.


But there are several other useful columns! Like the column "Size" which shows you how big your files are. But it doesn't work at all on folders! Since when is the "Size" information not relevant for folders? Why would I have to dive into a subfolder just to check how big the files are inside it? Or having to use Alt+Enter or right click on it and click Properties? Makes absolutely no sense!

So is there a way to help yourself and add a "Contains" column in Windows Explorer, by a means of customization? Is it possible to write an extension or plugin of some sort for Windows Explorer that would allow you to add a "Contains" column? Or are we looking at writing a whole new file manager program for Windows to accomplish this simple task?

Instead of this...


Can we have something like this...


Or is this just asking too much?...

I don't think I'm asking too much. Microsoft should have thought about this ages, or even decades ago. If you do a Google search you will find that many people are asking the same thing, how does one find empty folder in Windows? Preferably without having extensive programming skills and spending one month writing your own Windows program for that matter? Many Windows users would benefit if there was a built-in option inside Windows Explorer for finding empty folders.

I'm on Windows Vista, but I also use Windows 7 and Windows 8.x and they are just as bad. The very least they could have done right is get this thing with columns right. What's up with that? Why would a folder that contains several files and subfolders show absolutely nothing where it says "Size" when viewing the parent folder? This is just plain stupid!

  • This is just plain stupid! i agree, sometime Windows is stupid ! Instead of writing a Windows Explorer plugin (it would be useful indeed) i would try this little free softwate if it suitable for you windirstat.info or just write a little powershell script Dec 26, 2013 at 15:17
  • @user2196728 I will check it out. Thanks!
    – Samir
    Dec 26, 2013 at 15:25
  • I've done some digging and found this MSDN article. It looks like Vista, Win 7 and Win 8.x do not support creating custom column handlers. "This feature is supported only under Windows XP or earlier." So much for customizing Windows Explorer... Is there an alternative approach to this on newer Windows perhaps?
    – Samir
    Dec 26, 2013 at 15:27
  • This information would have to be calculated on-the-fly every time you show a folder. This would be very resource intensive. Use an application like Windirstat or Space Sniffer instead.
    – nitro2k01
    Dec 26, 2013 at 15:43
  • @nitro2k01 I will check it out. Thanks! About calculating size and number of items inside a folder... I don't think that's a big issue on today's hardware. That might have been an issue on old Pentium 3 systems with old IBM Deskstar hard drives. It took me 1 minute and 40 seconds to calculate the contents of my C drive that's 150 GB in size.
    – Samir
    Dec 26, 2013 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


This is just plain stupid! i agree, sometime Windows is stupid ! :)

Instead of writing a Windows Explorer plugin (it would be useful indeed) i would try this little free software if it is suitable for you http://windirstat.info/

It can be a bit long to parse all your drive (you can limit it at a folder, a drive) but it will reports all you want :

  • parent folders size
  • child folders size
  • number of files in each forlder
  • number of sub folder for parent folder
  • and more...

all these in a friendly tree representation.

or just write a little powershell script if you intend to automate some things...

I am not aware about a setup for Windows Explorer to retrieve all you want, not even sure it is possible...

  • Can this thing find empty folders? Is it capable of directly addressing that problem? Can I tell it to find empty folders and where it presents a list of only empty folders?
    – Samir
    Dec 26, 2013 at 15:31
  • Yes it can find empty folders. No it is not capable of directly addressing that problem (what u mean, monitoring/alerts ?). No you cannot directly filter to search only empty folder, but once it has finished parsing your directory/drive you can sort by folder size ascending/descending and so have 0 size folders at the top on the list. Dec 26, 2013 at 15:36
  • Yes, I meant filtering to only show empty folders. It has just finished parsing and I can see how it will help me find empty folder without any fancy filtering. But filtering the whole folder tree to only display empty folders would be a welcome addition. However, this is still more useful than what I have seen in Windows Explorer.
    – Samir
    Dec 26, 2013 at 15:58
  • This program doesn't support column customization at all? I have Name, Subtree Percentage, Percentage, Size, Items, Files, Subdirs, Last Change and Attributes. That's it?... That's pretty limiting. While this program may not be a complete solution to replace Windows Explorer, it's a good addition to Windows Explorer.
    – Samir
    Dec 26, 2013 at 16:06
  • This software was a sample one and it is the one i use on my file servers to get some statistics. However, others software of same type exists such as jam-software.com/treesize_free. Searching Google for disk usage statistics freeware windows will return some softwares. Have a look and maybe you will find the right one for you ! OR, as i said, if you only want empty folders it will not be a hard job to write a little powershell script. Dec 26, 2013 at 16:08

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