How to Create a Desktop Shortcut in Windows

By Nick Peers

By using desktop shortcuts, you can quickly access a file or launch a program in Windows 7 or 8.1. To launch a program, you must create a shortcut that points to the executable of the program -- the file that you double-click to launch the program. The shortcut contains only the path to the file; it does not contain the file or any of its data. After you create the shortcut, you can change its icon to something more intuitive.

Finding Files and Creating Shortcuts

Step 1

Locate the file you want to launch using the shortcut. A shortcut can point to any file -- including text documents, images and multimedia files -- not just to executable files.You can locate and access all files on your computer from File Explorer. Launch the utility by pressing **Windows-X** to display the **Power User menu** and selecting **File Explorer**.In Windows 7, expand the **Start** menu and select **Computer** to launch Windows Explorer.

Step 2

Right-click the file, select **Send to** and then click **Desktop (create shortcut)** to create a shortcut to the file on the desktop.Programs are usually installed in the **Program Files** or **Program Files (x86)** (on 64-bit systems) folder on the system drive -- C: in most cases. Executable files have an EXE extension and are usually named after the program they launch.

Step 3

If you don't know how to find the file, **search for it using the search box in File Explorer**. Select the folder or drive from the left pane and then type the name -- or at least a part of the name -- of the file into the **Search** box. Results are displayed in the right pane.

Step 4

You can locate an executable from the Search charm. Press **Windows-S** to display the Search charm, type the name of the program, right-click the program in the list of search results and select **Open file location** to open the File Explorer.

Step 5

Files displayed by the Search charm are shortcuts, so opening their file location doesn't reveal the location of the real file. To find the file they point to, right-click the shortcut in File Explorer and select **Open file location** from the context menu.

Step 6

You can create shortcuts directly from the desktop. Right-click on an **empty spot** on the desktop and select **Shortcut** to create a new shortcut.

Step 7

If you know the path to the file, type it into the field; otherwise, click the **Browse** button, select the file and click **OK**. Click **Next**.

Step 8

Type a name -- any name you like -- for the new shortcut into the field and click **Finish** to create it.

Changing the Shortcut Icon

Step 1

Right-click the shortcut on the desktop and select **Properties** from the context menu to display the Shortcut Properties window.

Step 2

Click the **Change Icon** button to display the Change Icon dialog. If you need to locate the target file, click **Open File Location**.

Step 3

Select a different icon from the list and click **OK** to use it. To view all native Windows icons, click **Browse**, and select the **Windows\System32\Shell32.dll** file.

Tips & Warnings

  • Shortcuts can be recovered from the Recycle Bin just like any other file.
  • Files are opened with the default programs when you double-click their shortcut.
  • Shortcuts are used to make programs launch automatically when you start Windows. To achieve this, place the shortcut into the Startup folder. To open the Startup folder, press "Windows-R" to display the Run box, type "shell:startup" into the field and press "Enter."
  • Another way to create a shortcut to an executable is to select it, press "Ctrl-C," switch to the desktop and then press "Ctrl-V." This method works only for executable files; otherwise, this method copies the file to the desktop.
  • To create a shortcut in the same folder as the original file, right-click the file and select "Create Shortcut" from the context menu.