What Do Attributes for Read-Only or Hidden Mean?

By Mike Smith

"Read-only" and "hidden" are attributes that users of Windows operating systems can add to a file. Setting a file as read-only or hidden does not change the content of the file. Rather, the settings change the way the operating system allows users to view and edit the files. Understanding what each attribute does can help you get the most out of your computer.

The Read-Only Attribute

Adding the read-only attribute to a file prevents any further changes to it. It can still be opened, or read, but you must remove the read-only status before making any changes. Set a file to read-only by right-clicking it and selecting "Properties" from the menu that pops up. In the next window, click the box next to "Read-only" and click the "OK" button. Repeat this process to remove the read-only attribute. This attribute can also be assigned to an entire folder. Files added later to the folder will not have the attribute unless added manually.

The Read-Only Attribute's Purpose

The main reason users set files as read-only is to make sure no one accidentally edits a file. This tool can be especially helpful when working on a projects that require multiple drafts or when multiple users are working on the same project. Files designated read-only can still be moved, copied, renamed and deleted as normal. The attribute should not be considered a security feature.

This Hidden Attribute

A file set to "hidden" is not displayed when its folder is opened with Windows Explorer and will not be displayed in search results. Set a file as hidden by right-clicking it and selecting "Properties" from the popup menu. Click the box next to "hidden" in the window that appears, then click "OK" to save the changes.

The Hidden Attribute's Purpose

The hidden attribute is not intended as a security feature. Instead, Windows sets a variety of important system files to hidden to prevent inadvertent modification. To view hidden files on your computer, click the "Start" button, then "Control Panel." In the window that opens, click "Appearance and Personalization" then "Folder Options." Click the "View" tab in the next window that opens then "Show hidden files, folders, and drives" under the "Advanced Settings" heading. Click the "OK" button to save the changes. Accessing system files that the operating system's developers had hidden can cause system instability.