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What are Offline Folders?

By Elizabeth Holli Wood
Updated May 16, 2024
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Offline folders are a feature of Microsoft® Windows® and Microsoft® Outlook®, but non-Microsoft® programs and operating systems may have similar capabilities. An offline folder is a place to store files so that they are available even when the user is not connected to a network or the internet. These folders were introduced in 2000. They are a valuable resource to Windows® users, especially those who do a lot of telecommuting, typically use mobile devices, or have long commutes to and from the office.

These folders can be used on portable computers (i.e., laptops or notebooks) or desktop computers that are sometimes connected to a network. All versions of Microsoft® Windows® since 2000 have offered this feature for its users.

Offline folders are beneficial to users because they offer a solution to the problems associated with safely storing your files, while still letting them be accessible from different locations. By storing files on a network, rather than your hard drive, your files are stored in more than one place and therefore reduce the risk of forever losing files should something go wrong.

To make your computer available to store these offline folders, some Windows® users should find the following instructions helpful. Different instructions may apply to different versions of Windows®. Click “start” on your desktop and then click “my computer.” Select “tools” from your top menu. From the “tools” menu, select “folder options.” Open the tab that reads “offline files” and ensure that the checkbox “enable offline files” is selected. Select the checkbox for “synchronize all offline files before logging off.” Selecting this option will synchronize all of your files so they are available offline. If you would prefer to manually control which files are stored in your offline folders, you must use a synchronization manager.

To store a file in offline folders, open “my computer” and select the network that you would like to work with. Then, select the file or even the whole folder that you would like to make accessible offline. Select “file” from the top menu and select “make available offline.”

Similarly, to remove a file from an offline folder, select “file” from the top menu and unselect the checkbox that says “make available offline.”

To use files from offline folders, simply select the file like normal. If you have made it available offline properly, you should be able to access your file whether or not you are currently connected to the network the file is from.

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Discussion Comments
By cesarot — On May 10, 2012

I have an issue with the offline folders and hope you can help me.

I have an offline folder that haven't been synced in a month because the server broke down. Now the motherboard of my laptop has a problem too, and I need to recover my files that haven't been synced in the last month, but I don't know where are they stored in my HD.

Does anyone know where files are stored? Or how I can recover my files?

By matthewc23 — On Sep 06, 2011

@JimmyT - Unfortunately, if you are using one of the Home Editions of Windows 7, which is likely to be on a personal laptop, you cannot enable offline folder synchronization. If you are using Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise, here is what you need to do:

Go to the Control Panel Sync Center, and choose to Manage Offline Files. From here you will have the option to either enable or turn off offline folders. Then you just have to select the network and files you want to connect to.

By JimmyT — On Sep 05, 2011

I am trying to synchronize my laptop with the network at work, but I can't seem to find any way to do it. Could someone please help? I am using Windows 7.

Also, once you do synchronize offline folders, is there any way to update them without going back and connecting to the network again? Is there a way to connect online and do it?

By stl156 — On Sep 04, 2011

@jmc88 - A network refers to a specific space outside of a single computer where files and programs can be stored, but the network is only accessible to computers that are linked to the system. Some common examples might be a school network where only that school's computers can access the files and folders on the network. Large business often have similar setups.

What enabling offline folders means is syncing a portable computer that is not constantly connected to the network (like a laptop), so that the portable computer can have access to the files even when it is not physically connected.

Unless you work somewhere where there is a network, you will never have to worry about enabling offline folders. The disadvantage is that using offline folders takes up hard drive space on the computer.

By jmc88 — On Sep 03, 2011

What does the article mean when it talks about being connected to a network? I assume it is not the same as being connected to the internet, since it mentions that, too.

Is using offline folders that everyone should think about doing? Are there any disadvantages to it?

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