Windows File Explorer Not Showing the Left Pane? 8 Fixes

Windows File Explorer provides a unique, simple way to navigate through your computer. The left pane holds all the menus you need to navigate File Explorer, but sometimes, it doesn’t appear. Without the left pane, you’ll have to go through all sorts of search menus to get to the desired file.

Windows File Explorer isn’t showing the left pane because it’s disabled, you’re using a third-party app, or your computer’s video drivers are outdated. Advanced Windows settings, removing viruses, and restarting your PC are often enough to fix these issues.

Throughout this post, I’ll show you why your Windows File Explorer won’t show the left pane and what you can do about it. I’ll also provide some preventative tips to prevent it from disappearing again.

Windows File Explorer with the left pane missing.

Why Your Windows File Explorer is Not Showing the Left Pane

Disabled Navigation Pane

A disabled navigation pane is the most common reason Windows File Explorer stops showing the left pane. This pane lets you cycle through everything, but turning it off will prevent it from showing up. You might’ve done this during one of the following scenarios.

  • Factory resetting a computer.
  • Changing Windows navigation settings.
  • Adjusting the menu settings on the upper toolbar.

While it’s the most common issue, it’s also the easiest to fix.

Third-Party App Compatibility Problems

Downloading multiple storage and file apps to fix your Windows computer might be tempting. 

However, many of these applications aren’t compatible with Windows File Explorer. Not only will you use unnecessary storage space on your hard drive, but you’ll also risk altering the navigation pane.

Before using any third-party app, check if it’s compatible with your current version of Windows OS. This suggestion will prevent unwanted errors and navigation issues.

Outdated Video Drivers

If your video drivers are outdated or corrupted, they can alter how Windows File Explorer works. 

Corruption can happen by unplugging your computer without turning it off, downloading viruses, or leaving it on for too long without restarting it.

On the other hand, video driver updates happen simply because you don’t have automatic updates activated. You can also choose to update them whenever you’re not using your computer, such as at night time or when you’re at work.

Advanced Windows Explorer Settings

One of the biggest explanations for Windows 10 navigation pane errors sits in the Advanced Settings menu. This error happens when your default or chosen settings are adjusted to work for the best performance rather than the best appearance. 

You can change this option to check if it will return the navigation pane.

When a PC is set to Best Performance, it limits the number of features displayed to reduce the stress on the hard drive. Switching to ‘Best Appearance’ lets you access everything your computer offers.

Malware and Computer Viruses

Malware isn’t as common as it used to be. Combining safe operating systems with high-quality antivirus software makes it easy to defend against unwanted computer viruses. 

However, they occasionally find their way onto some PCs, in which case they can wreak havoc. They can change and limit File Explorer, bank accounts, and other personal information.

Here’s how most computers get malware. 

  • Outdated operating systems.
  • Accessing unsafe websites.
  • Connecting to WiFi with other devices that have viruses.
  • Downloading files from unsafe web pages.

Outdated Operating System

If your operating system is outdated, it can change your navigation pane (along with many other settings). This is because it can’t update any apps, so they’re restricted to outdated information and file management practices.

OS updates can be time-consuming, but they’re more than worth it for the average PC user.

Incorrect File Explorer View

There’s a compact toolbar at the top of Windows File Explorer. Like the Navigation Pane box issue, you might’ve accidentally unchecked the box here.

Fortunately, all you have to do is reverse your steps to fix this problem. 

Not Enough PC Restarts

Running your PC for too long will cause all sorts of problems, including the fact that it won’t display File Explorer (and other programs) properly. I’ll also put a lot of strain and stress on the hard drive. Restarting your PC is important for more than just updating your computer every so often.

8 Easy Fixes for Windows File Explorer Not Showing the Left Pane

1. Enable the Navigation Pane

How to enable the Navigation Pane in Windows File Explorer.
How to enable the Navigation Pane in the Windows 11 File Explorer

Enabling the navigation pane will return the left pane in Windows File Explorer. Here’s how you can quickly check the box. 

  1. Click the Windows start icon or use the search bar (depending on your Windows OS version).
  2. Type File Explorer, then click the file icon to open the menu.
  3. Click on the View tab at the top of File Explorer, then check the navigation pane box.

Before adding it to the menu, you can also preview the pane in the top-left corner. This option lets you see what Windows File Explorer will look like with or without the navigation pane.

2. Uninstall Incompatible Apps

Getting a third-party app will change your Windows File Explorer menu. Remember these tips when you’re looking for additional file storage options. 

  • Opt for cloud storage or a USB hard drive to connect to your computer.
  • Check the program’s Terms & Conditions and compatibility page to know if it affects Windows OS.
  • Don’t get a third-party file storage app if it has bad reviews or isn’t registered in the app store.

If you think this might happen to your Windows computer, uninstall the app (after transferring everything to the cloud or a separate hard drive), restart your PC, and look for the navigation menu. If it shows up, you’re good to go. If not, head to the next solution.

3. Update the Video Drivers

Updating your video drivers is as easy as it’s ever been. Try one of these two solutions.

  1. Click on the search bar at the bottom of your Windows computer, then type video driver update. This action will bring you to the Windows website in the search engine. You can download the latest version of your video drivers from the page or by contacting Windows support. Once you download the update, restart your computer.
  2. Type Device Manager in your search bar at the bottom of the page, then click Sound & Video. You’ll be able to update your video drivers from this menu. You can also type Updates to check all the updates available for your computer. This option will prevent long-term issues, including a hidden navigation pane.

4. Adjust Advanced System Settings for Best Appearance

Changing your system’s advanced settings is an excellent way to activate the left pane in Windows File Explorer. Follow these steps for the best results. 

  1. Access the settings menu through the bottom search bar or start menu (depending on your Windows OS version).
  2. Go to the system settings menu to determine how you want to view the PC’s layout.
  3. Look for the About section, then choose Advanced Settings (you can also type Advanced Settings at the top of the menu).
  4. Choose Performance under System Properties, then check the box that says, Adjust for best appearance.

When you’re done, restart your computer and open Windows File Explorer. Look for the left pane after checking the navigation box, as mentioned earlier in the post.

5. Scan for and Remove Malware

If you think your computer’s malware is causing problems with Windows File Explorer’s left pane, follow these steps. 

  1. Use Windows Defender to scan for malware and remove it. Windows Defender comes stock on all Windows devices. Type it into the search bar, then run the advanced scan to remove all the malware on your computer. Doing so will also let you narrow down your probable causes.
  2. Avoid connecting your computer to public WiFi. You’ll get a lot of hackers and viruses when using the public internet, so it’s best to stay away from it. Most smartphones include mobile internet hotspots that you can use.
  3. Stay away from websites that don’t have the lock icon in the search bar (if you’re using Google Chrome or Firefox). The lock icon (or having HTTPS) is a surefire way to know that the website is safe to use.

6. Update Your OS

Updating your operating system makes everything work as Windows intended. Here’s how to scan for updates and ensure your OS is current. 

  1. Go to the Settings menu through the bottom search bar or the start menu at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Type Updates in the upper menu bar.
  3. Scan for current updates, then click Update if applicable.

Note: After updating its drivers and operating system, you must restart your computer. This restart allows the update to be complete. Failure to restart the computer will prevent you from reaping the benefits of the update.

7. Adjust View Settings to ‘Compact View’

If the navigation pane correction didn’t work, try this method. 

  1. Open Windows File Explorer through the Search or Start menu.
  2. Click View at the top of the page, then choose Compact View.
  3. Selection the Navigation Pane box under the Compact View menu.

Close Windows File Explorer when you finish this process, then open it again. The Navigation Pane (the left pane) should show up now. 

8. Restart and Clean Your PC

Restarting your computer might be the only thing you need to do to fix this problem. 

You should restart your computer once every few days, at least. Restarting your computer once every few months can take a toll on the hardware, directly affecting the software.

If this issue continues after restarting your computer, I suggest turning it off and leaving it alone for a few hours. It needs time to cool down

You should take this time to unplug the computer and remove debris from the CPU, fans, and other components. If you haven’t turned it off in a while, there’s a good chance that you haven’t cleaned the moving parts.

When you’re done, plug in the PC, turn it on, and look for the navigation pane.

How To Prevent Windows File Explorer Left Pane Issues

Follow these guidelines to prevent Windows File Explorer’s left pane from going away or messing up. 

  • Keep your computer updated, and don’t forget to restart it weekly. This step includes your video drivers, too. Updating your operating system and other programs will prevent Windows File Explorer issues and incompatibilities. It can also stop your computer from overheating or not working properly.
  • Run a malware scan weekly to prevent PC software problems. Malware scans are incredibly easy, especially when using Windows Defender. You can also try other products, such as Norton Antivirus. Another option is to set your malware scans to happen automatically so you don’t have to worry about stopping your work.
  • Avoid third-party file apps (stick to Windows File Explorer or cloud services). Google Cloud, Verizon Cloud, and other trustworthy cloud services offer excellent file storage. Using an untrusted third-party application can bring viruses and cause compatibility issues with Windows File Explorer.
  • Don’t access questionable websites, much less download anything from them. They’re often filled with malware that can wreak havoc on your computer. Furthermore, they can make it difficult to look through Windows File Explorer (not to mention the fact that it can strip or read all of your PC files).
  • Consider opening a guest account if other people want to use the computer. This suggestion prevents other people from messing with your preferred PC settings. Start your computer, then click ‘Guest’ instead of typing your password into the Windows opening screen. You can set guest admin options from your main account.

Final Thoughts

While Windows File Explorer is fairly easy to look through, this issue can make everything much harder to find.

Checking the Navigation Pane box will almost always fix the problem. However, you might need to update or restart your computer to eliminate any PC bugs.