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April 11, 2014

The Story of Thumbs.db

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Perhaps you’ve seen it, perhaps not. I saw it a lot recently, working on a book project that involved using a network location to save my files. It’s Thumbs.db.

Thumbs.db is a file. The db most likely stands for database and the Thumbs stands for thumbnails. I figured that much out on my own.

Given that the folder in which it was created contained graphics images, my guess was that Windows created Thumbs.db as a way to store file thumbnail images. That’s necessary because in certain folder views, the file icons can be large enough to display a preview image of what the file looks like.

The preview trick doesn’t work for every file, but some common formats sport the preview. Image files, obviously, have a preview. Some web pages and documents sport the preview. To make that happen, windows scours the folder, scoops up images for each file, then stores that image cache in the Thumbs.db file.

That’s all well and good, but it is necessary? I mean, every time I selected a swath of files, I’d see Thumbs.db pop up. Even on the FTP server at City Hall, I see a Thumbs.db file.

If you’ve never seen the Thumbs.db file, good! You must configure Windows to display hidden/system files in order for it to show up. Even if you don’t see it, it might still be there, especially if you’re using Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.

The good news is that you can freely delete any Thumbs.db file you find — especially on a network location. Better still, you can configure Windows to not create the thing in the first place. To do so requires a few jumps and twists, as outlined here:

1. Press Win+R to summon the Run dialog box.
2. Type
gpedit.msc into the box and press Enter or click OK.

The Group Policy Editor window appears, similar to what you see in Figure 1. It’s a treasure of hidden Windows controls and switches.

Figure 1. The Local Group Policy Editor window.

Figure 1. The Local Group Policy Editor window.

3. Open the following folders to get to the proper policy:

User Configuration
 Administrative Templates
  Windows Components
   Windows Explorer

If you’re using Windows 8 (and how can you stand it?) choose File Explorer as the final folder to open.

4. On the right side of the window, double-click on the item titled Turn Off The Caching of Thumbnails in Hidden thumbs.db Files.

The policy is to turn off the Thumbs.db file, so you enable it:

Figure 2. You must "enable" the disable of the feature. Weird.

Figure 2. You must “enable” the disable of the feature. Weird.

5. Choose Enabled.
6. Click OK.
7. Close the Group Policy Editor window.

The policy is set, which means the Thumbs.db files are no longer created. You can ruthlessly delete them, if you like. I wrote a script on my unix computer to do that, but moving forward rest assured that the annoying little buggers will no longer spawn like mold in a damp gym locker.

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