Is Windows showing the wrong date for files in Explorer?

An issue that cropped up recently on a Windows PC was that it appeared to be showing the wrong date for files in an Explorer window. This was a Google Drive synced folder, so it looked like a Drive problem, but it wasn’t.

The date problem was discovered when a folder was switched to Details view on the View menu in Windows 8. (This is not a Windows 8 problem though and it applies to all versions of Windows.) Clicking any of the column headers in Details view sorts the files by that attribute, so if you click Date then the files are displayed in order of date. This can be ascending or descending and clicking the Date header again reverses the sort order if it is not the one you want.

The problem was that the files listed at the top were known to have been recently updated. They are JPEG images and they are frequently changed.

 Windows Explorer

The folder is one that is synced with Google Drive and suspecting a Drive sync problem, the online version of the folder was opened in a browser window. Notice that the dates on the files in the screenshots above and below are different. The online files in the browser show much more recent dates.

 Google Drive

The problem was actually a very simple one and it is caused by the way that the Windows filing system works. It keeps track of no less than three different dates for each file on the disk drive:

  • The date the file was created
  • The date the file was last modified
  • The date the file was last accessed

See the Date column in the Explorer screenshot above – which date is Windows showing? It does not say. In fact, it is showing the file creation date. No matter how much or how often the file is updated, the creation date never changes. This is great if you actually want to see when files were created, but it does not help if you want to see which files were recently updated.

The solution was straightforward. Right click the Date column header in the Explorer window and a list of the columns that can be displayed is shown. The ones that are visible have ticks next to them.

 Windows Explorer details view

Clearing the tick next to Date removes that column. You then have to right click one of the column headers and tick Date modified in the menu. This adds it as a new column. It appears as the last one on the right following all the other columns and to get it back where it was, which is immediately following the Name column, you must click and drag the Date modified column and drop it where you want it.

Usually Explorer automatically shows the Date modified column and not the Date column when you switch to Details view, so it is a mystery how this folder had the wrong date attribute. It is easy enough to switch to the right date, but if you don’t look for it, you might not realise that you are looking at the wrong date on files on the disk drive.

Once a folder is configured to use certain settings, such as the date modified and not the date created, it remembers it and uses it whenever that folder is viewed.

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3 Comments on Is Windows showing the wrong date for files in Explorer?

  1. Had the same exact problem with a dropbox-related folder – now solved. Thanks a bunch!

  2. Doug Mitchell // 2016/10/26 at 22:51 // Reply

    This is not a ‘problem’ but a lack of understanding. A problem with the date is renaming a file and the date changes, as I’m having. It appear that Windows is keeping media files logged and when I change a video file from say “X-1” to “X”, the original file, the newly renamed file’s date is changed to that of the original “X”.

    How can I have Windows 10 stop doing this? 🙂

  3. Thank you. I was getting rather frustrated why my view for C:\Users\\Downloads was showing a different date than the “Downloads” from the quick access bar. This article was really helpful in explaining what was going on

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