How to save disk space with Files on Demand in Windows 10

Top tips for saving disk space on Windows PCs with small disks

Files on Demand is a great new feature in Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update that can save gigabytes of disk space. Using this and other techniques, you can free up tons of disk space.

Save disk space using the Files on Demand feature in Windows 10 Fall Creator's Update. Store your files online with OneDrive.

What is Files on Demand?

Everyone who runs Windows has access to cloud storage in the form of Microsoft OneDrive. It provides 5GB free of charge (see How to get more free space on OneDrive), and there are options to increase this to as much as 1TB for a small fee.

The normal setup for OneDrive is to sync a folder on the PC’s disk with the online storage, so C:\Users\YourName\OneDrive is exactly the same as your online storage at Files and folders on the PC’s disk are exactly the same as online

However, there is an option to keep the files and folders only online, which means that no disk space is required on the PC’s disk for the files. It looks like the files are on the disk in the OneDrive folder, but really they are online. It saves gigabytes of disk space.

Enable Files on Demand

To enable Files on Demand you need Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update and if you don’t yet have it, you soon will. Right click the OneDrive icon at the right side of the taskbar and select Settings on the menu. If the icon is hidden, click the ^ to show the tray of icons.

You can also right click the OneDrive folder in the sidebar of Explorer windows and select Settings.

On the Settings tab is Files on Demand. Just tick the box and click OK.

Enable Files on Demand for OneDrive in Windows 10

We are not quite finished and not we need to remove the files on disk. Don’t worry, they are also stored online.

Right click OneDrive in Explorer’s sidebar and select Clear space.

Clear disk space in the OneDrive folder with Files on Demand

It might take a long time if there are a lot of files, but eventually all the files on the PC’s disk are replaced with links to the online files. A tiny cloud badge appears in the corner of a file or folder icon to show that it is not really on the disk, but is online. Other than that, you would not know you weren’t looking at files on the PC’s disk

OneDrive space savings

If you right click the OneDrive folder and select Properties, compare the size with the size on disk. Here I have 4.39GB of files, but notice that they occupy just over 1MB of disk space, which is nothing.

The disk space savings when Files on Demand is enabled in Windows 10


Drawbacks of File on Demand

If you try to open a file in the OneDrive folder, Windows will automatically download it to the PCs disk. It is then opened in the usual way. Firstly, you must have an internet connection to fetch the file, and secondly, there is a slight pause when opening files in the OneDrive folder because they must be downloaded.

These are minor irritations and you probably won’t notice them. Files in the PC’s OneDrive folder on disk look and behave just like they are on disk.

Compress the disk to save space

Another way to save space on the disk is to compress the files. Not as zip files, but using the on-the-fly compression feature in NTFS, the disk filing system used on Windows PCs.

Open Explorer, select This PC in the sidebar, right click the disk (C:) and select properties. Tick the box at the bottom to Compress this drive to save disk space. Click Apply.

Apply disk compression in Windows to save disk space

Apply the changes to drive C:\, subfolders and files. It can take an hour or two to compress all the files, so run this task overnight.

Apply disk compression to save disk space in Windows

This type of compression is totally transparent and you will not know files are compressed because they look the same and work the same. It is invisible on-the-fly compression that requires no changes to the way you work, a bit like the way encryption works on disks, but it can save a lot of disk space.

Use Disk Clean-up

The screenshot before last I also highlighted Disk Clean-up. It can be run from here or from the Start menu > Windows Administrative Tools > Disk Clean-up. For extra cleaning power and space savings, click Clean system files.

Use Disk Clean-up in Windows to recover lost disk space by deleting unnecessary files

Tick all the boxes and then click OK. You might save several gigabytes of disk space.

Use Storage Sense

Storage Sense is a feature in Windows 10 that semi-automatically recovers lost disk space. For a longer explanation, see Get more disk space with Windows 10 Storage sense disk cleaner.

Enable Storage Sense in Windows 10 to save disk space

Basically it is a clean-up tool for removing junk files. Turn it on and click Change how we free up space. Tick all the boxes and click Clean now.

Enable Storage Sense in Windows 10 to save disk space

Follow all these tips and you should have a cleaner disk drive with a lot more space for your files.

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