Briefcase (Microsoft Windows)

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In Microsoft Windows, the Briefcase is a special folder that supports a simple two-way file synchronization between itself and another folder. The Briefcase is designed for mobile PC users so that they may transfer it to a removable drive and have it synchronize with the computer to which the removable drive is attached. It follows the same metaphor as the file and file folder and then, while the file management tasks are performed by Windows Explorer, the briefcase behaves just like another folder, i.e. with support for copy-paste and drag-and-drop. It has additional functions and toolbar buttons for updating out-of-sync files. The Windows Briefcase was introduced in Windows 95[1] and removed in Windows 8 (although in Windows 8 it can be restored by editing the Windows Registry).


The Windows Briefcase synchronizes files and folders within itself with those in any other folder, even on a removable writable media or the network.[2] It is intended for users with portable media or multiple computers. To use the Briefcase, users only need to use Windows Explorer and then drag or copy their files into the Briefcase once. Any further changes to either the files on disk or those in the Briefcase are synchronized whenever the user right-clicks on the briefcase and selects Update All.

If there are differences between the copies, the Briefcase shows a dialog box with an icon and a description indicating the action it will take when synchronizing; that is, whether it will replace the copy in the Briefcase with the external file or vice versa. The action the Briefcase will take is configurable by right clicking the icon. For example, users can skip synchronizing individual items by selecting the Skip action upon right clicking the icon. For items deleted in either the Briefcase or the main original folder, the Briefcase can create a copy of the missing item. Users can also sync individual items in the Briefcase by selecting the item first and then clicking the Update button instead of Update All.

The update status of each item is stored in the Briefcase. If any item does not link to any original item outside the briefcase, (for example when the drive containing the briefcase is inserted in a secondary computer, or the original has been deleted in the main computer) it is called an orphan.[2]


Most special folders in Windows (such as Briefcase folders) have a Hidden file (with System attribute) Desktop.ini.[citation needed] They may also have Registry entries describing them. The Desktop.ini for a Briefcase contains the following lines:


In addition to this file, a second Hidden/System file serves as the Briefcase database. This file is Briefcase Database. Except for its first four bytes (the characters DDSH), the format of this database is specialized for Briefcases; a tool to view and edit it does not appear to exist.[citation needed]


When a user wishes to sync a file with one in another folder, the filename must be exactly the same. If any item is renamed or moved, it splits from the original, is no longer synchronized and becomes an orphan.[citation needed] If an item is deleted, the associated copy by default is deleted as well when using Update All.

If the briefcase medium becomes full during an Update, there will be no space for writing the updated briefcase database. This has the effect of making many of the folders and files orphans, with no easy way to restore their link with their counterparts on the source medium.

Such limitations (and others) make briefcase files very brittle, easily corrupted. This limits robustness as a folder and file backup mechanism.

See also[edit]