The Computer Guy's TroubleShooting Pages

Deleting Invisible Files
Techniques for solving diagnosed Problems


Updated 9/3/99

 Once a problem has be troubleshot, diagnosed and confirmed a solution is applied. These solutions fall into several categories and techniques. Understanding, having the tools and practicing these techniques will save time and money.

Utilities for dealing with invisible files
File Buddy
Norton FastFind
Greg's Browser


Find File/Sherlock. Hold down the option key when you click the name option. This will allow you to use the visibility option. Once you locate the file use either 'File info" command in resedit or Nortons Fast Find to change the files visability status.

TITLE Mac OS 8.5: Sherlock Application And Invisible Files
Article ID: 30726
Created: 8/26/98
Modified: 11/23/98
After finding all invisible files, using the new Sherlock application in Mac OS 8.5, I cannot drag items from the hit list window to the Trash. This used to work in Mac OS 8.1. Why the difference?

Under Mac OS 8.1, when an invisible desktop database item, is dragged to the trash, the warning dialog says "You must restart your Macintosh and immediately empty the trash." Trying to drag any other invisible file somewhere will produce the message "Invisible Files cannot be moved."

Under Mac OS 8.5, the Sherlock application disables drags when invisible items are displayed, since they cannot be moved. When the menu item "Move to Trash" is selected, the warning dialog says "Invisible items cannot be left in the trash. Do you want to delete them immediately?"

The messages and actions are somewhat different between Mac OS 8.1 and Mac OS 8.5, but the behavior is still appropriate and also improved, in that a restart is no longer required. Since the files are being deleted immediately, open files cannot be removed in this fashion.

Desktop database files, being always open on every mounted volume, cannot be deleted. These files do not need to be deleted entirely and probably should not be, now that Get Info comments are being stored in the desktop database. The process of rebuilding the database files at Finder startup time, is the proper way to manipulate these files. The drastic procedure of making them visible and moving them to the trash now has the potential of causing user data loss (Get Info comments). Thus these files should never be deleted directly anymore.

The new Sherlock application can delete invisible "icon" files of a custom folder icon and the "AppleShare PDS" file, when file sharing / AppleShare is not active.

Tip#5The Desktop Database and Invisible files

Many Macintosh users aren't aware that in addition to the files that you see in the Finder, on your desktop, and in folders, there are other files on your hard drive that are normally invisible. These files are invisible because there is usually no reason to do anything with them except to let them do their job.

Why have invisible files? Apple has done a real good job of letting Macintosh users have access to what they need and keeping them from changing things that might cause problems or would otherwise confuse things. One way they have done this is to make certain files invisible so that there is no way to accidentally move or delete them.

What are some invisible files and what do they do? There are a number of invisible files on the Macintosh you are using right now. Have you ever seen a folder on a Mac that has an icon that has been customized to look like something other than a normal Mac folder? What someone has done is pasted a custom icon into the 'Get Info' window for that folder. What they have really done is created a small invisible file called 'Icon' on their hard drive that is linked to that folder.

Another set of invisible files are those related to Open Transport or Classic Networking on any non-PCI Mac running 7.5.3 or later. Without getting into the details of both of these networking setups you can either run one or the other. When you are using one, the other's control panels, etc. are made invisible as to not to confuse the user.

Another set of invisible files are those related to the Desktop Database which we will discuss a little later.

Some software companies make parts of their software invisible if there is no reason for the user to need access to them. You will notice some invisible files related to ATM (Adobe Type Manager) in one of the screen shots below.

How can I see these invisible files? There is a way to see which invisible files you have on your hard drive. The easiest way to take a look at what is invisible on your hard drive it to use Apple's Find File that comes with System 7.5.x.

If you press Command-F when in the Finder you should get a Find File window. This is Apple's tool for searching your hard drive. If you hold your mouse button down on the pop-up menu on the left side that contains the word name you will see other options for searching such as size, kind, file type, etc. But, if you hold down the option key before opening the pop-up you will see a few extra options, the last one being 'Visibility'. Upon selecting 'Visibility' the other settings should change to 'is' and 'Invisible' as shown below.


If you perform this search on your hard drive you will receive results like this:


Notice the many invisible files that have been hiding from you all this time.

Why should I care about invisible files? Most invisible files you will never have any reason to care about. There are a few that you may want to know about. Those are the files related to your Desktop Database.

What is the Desktop Database? Imagine that every time you double clicked a document on your hard drive that your Mac had to sort through every file it had looking for the program that created it. This could be a lengthy process on a small hard drive let alone the one and two gigabyte drives that are common one new machines. So what Apple devised is a system of keeping track of what is on your hard drive so that when it needs to see what is there it can just look it up in the database. The Desktop Database stores information about all the files on your hard drive and keeps the links between your documents and the programs that created them. It is also what handles giving your documents and programs their custom icons.

What else does the Desktop Database contain? In addition to keeping track of the things mentioned above, it also holds most of the information that can be seen in the get info window (select a file, then select Get Info from under the File menu). It holds the positioning of each icon in the Finder windows. It also contains the comments that can be entered in the 'Get Info' window.

Is the Desktop Database why I keep having those generic icons? Being that the Desktop Database is what keeps the information about giving your files and programs those icons that we have gotten used to seeing, when it is not up to date or has been damaged you can end up with icons like the ones below.


Is there a way I can rebuild my desktop? If you are having problems with icons not showing up properly, or if the program that created a document isn't opening when you double click the document, you may have an out of date or damaged Desktop Database. The first way to rebuild your desktop is to hold down both the Option and the Command keys when you start up your computer. Keep holding them down until you get the message asking you if you want to rebuild the desktop on your particular drive and click OK. You will notice a progress bar that will have the words 'Rebuilding the Desktop' in it. Once completed your icons should show up properly and the appropriate programs should launch when their documents are double clicked.

What if the Command-Option method doesn't fix my problem? There are a couple of options at this point for what may be going on.

First of all there may be more serious damage to your Desktop Database or your hard drive. At this point I would suggest running Disk First Aid to verify your hard drive to make sure it doesn't have any more serious problems going on.

Secondly you may want to use something like TechTool a free utility from MicroMat to actually delete your Desktop Database and force your Mac to make a new one from scratch. This should get rid of any damage there might be to those files.

Should I rebuild my Desktop Database every so often just to make sure I don't have any problems? In some Mac circles rebuilding the desktop is the suggested solution for every problem under the sun. The above mentioned symptoms are the most common issues related to the Desktop Database. If you are having problems like crashing or lock-ups, the problem more than likely isn't related to the desktop database. Generally there isn't any real good reason to rebuild your desktop unless you are experiencing some of the problems mentioned above. I don't see any harm in rebuilding your desktop in the conventional way with the command and option every few months but there probably isn't any real advantage either.
I hope I have given you some information about the working of your Mac. It is not my objective to provide every technical detail about each subject. What I do want to provide is enough information to help you more effectively use your computer on a daily basis.

Freeze when Desktop Rebuilt

You do not say how she is trying to rebuild the desk top, whether by holding down keys at startup or by trashing desktop database files and allowing the Finder to rebuild from scratch.If not the latter -- try it. Could be the files are corrupt, hence the freeze when trying to rebuild the existing files.
Shutdown Check Corrupted
MAJOR thanks to Michael Seinberg, who recommended using Norton Utilities' WipeInfo to delete an invisible, possibly corrupted file called Shutdown Check. I did, and it shut down!


I repaired directory damage to my startup disk after a bad crash. But now my startup disk icon can no longer be customized. When I paste a new icon in the disk's information window, I get an error message that contains "error -50." Any suggestions?
A disk's custom icon is stored in an invisible file, named "Icon", within the root folder. This file has become corrupted and needs to be deleted. The tricky part of deleting the icon file is that it is not easy to delete an invisible file. There are various means of deleting an invisible file but most require software that doesn't come with your Mac.
Reinstalling ATM 4.02

It seems that ATM created more than just 1 preference file. In fact it creates 1 visible file that I had trashed and 2 invisible files in the preference folder. When I learned to look for them I trashed them and the start-up sequence was fine after that. I then looked for the 2 invisible files and there they were again, recreated again. Thank you Judy for the note.  

MS Office 98 Invisibles
My original problem concerned MS Office 98 files that disappeared after many hours working on large files and using Fast Save set for every ten minutes. Word ran out of memory and could not save the file which was lost when it was quit.
In summary, the advice was that the Fast Save creates numerous temporary files which after many hours of work reach a critical number of 348 and the system runs out of memory and you lose the original file. Apparently many files, perhaps over a hundred, are open all as you work. Most are invisible.
Particular advice was to:
Disable Fast save. MANY people suggested this.
If you run into the out-of-memory message try this: Select the whole document with Select All,copy it to the clipboard, close it and lose it, open a new file and paste it back in. The text, at least, will be saved. Close and reopen the file from time to time. It gets rid of temporary
Quit the Word program once an hour and open it again.
Back up more frequently, at least twice a day.
Use Save As and add and extra character to the title from time to time.
Install the Office 98 Updater
Allocate more RAM memory to Word, suggested 9000K-15000K.
To save memory save large documents as Word6/95. Big savings.
Look for a virus. Suggested SevenDust
Several people suggested DiskWarrior to attempt to retrieve the file.
Give files a distinctive name rather than Document # as they might be
treated a temporary files and disappear.
Check for Hard Disk damage.
Save very frequently.
Network Software Selector
In the early days of Open Transport, Apple still offered the option of using classic networking (the heart of which was the MacTCP control panel) on some machines. For those machines that could support both, they handled switching back and forth with a program called Network Software Selector, which was usually installed in the Apple Extras folder but could also be found on the OS CD.
NSS did its magic by changing the type of all the relevant files and making them visible or invisible as apporiate. So if you selected Open Transport, it would make MacTCP and its associated fils invisible, and change their file types to '????' to make sure they didn't load on startup (it used to be that invisible system files would still get loaded--I don't think this is the case any more). If you then switched back to classic networking, it'd make the various OT files (AppleTalk, TCP/IP, etc.) invisible, change their types, then revert the classic files back to normal.
If you want to remove the invisible files without using NSS, just make them visible with ResEdit and trash them as usual.






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