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Q: What is a Windows shortcut file?

A: A Windows shortcut is a proprietary file type used by the Windows operating system. Shortcuts allow you to create a pointer to a file without having to copy or move the original file. Executable files and commonly accessed files and folders are good candidates for Windows shortcuts.

To create a shortcut, simply right-click an existing file and select "Create shortcut."

Create Windows Shortcut

You can identify a shortcut by the small arrow graphic in the lower-left corner of a file's icon:

Windows LNK Icon

Windows shortcuts use the .LNK file extension, which is short for "link." However, Windows hides the file extension of shortcuts, so you will not see the ".lnk" extension when you create a shortcut. If you want to verify that a certain file is a shortcut, right-click the file, choose Properties, and then select the General tab from the resulting window:

Shortcut File Type

Shortcut files are saved in a proprietary binary format that is unreadable by a standard text editor, such as Microsoft Notepad. Therefore, if you want to modify a shortcut's properties, such as the icon or the file the shortcut points to, you can use the Shortcut tab in the Properties window.

Shortcut Properties

Deleting a shortcut file will only delete the shortcut and will not affect the original file.

NOTE: If the file association for .LNK files is altered, it may cause your Windows icons to unexpectedly change. If this happens, you can follow the steps in this Help Center article to fix your Windows icons.

Updated: June 26, 2013