Unintentional settings changes, Trojan infections, and corrupted Windows components can be causes of vanishing desktop icons. Usually, the underlying software that the icons link to is still there and can open after the user navigates to the appropriate folder. A 'Desktop Icons Not Showing Up' fix typically requires only minor changes to system settings, although users also have more complex solutions for emergencies where lesser ones don't suffice.
Reappearing Icons that Pull a Vanishing Act
Users can grow so accustomed to the easy access of shortcuts to their applications that they can forget that these icons are just that: optional shortcuts. Their vanishing can result from different issues, most of which aren't threatening to the PC. As in similar troubleshooting scenarios, they should attempt easier and faster solutions before moving on to others as appropriate.
Settings changes are the first culprit in need of a 'Desktop Icons Not Showing Up' fix. Right-click the desktop, select View, and make sure that the 'Show desktop icons' field has a checkmark. After doing this, right-click again and select Personalize, followed by Themes from the left-side menu. The right side of the window provides a desktop icon settings link for control over the default system shortcuts like the Recycle Bin and Control Panel. Again, checking these items should make them visible.
Windows may not register all changes immediately. Additionally, software conflicts can cause icon display problems. The most direct way of forcing an icon 'refresh' for the desktop is to restart the 'explorer.exe' process from the Windows processes sub-section of Task Manager. Right-click Windows Explorer (which uses a unique icon) and select Restart.
Buckling Down to Harder Icon Retrieval
Most users can resolve their desktop icon errors with previous solutions. However, some scenarios may involve a corrupt icon cache. Windows users can force a rebuild of the cache by deleting the files – check the Windows version for the relevant ones. For example, in Windows 10, all files that begin with 'iconcache' in the '\Users\<username of your account>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer' location are part of the icon cache. However, since Windows Explorer uses these files, deletion requires closing it as per the previous solution temporarily, with 'End task' instead of 'Restart.'
Missing icons in isolation are usually not a terrible problem. Missing icons, files, folders, and other data can be symptoms of significant hard drive damage. Users who suspect this cause should shut down the system and consult a professional repair service.
While it's infrequent, Trojans and other threats may modify the desktop's icons – such as displaying a ransom note, as per file-locker Trojans like Dharma Ransomware. Users should always remove these threats through dedicated anti-malware tools and resolve other symptoms afterward.
Usually, a 'Desktop Icons Not Showing Up' fix isn't a dire emergency. For most cases, what's unseen is still present – just hiding and put back into visibility in a few steps quickly.
The Simple Solution
Before going into more detail about fixing desktop icons not appearing, let's first take care of the simplest solution to ensure this isn't the problem. Start by ensuring that desktop icons for Windows 10 (or whichever version you're running) are enabled in the first place. It's possible you disabled them without realizing, or another app has turned them off.
Right-click on the empty desktop and opening the View options. Verify the "Show Desktop Icons" box is checked, and icons are enabled. If you're only interested in the default system icons and want to turn off other icons, open the Personalize menu instead of View.
Open the Themes settings and then the Desktop icon settings. This screen has several options to choose from so you can set-up your desktop how you like it.
Restart Windows Explorer
If you've enabled desktop icons and they still aren't showing up, then you might need to restart Windows Explorer. Windows Explorer controls desktop icons and windows. This system app controls things such as the taskbar and system tray.
Press Ctrl+Alt+Del on your keyboard to bring up the security options menu. Open Task Manager and expand the View. Find the "Explorer.exe" service in the Task Manager and choose the option to Restart it. It might take a few minutes for Explorer to reboot fully, but this should hopefully fix your issue.
Shut Down Applications
Running too many applications at once – or running the wrong combination of applications – causes problems on computers. When different programs fight for resources, it can bring the whole computer to a halt. This affects everything on a computer, including whether or not desktop icons display correctly.
Try closing some of the programs you aren't using, either directly or through Task Manager. Consider rebooting the computer as well. Turning a machine off and on again is often the simplest way to get it working normally again.
Update Device Drivers
Your computer comprises different hardware components, such as the display monitor, keyboard and mouse, and hard drive. Each of these hardware components has a corresponding software program running it, known as a driver. If the software is out of date or incompatible, it leads to hardware problems with your machine.
The problem with driver errors is that it isn't always apparent that's the problem. It's difficult to tell if drivers are causing a problem and then which driver is at fault. Think about how your computer has been behaving lately. Does anything, in particular, stand out? Once you know which device(s) could be at fault, you can work on fixing it.
- Use Device Manager
Use the search box on your taskbar to find and open the Windows Device Manager. Find the device you want to update in the window and right-click it. Choose the option to update the driver and then let Windows search for updates automatically.
- Manually Download Drivers
If Windows doesn't find any updates and you think it might be missing something, then you can manually update the driver yourself. Search the internet for the device in question and check the manufacturer's websites for driver updates. Find, download, and run the update like any other program.
- Use Driver Update Software
Don't feel like trudging through the internet to find driver updates? The good news is there are many software solutions to help. These programs are better at finding updates than Device Manager and could find updates even you can't. These tools are a must for any computer owner without the time or technical knowledge to manually update their computer.