How to Use Windows 10 OneDrive Files On-Demand

I use OneDrive constantly, especially to save all the articles I write for PCMag so that they’re accessible from anywhere. I also sync all the photos I shoot on my iPhone so that I can get to them easily from a web browser.

But before Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, OneDrive, like most syncing services, could take up lots of local disk space if you synced everything. Of course, OneDrive always let you decide which folders you wanted synced locally, but then on those occasions when you wanted a file from a non-synced folder, not only was it not there, but you couldn’t even see that it existed.

Enter OneDrive Files On-Demand. This brings back functionality called Placeholders, which was a part of Windows 8.1. That older feature confused some users, who couldn’t access the files while offline, so Microsoft removed it. On-Demand brings back the capability, and hopefully makes it clearer to all. How? It shows all your files stored in OneDrive , but marks those that aren’t saved locally with a cloud icon. It’s a lot like what iTunes has done for a few years to show you which tunes needed to be downloaded.

Of course, even before Files On-Demand, you could always access all your files by downloading them from the OneDrive website. But having them all visible in File Explorer is a great deal more convenient. Follow through the quick slideshow below to see how to set up and use it.

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  • 1Sign In to OneDrive

    Click on the cloud icon in the Taskbar’s notification area to get started. Sign in to your Microsoft account. If you have a Hotmail,, or Office 365 account, you already have a Microsoft account. Otherwise, you can sign up for one with any email address or a phone number.

  • 2Turn On Files On-Demand

    When you first click the OneDrive icon in the notification area after upgrading to Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, you see this invitation to start using Files On-Demand. It’s a simple matter of tapping the big Turn on button.

  • 3OneDrive Is Up to Date

    The next time you open the OneDrive notification icon, you see a panel like this, showing which files need to be uploaded.

  • 4Files in File Explorer

    Note that files that are stored locally show a green circled check mark, while files that are only in the cloud, logically, show a cloud. But a key thing to notice is that those icons aren’t little attachment overlays to the file icon itself: Instead, they live in a column of their own.

  • 5Download On-Demand

    When you double-click on one of those file entries in File Explorer that show a cloud in the Status column, you’ll see this download dialog. After that, the file simply opens in its associated app.

  • 6If You Don’t See On-Demand

    If you don’t see the new On-Demand feature, you can manually install it by running this OneDrive installer. You’ll then need to restart your PC and sign into your Microsoft account.