How to Load Files in Exact Sequence


By: okasional
December 30, 2011

Usually when moving or copying a group of files from one location to another we neither know nor care where Windows places them in memory, so long as it can find one when we need it.  However, there are times when we do care in what order the files are arranged.  For example, it might be a group of MP3 tunes we want to load onto a USB thumb drive so we can listen to them in a certain sequence.  Or it might be a group of JPEG pictures we want to load onto an SD card so we can view them on a digital photo frame in chronological order.  In these cases if the files are not saved in precise order, starting at the lowest memory address, they will not be played back in proper sequence.  Windows will preserve the order, if you know how.

We'll start by assuming you have a directory that holds a list of files in some order that you want to maintain after copying them to a device.  They might be in ascending or descending alphanumeric order by filename, in chronological order by date/time created or date/time last modified, etc.  It doesn't really make any difference what order they are in, as long as it is the order you want.

One way to maintain order is to drag and drop files one at a time from source to destination.  But suppose you have 50 or 100 or more files!  The obvious answer is to drag and drop them as a group.  We've all been taught that, after selecting (highlighting) a group of files, you can point to any one of them with the mouse, click, and drag them all to a destination location.  That's true -- if you don't care about the destination order.  However, to keep the group intact you must drag and drop in a very specific way.  Here are the rules:

A group of highlighted files, whether contiguous or not, will be moved/copied starting with the file the group is dragged with.  For example, in a list of files 1 - 20, if you highlight files 1 - 5, 7, and 9 - 15 and drag with file 1, all those 13 files will be moved/copied to the destination in that same order.

But if the file you drag with is not the first one in the group, all files starting with that one will be moved/copied in order first, followed by all highlighted files above the one you drag with, starting with the uppermost.  In the example above, if you had dragged with file 4, the destination sequence would be 4, 5, 7, 9 - 15, 1 - 3.  If you had dragged with file 9 the sequence would be 9 -15, 1 - 5, 7.

You can concatenate as many groups as you want by dragging with the first file of a selected (highlighted) group and dropping it below the last file of the previous group.

You can modify a sequence by dragging files and dropping them with the mouse pointing to a place where something has been removed.  The replacement files can be any size larger or smaller than the original files, as long as they are replaced one-for-one.  For example, if you have a group of files 1 - 10 in sequence, you can delete file 5 and replace it with a new file 11 by dragging it to the vacated spot between files 4 and 6 before releasing the mouse button.  The relative size of files 5 and 11 doesn't matter.  The new sequence will be 1 - 4, 11, 6 - 10.  But  if you try to replace file 5 with two new files 12 and 13, even if the size of files 12 and 13 combined is less than file 5, that's a two-for-one replacement, and only the first file will be inserted.  The second will be appended to the end of the list, and the sequence will be 1 - 4, 12, 6 - 10, 13.

To further illustrate the concept of one-for-one replacement, suppose you had deleted two files 5 and 6 from the group of 1 - 10 instead of just file 5.  In that case, if you drag and drop two new files 12 and 13 to the vacated spot between files 4 and 7, the sequence would be 1 - 4, 12, 13, 7 - 10.

Bear in mind that you can't rely on Windows to tell you the true sequence after modifying a list of files that started out intact.  In the last example above, Windows might show the file list as 1 - 4, 7 - 10, 12, 13, or in some other sequence, depending on how it was last instructed to order the directory.  You must keep track of changes on your own.


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