So I suppose this is specific to the OS you are using or the filetype or software used to open it, but my question stands open for all really but I am particularly interested in more common files such as docx and xls.

Note that the person to open the file may have not edited or saved the file, simply open and closed it.

  • Such need are mainly found in email tracking system, where one want to know who opened the email, when and where. In these case, the "trick" is to include some remote object (like a 1x1 pixel image whose URL contains a unique identifier) to be downloaded from a server of yours. When you see the request for this image coming, you know that the email has been opened, and by analyzing the request you can have the expected information. Commented May 13, 2015 at 10:59

4 Answers 4


Well, AFAIK there are two options that do not require activation, nor specialized tools:

  1. Open C:\Users\user name\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Recent Items, and see if the file is listed there.
  2. Open regedit.exe, and navigate to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\RecentDocs section. You will see values, structured by extension, that have recently been opened by the 'current user' (last 10 files of that extension).

Note that option 1 will only list files that have been modified, whereas option 2 will also list files that have been opened and closed, without editing or saving the file.


Without a prior preparation (which I understand is the case described by you) the only viable option that comes to my mind is to check the last opened/recent files in all users programs that you can access. This may include menu entries, pop down lists, or even registry entries. Since you mentioned MS Office documents, this might come in handy:


But there is of course more.


Following this video you can enable auditing for files. This video was for windows. I suppose there is similar solutions for other OS.

Edit: I think that if this video are going to be deleted, other are going to replace it. By just google "enable audit for windows" you can get your answer and some pretty detailed videos/posts.

  • 2
    Could you edit the details into your post, in case the link dies? Also note that that article is from 2000.... not sure if the contents is still valid. Commented May 13, 2015 at 11:20
  • 1
    I see your edit, but that's really not what I meant. Posts on Stack Exchange should be independent from other sources, links should only serve for reference. People come here via Google, so "just google it if the link is gone" is going to disappoint them. Commented May 13, 2015 at 12:11
  • 1
    I second what @S.L.Barth is saying. You should summarise the content of the video instead of posting a link to it. Commented May 13, 2015 at 12:43
  • No specialist tools. Commented May 30, 2015 at 11:35

Without a specifically setup environment to track file open events there is simply no way to do this.

Most OS'es do not track who opened a file. just who (or to be specific what process) has it open (so no history there).

adding a 'tracking cookie' (or another tracking technique like the image of @WhiteWinterWolf) is not reliable due to network availability and/or people simply not displaying it / triggering it.

The main question that is unresolved is "Why do you want to know who opened your file?"

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