Managing overlay icons for Dropbox and TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit

I imagine like many involved in web development, I rely heavily on a number of version control applications: I use Dropbox, Subversion (SVN) and Git.

For years I’ve used the TortoiseSVN client for Windows. It integrates with the Windows Explorer shell making it quick and easy to manage your version controlled code within Explorer.

I like that I don’t need a separate full-blown application that acts as an interface between the code on my PC and the SVN repository; I like that I don’t need to use a command prompt; but I love that TortoiseSVN adds overlay icons to tell me the state of each file (is it up to date, changed, added, etc.?).

These folders are all up to date, and in sync with the SVN repository.
These folders are all up to date, and in sync with the SVN repository.

Recently I’ve started using Git at work and so I’ve also installed TortoiseGit which does something similar.

This is the Bootstrap repo cloned to my PC.
This is the Bootstrap repo cloned to my PC.

And of course Dropbox does the same: it shows you which files have been synchronised with the cloud, and which are in the process of uploading.

My Dropbox folders are up-to-date, synchronized successfully with the Cloud
My Dropbox folders are up-to-date, synchronized successfully with the Cloud

The problem

The problem, though, is that each of these applications uses multiple overlay icons but Windows only uses the first 15.

TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit both use the same nine icons:

Nine folder, each has an icon on top of it such as ticks, crosses or pluses.
TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit both use nine icons.

Dropbox uses eight icon overlays. If you have OneDrive installed (which you will if you use Windows 8 or above) then it uses three. And Windows itself uses a few to indicate offline files or enhanced storage.

That’s 22 icon overlays, and like I said: Windows only uses the first 15.

So, inevitably you end up with some icons missing, and depending on which these are it can make life just that little bit harder when trying to figure out quickly whether a file is in sync or not, or whether it’s not even been added.

That means you need to make a choice about which icons you want to use and which you don’t.

What Microsoft should do…

This functionality was introduced in Windows 95, to still limit this value to 15 icons when we now have a 64-bit operating system and literally gigabytes of RAM and terrabytes of hard disc scpace seem mad.

Microsoft should now either

  1. increase the limit from 15 to, say, 256 or 1024 or whatever multiple of eight they choose, or
  2. provide a set of standard overlay icons (that can be updated as part of the current Windows theme) for the most common overlay icons (e.g. normal, read only, added, modified, deleted, ignored, conflicted, locked, question mark) that any application can hook into.

How to fix it

Anyway, the most straight-forward way to fix this is by editing the Windows Registry.

The icon overlays can be found in the following key:

Computer \ HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers

It turns out you can safely rename the folders which will reorder the icons. The folders are just containers for the real information contained within them.

1. Backup

Export (backup) the ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers folder in its entirety, in case you need to restore it later.

2. Prioritise which icons you need

My current preference is for the following:

  1. 1TortoiseNormal
  2. 2TortoiseModified
  3. 3TortoiseConflict
  4. 6TortoiseDeleted
  5. 7TortoiseAdded
  6. 8TortoiseIgnored
  7. 9TortoiseUnversioned
  8. DropboxExt1 (green Synced)
  9. DropboxExt2 (blue In progress)
  10. DropboxExt5 (red Sync problem)
  11. DropboxExt7 (grey Folder not synchronizing)
  12. EnhancedStorageShell
  13. SkyDrivePro1 (ErrorConflict)
  14. SkyDrivePro2 (SyncInProgress)
  15. SkyDrivePro3 (InSync)

You can use whatever naming convention you prefer. I rename the original folder names with a number prefix and an underscore, e.g. 01_1TortoiseNormal. Folders that I want to drop to the bottom I prefix with a simple x, e.g. x5TortoiseReadOnly.

UPDATE: Some users are reporting that they prefix with a space as this appears to be the trick that OneDrive/SkyDrive has used.

In regedit it looks like this, with the unprioritized icons dropping to the bottom of the list.

List of registry keys
List of registry keys

3. Restart Explorer

  1. Close any Windows Explorer windows.
  2. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager.
  3. Look for Windows Explorer listed under “Background processes”.
  4. Right-click it and select “Restart”.

Your taskbar will disappear a couple of times as the Explorer process is restarted, but you should now see all the overlay icons you want within your folders.

(Currently I’m having issues with OneDrive — formerly SkyDrive — but as I don’t rely on it for too much I’m not that bothered, to be honest.)


“Gijssays” posted a comment below in January 2016 that reads:


There is an even more permanent solution to this problem:

  1. Go to the registry key ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers
  2. Right click > Permissions… > Advanced
  3. Now disable inheritance, take ownership of this key and check “Replace all child permission..”
  4. Once you are the owner of the key you can permanently remove OneDrive / Dropbox or whatever keys you do not need.
  5. To secure this key from future edits make it read-only for the SYSTEM user.


I have not tried this solution but I wanted to surface it into the article in case it helps anyone.

Zdenek Polach has also created a script to fix this. See The Overlay Icons Nightmare – TortoiseGit, SVN, Dropbox War Solved.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

59 thoughts on “Managing overlay icons for Dropbox and TortoiseSVN and TortoiseGit”

  1. Do you know if there’s a software that lets you manage overlay icons priority? If you change it manually, if dropbox or skydrive etc are updated, I imagine other keys are created in the registry and each time you have to reopen it and manually rechange the order.

    1. There is a very simple and permanent solution to the problem.
      Just unistall OneDrive (or SkyDrive) and DropBox from your
      computer and use the existing web interface(s). Instead of OneDrive (or SkyDrive) you’d better use Google Drive anyhow.
      Uninstalling OneDrive and DropBox from my Win10 box solved the problem for TortoiseSVN 🙂

  2. Sadly, with Windows 10 the workaround no longer seems to work 🙁 It seemed to work for a little while and then was lost and reverted to no overlays. Icons did not reappear on reboot.

      1. You can fix it permanently by taking ownership of the registry keys and giving read only rights to the SYSTEM user. Probably not the way Microsoft would like to see you solve it, but it works like a charm here.

    1. What I experienced was similar. However, I added a missing step. Once you rename the keys, you need to refresh the registry. (F5 or via the menu. Then you can restart explorer.exe.

      Thant worked for me. Good luck.

    2. Really wondering about that since Microsoft introduced shell overlay icons. In the early days Windows 95 or so, it was okay to limit the number of shell overlay icons to 15.

      But decades later I can’t see a good reason for such a low limit … Memory? Really?

      Tried this with Windows 10 and the described workaround seems to work. Hope I’ll don’t have to reboot the machine …

  3. I have just been checking this on Windows 10 and I found that all the OneDrive and SkyDrivePro items were prefixed with a space to presumably ensure they stayed at the top of the list. I used your 01_ scheme with a space prefix and so far it is working fine. Thanks.

  4. The OneDrive folder names all start with a ‘ ‘ (space) character. Having their names start with a space bumps them up to the top of the list. You can pull the same trick for the Tortoise folder names. I’ve prefixed the Tortoise names with a couple of spaces. For example, “01TortoiseNormal” is renamed to ” 01TortoiseNormal”, etc. I’ve used a prefix of six spaces, since other cloud solutions (QSync) know this trick as well.

    My 2 cents.


  5. Thanks! It’s really funny, now my Dropbox names have also been renamed with an space character at the begining! Kinda arms race between them 🙂

  6. I found that Windows 10 did not allow me to change the name of the OneDrive folders, but I could change the names of all the others (I have Dropbox, Box, Mozy, and SkyDrivePro). So I moved the SkyDrivePro folders to the top, followed by the OneDrive folders. Along the way I discovered that I could arrange the folders in an order that displays icons for the most frequent settings (like synced) across multiple applications. The folders are no longer displayed by application group, but by icon preference. This tactic allows me to display icons across more applications, but at the sacrifice of losing some detail (like sync in progress)

  7. Thanks it was of great help.
    Note that it can also be used to prioritize the icons from different applications, allowing you to choose which icon you would prefer being displayed.

  8. There is an even more permanent solution to this problem:
    – go to the registry key ShellIconOverlayIdentifiers
    – right click > Permissions… > Advanced
    – now disable inheritance, take ownership of this key and check “Replace all child permission..”
    – Once you are the owner of the key you can permanently remove OneDrive / Dropbox or whatever keys you do not need.
    – to secure this key from future edits make it read-only for the SYSTEM user.

  9. The problem I have, having manually renamed some of these icons, is that every other time I boot, DropBox reasserts its own set of icons back to the top of the list. I use Dropbox much less than TortoiseSVN so I would like it not to do this. And not to need to manually fix this every few days.

  10. I’ve just installed Google Drive in addition to OneDrive and then OD icons disappeared at the exception of shared files icons
    Google Drive Icons are working:
    And I have less than 15 icons, so I don’t understand why it doesn’t work… Could you help me?
    My regitry:

  11. Thank you for this. This works perfectly as explained. Running on Windows 10.

    My TortoiseSVN icons have priority over Google Drive.

    I have SVN folders inside Google Drive which show the proper SVN icons, and the non-SVN folders [also] within the drive, show Google Drive icons. !! PERFECT

  12. Thanks for the nice tip. Unfortunately it has the bad side-effect that my explorer crashes every time I right-click an icon in the navigation area. As soon as I rename only one of the folders I get this effect and I can only fix it by restoring my registry :O I have all the Skydrives and OneDrives and I am using Dropbox.

  13. In my current windoze (10) OneDrive and Dropbox are padding their icon dirs with spaces, so I had to do so also, I ended up with 01 TortoiseNormal, etc.

    Otherwise, this was spor on. Thanks!

  14. I thought I had fixed this, then the Tortoise icons went missing again… As it turns out, Dropbox had re-installed new icons with even more spaces to pad in front. Like, GEEZ, LOUISE! If I went and renamed my darn registry keys MYSELF, leave them the Eff alone!!!! (So now my tortoise icons have 3 (THREE!) leading spaces, and underscore and a 1. in front. I think at this point, that workaround with removing permissions to that folder is going to be my next step 😐

    1. Yes I found this too. What seems to happen is that Dropbox carries out some kind of “automatic update” periodically – and when each update occurs, it annoyingly replaces the registry entries that I renamed (i.e. it creates new entries again having empty spaces!!) Thereby putting me back to square one 🙁

      Anyone know if this is fixable ??

  15. This stupid limitation of only 15 entries, and the way different companies keep adding spaces to prioritize their entries is ridiculous.

    Is there a way to modify the registry entries to, somehow, force these applications to use the same set of overlay icons (since their icons look similar anyways)? Like instead of having different entries each for Dropbox, TortoiseHg, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc., for “up-to-date” status icons (usually green check mark), let them just point to 1 generic check mark icon.

    1. Excellent idea! Implementing this would take time and collaboration across different vendors. Why doesn’t Microsoft just increase the stupid limit of 15 overlay icons!

  16. I did not see this simple, light weight download to manage overlays. It works well, and you can choose what you want to disable or re-enable.
    Google: ShellExView, it’s free, and solves the problem of dropbox defaulting back when an update occurs.

  17. Thank You. Exactly followed the steps in the article and it worked. in my case Google drive and one drive folders had included some spaces in front (in regedit), removed those, and restarted the explorer. Thank You!

  18. Wow. What a crock! Thank you for the detailed info on this.

    Even in 2023 and Windows 11 this is still a problem. A StackExchange thread recommends adding spaces in front of the names to make them alphabetize to the top. But there seems to be a space war going on: the names I see for OneDrive and DropBox have multiple spaces. OneDrive seems to be winning right now with four spaces!

  19. Surely we don’t need all the icon entries in the Registry.

    Dropbox are numbered 01 thru 10, has anyone discovered which particular icon is set by which number? Then we can choose and send the rest to the bottom of the list with an “x”.

    The same, of course, applies to OneDrive 1 thru 7.

    Then there’s Adobe Creative Cloud Acc…1 thru 3, and a few others not forgetting GoogleDrive.

    I think I would be happy with 2 icons for each service, a green tick to show it is synced and a red cross to indicate it is known to the service but hasn’t yet been synced.

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