How to Edit the HOSTS File in Windows

Editing the HOSTS file in Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, or XP

Screenshot of the hosts file opened in Notepad in Windows 10

Editing the HOSTS file might come in handy if you want to make custom domain redirects, block websites, or remove malicious entries set by malware. It functions like a local copy of a DNS server.

However, you might run into problems when trying to make changes to this file in some versions of Windows. This is most likely due to permission issues; there's an explanation on how to bypass that below.

How to Edit the Windows HOSTS File

These instructions are valid for all versions of Windows, from Windows XP up through Windows 10.

In Windows 7, 8, and 10, you can't save edits to the HOSTS file unless you open it directly from Notepad or another text editor (like the instructions from above).

  1. Open Notepad or another text editor like Notepad++.

    Notepad button in Windows 10 Start menu
  2. From the File > Open... menu, navigate to the HOST file location at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\.

    C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc file path in Note Pad's Open dialog

    If you copy/paste the path to the HOSTS file into the "File name" path of Notepad, you can quickly get to the folder without having to browse for it manually.

  3. On the bottom right of Notepad's Open window, click Text Documents (*txt) and change it to All Files (*.*). Several files should appear.

    Screenshot of All Files option when browsing hosts file directory in Windows 10 Note Pad

    This step is required because the HOSTS file doesn't have the .TXT file extension.

  4. Now that every file type is showing, double-click hosts to open it in Notepad.

    Screenshot of hosts file in Open dialog for Windows 10 Notepad
  5. The file will open in Notepad, letting you edit it.

What If I Can't Save the HOSTS File?

In some versions of Windows, you don't have permission to save directly to the \etc\ folder and are instead told that you must save the file elsewhere, like to the Documents or Desktop folder.

You might instead see errors...

Access to C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\ hosts was denied
Cannot create the C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts file. Make sure that the path and file name are correct.

To still use the file you've edited, go ahead and save it to your Desktop or some other folder, and then go to that folder, copy the HOSTS file, and paste it directly into the location where the HOSTS file should be, as described above. You'll be prompted with permission validation and will have to confirm overwriting the file.

If you have difficulty saving the modified HOSTS file, check the file's attributes to see if it's been marked read-only.

Another option is to open your text editor program as an administrator so that the permissions are already applied to the editor. Then, saving the HOSTS file over the original can be performed without having to verify your admin credentials.

If you still can't save to the HOSTS file location, you probably don't have the correct permissions to be editing files in that folder. You should be logged in under an account that has administrative rights over the HOSTS file, which you can check by right-clicking the file and going to the Security tab.

What Is the Hosts File Used For?

The HOSTS file is the virtual equivalent of the phone company's directory assistance. Where directory assistance matches a person's name to a phone number, the HOSTS file maps domain names to IP addresses.

Entries in the HOSTS file override DNS entries maintained by the ISP. While this might come in handy for regular use, like to block ads or certain malicious IP addresses, its functions also make this file a common target of malware.

By modifying it, malware can block access to antivirus updates or force you to a malicious website. It's a good idea to check the HOSTS file periodically or at least know how to remove false entries.

A much easier way to block certain domains from your computer is to use a custom DNS service that supports content filtering or blacklists.