Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'd like to compile an extensive list of folders to look through in Windows where user data might be hiding, specifically when migrating to a new machine or backing up your data to reload your existing machine with a reformat. Should include system settings folders

Existing tools to perform said task would also be helpful!

EDIT: Let's also make it XP and later...

share|improve this question
Same basic concept as my question here: – squillman Jun 1 '09 at 16:18

10 Answers 10

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You should always check all user home directories ("Documents and Settings" on XP; "Users" and "ProgramData" on Vista). Make sure you don't leave out hidden folders like Local Settings or Application Data - many a user has gotten angry with me because I forgot to grab their IE bookmarks when migrating or recovering data.

You should also look for other folders the user might be using - if an application creates user profiles in its installation directory rather than in the user's home directory, get that as well.

Finally, I always check in the root of drives - lots of users sometimes create extra folders or store files in C:\, just because it's fairly easily accessible from My Computer. Once I found a user who stored a 10GB+ music library entirely in the root of the C drive, and would have been very unhappy to have lost while getting a new system.

share|improve this answer
I second the comment about users storing stuff in folders on "C:\" I'm always amazed at how much I find there sometimes. – Happy Hamster May 15 '09 at 23:38
A scan for recently modified files can sometimes help track down goofy outliers. – Bob Jun 11 '09 at 21:48

The basics that I cover are:
- My Documents which should contain photos, videos, etc.
- Internet Favorites
- Email files (.PST as well as mailbox rules and white/black lists)
- Desktop files
- Other important software backups that might be in use (Financial software being the most common)
- Always check with the user to see if they have any other files in strange places.

If you get all these then you should be able to do a clean rebuild without causing much disruption to the user.

share|improve this answer

The one I keep forgetting is Windows\Fonts.

share|improve this answer
Oh, good call! I don't typically have to deal with that in a plain office environment, but I've had a few times where that's bitten me. – squillman May 16 '09 at 14:51

You've just hit upon the primary reason for using roaming profiles, ideally you don't have to worry about any of that however if you're not using them:

My Docs
Web favourites
Quick look around the hard drive to make sure that don't have any folders they've set up outside of My Docs (do a search for .doc, .xls etc)

share|improve this answer

Our list of what we would always look for is:

  • My documents
  • Bookmarks
  • PSTs
  • Files and folders on the desktop
share|improve this answer

The thing that I overlook very easily is saved passwords. Though an unsafe practice, lots of people use the save password feature in Firefox. It's always a good idea to remind the user to try to remember all of their passwords before you blow away their machine. There is also the slightly dangerous strategy of using a backup system like Xmarks(formerly Foxmarks). I can backup password saves as well as bookmarks for IE or Firefox.

share|improve this answer

I would say, basically, everything in user profiles folder (c:\users for vista and w7, c:\documents and settings for XP), plus some obvious folders in the system.

What I usually do is I convert the current disk to a format of VM, VHD or VMDK so if I missed anything after I formatted the system, I can have something re-attached to restore from.

share|improve this answer

Most user date should end up in the appropriate \Documents and Settings\ folder (\Users\ and \ProgramData on Vista). I usually do a quick search for any folders containing the user's login name as well.

share|improve this answer

Audit the software you routinely install on users' PCs to determine where they store data. This way you can adapt these suggestions to the specific loadout you're using.

If you have absolutely gobs of storage space somewhere, you may consider creating a full disk image backup (something like ghost) of the PC before you rebuild it to keep for a certain amount of time until you're sure the user doesn't need anything else.

share|improve this answer

As a general rule, I tend to just back up %appdata% when migrating or archiving data. It might be overkill in some scenarios, but I'd rather cast a wider net. Few applications today still use %ProgramFiles%, but if you're in a standardized environment with known applications which store data in strange places, you'll have to make exceptions for them.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.