What's a simple way to get a list of all files installed/modified and keys added/removed by a Windows (XP, Vista or 7) program installer?

I'd like to take a before and after snapshot, and see what has changed. Leaving a program running while I perform the install would be okay too.

This is very similar to Clinton Blackmore's question (eg: taking and diff'ing two file systems), but specifically for Windows, and taking into account both files and registry keys.

3 Answers 3


There are lots of tools capable of this, Windows 2000 was even shipped with a version of wininstall if I'm not mistaken - anyway, it's available for free these days.

The trouble is avoiding false positives - ie changes made by the operating system that was not related to the installer - so some care and manual editing is always needed.


Some free tools you could use:

What Changed 1.06

What Changed is a simple utility that searches for modified files and registry entries. It is useful for checking program installations.

There are two steps for using What Changed:

  1. First, take a snapshot of the state of the system
  2. Second, run What Changed again to see the differences from the previous snapshot.


A free tool by Matthias Withopf which tracks system changes (file system, registry). The site and the program is in German, but there is a link to translate the page into English.


Regshot is an open-source(GPL) registry compare utility that allows you to quickly take a snapshot of your registry and then compare it with a second one - done after doing system changes or installing a new software product.

  • +1 Nice answer. Sorry, I went with Oskar's as it's easier to digest a single choice
    – username
    May 24, 2009 at 21:53

I tried the SpyMe Tools under Windows 7 SP1 x64. You have to do different snapshots for the registry and your files, thats a little bit annoying... (and if you choose an empty password you cannot use this file again later for comparison, so you have to click on "No Password"...). The compare of the registry showed no "moving" status indicator, you don't know whether it does anything or not, I canceled it after 2 hours.

WhatChanged 1.07 was much slower (as it does comparing and snapshot at the same time), and you cannot save the snapshot to disk. You get a status indicator how many entries are compared, but compare took over 3 hours.

I also tried the Windows System State Analyzer from Microsoft, but it didn't work for me (freeze when I'm trying to scan the system).

The last thing I tried was InstallWatch Pro 2.5 (manufacturer site is gone, see here or at google for the setup project). The compare was done in 2 minutes (you can decide whether version infos or crcs of files are compared or not). It finds files and registry keys but has some minor problems with special folders (e.g. tells me that "c:\Documents and Settings" was deleted).

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