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I've got a Windows Server 2008 R2 machine that needs to be rebuilt. I don't have a Windows Backup (a system restore point) to do this from, but I do have older copies of all of the files on the C:\ (which is where all of my system files are).

If I copy the older copy of the Windows directory onto this machine, would Windows boot up correctly the next time?

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    But I have found that using a disk image backup tool will do what you want. – mdpc Dec 22 '15 at 23:34
  • If I had a disk image backup tool, I wouldn't be in this mess. :) I figured this question would be useful in understanding the difference between file system backups and an OS restore, though, which is why I asked it. – Sean Long Dec 23 '15 at 14:32
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No, Windows will not boot up correctly if you just copy the contents of C:\Windows from an old file-level backup onto a new machine. Of all the supported ways to restore a Windows machine, copying files from a directory on one disk into the corresponding directory on another disk is not one of them.

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I'm not as optimistic as BMDan, but I haven't tried it and can't say for certain. There are reserved blocks, partition tables, etc., beyond the actual files which probably haven't been copied.

You might be able to copy the files and do a repair install on top of that, but I won't guarantee the results.

  • Reserved blocks are for filesystem metadata. The only thing that might (ab)use them to store relevant data would be copy-protection, and you can always fix that once the machine's up. I mentioned the partition table, but even for a GPT, that's hilariously small and can be resurrected by a bit of simple disk inspection. That leaves only the MBR, which is 512 bytes of bog-standard code that hasn't changed in a very long time, or a few more bytes for a GPT. Copying the files and then repairing atop them is a smart course of action, though. That'll solve any FS issues directly. – BMDan Dec 23 '15 at 1:21
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You'll also need some data that exist outside of the partition: in particular, the MBR and partition table. Luckily, these are very small and can be created by hand (or copied) if you're inventive and careful.

I think the question you're asking is: if you have a more-or-less functional box, but one where the Windows directory is corrupted or missing, can you restore the Windows directory and thus restore the box to full functionality? In that case, the answer is yes.

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    In my experience the answer is no. – Wesley Dec 22 '15 at 22:53
  • @Wesley: Even given my rephrasing of the question? If the only thing gone sideways is the contents of \Windows, why wouldn't it work to restore just that one directory? – BMDan Dec 23 '15 at 1:16
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    Just off the top of my head, Windows makes heavy use of hard links in some areas and just copying those around with any old tool won't work. Permissions are another big problem: no one user has full privileges to access every subdir (though SYSTEM plus TrustedInstaller probably covers all of them), so you either would have trouble copying them all in the first place or you would have trouble during the restore process. Those could be worked around with some effort (which likely wasn't considered here) but at that point you might as well go for the image backup. – Bob Dec 23 '15 at 1:47
  • Ah, fair point, @Bob. Yes, I was basing my answer on an unfounded assumption—that he had a proper backup (one that does things like preserving permissions and whatever-the-hell-Windows-calls-inodes) and was restoring just the \Windows directory off of that. Indeed, the OP has now clarified that that is not the case. So, yeah, if he's just copying in bare files? It might boot, but I doubt it. – BMDan Dec 23 '15 at 20:09

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