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Explaining the File Structure of User Profiles in Windows 7

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 11/6/2009

User profiles have undergone a major renovation from Windows XP to Vista, but you may have skipped Vista and gone straight to Windows 7. This article will help you sort out the location of your profile and its contents after making the transition.

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    Microsoft simplified the user profile starting in Windows Vista. If you happened to skip Windows Vista (I don’t blame you), you may have had troubles finding the new location of your user profile. For example, instead of trying to remember what the difference between Application Data and Local Settings is, you just have to remember one location now. They also did away with the silly "My folder" naming convention.

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    Structure of the Windows 7 Profile

    Fig1 The biggest change is the location of the profiles themselves - the user profiles are now located under c:\users\<username> instead of c:\documents and settings\<username>

    Below, I’ve explained each folder in the default user’s profile as well as its equivalent place on a Windows XP machine. Each profile now contains the following folders:

    • Appdata – a combination of c:\documents and settings\<username>\application data\ and c:\documents and settings\<username>\local settings\ - this folder contains three folders – “Local”, “LocalLow” and “Roaming”. These three folders will be explained further below.

    • Desktop – equivalent to c:\documents and settings\<username>\Desktop – this folder contains the items displayed on your desktop.
    • Documents – equivalent to c:\documents and settings\<username>\My Documents – this folder is the default save location for Microsoft Office and other applications.
    • Downloads – equivalent to c:\documents and settings\<username>\My Documents\Downloads\– This is the default download location for Internet Explorer.
    • Favorites – equivalent to c:\documents and settings\<username>\Favorites\ – This is where Internet Explorer Favorites are stored.

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    Structure of the AppData Folder

    The appdata folder contains settings specific to that computer for various applications such as Microsoft Office or other 3rd party applications.

    The three folders located under AppData are as follows:

    • Local – this folder is the replacement for XP’s c:\Documents and Settings\<UserName>\Local Settings\Application Data\ folder. This data is tied to the computer – not the user.
    • Roaming – this folder is used for synchronizing data to a server in a domain environment using roaming profiles. This data is specific to the user and would be replicated. The Roaming folder is equivalent to XP’s c:\Documents and Settings\<UserName>\Application Data\.
    • LocalLow – this is a unique folder in that it is primarily used by applications needing to write directly to the file system, such as Internet Explorer or its add-ons.

    Hopefully this article has helped clear things up!