Moving your data where you want in Windows Vista/7

Microsoft has graciously decided to get rid of the Documents and Settings folder in favor of the new Users folder in Windows Vista/7. This is nice because not only is it faster to type but its a little more familiar for Unix/Linux users. The one thing I still would love to see in the Windows installer, however, is the ability to choose the location of this Users directory (and heck even rename it). Unfortunately MS does not provide us that ability by default. To get that ability you have to modify the actual Windows installer.

So what if you don’t want to have to re-install the operating system? Maybe you just want to move your data to the place of your choosing without any serious modification to your system. There are a couple solutions out there people have already written about.
They are:

  1. Change the location of each data folder (i..e Documents, Pictures, Music) individually using Windows explorer settings.
  2. Modify the Windows registry to reflect the new folder location

There are a couple of problems with these two solutions. The first solution means that you can only change specific folders such as Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. It doesn’t solve the problem of moving hidden application data or other folders to the new location. It also becomes tedious to do so. Finally, if you want to move all of your user profiles to a new location each user must move the data their self. All in all its not really a solution to the problem.

While the second solution will work it is very dangerous to edit the Windows registry. Making even minor changes to the registry can render your entire system useless. I actually tried this method on Windows XP and was unable to get it working. The problem with editing the registry is that there are hundreds if not thousands of references to the profile folders within it and you may not find every one. Missing even one will prevent Windows or your software from working properly or even at all.

Thankfully I found an easier way.

This method requires that you use the Windows installation disc or use a WinPE 2.0 boot disc. To learn how to create a WinPE 2.0 disc go to http://www.msfn.org/board/lofiversion/index.php/t83722.html. Regardless of your choice you will need to get to the command prompt. If you are using the WinPE disc you should be immediately given a command prompt once it has finished booting. If you are using the Windows installation disc you can find instructions how on how to get to the command prompt at http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/tutorials/tutorial147.html.

WARNING: The following can be dangerous to your system. As with any hack you should always fully back up your entire hard drive just in case anything goes horribly wrong. If something bad happens to your system don’t blame me… I warned you ;)

For this example I am assuming that you want to relocate your Users directory to your D:\ drive. If you want to place it elsewhere, just change the commands accordingly. Now that you are at the command prompt, type the following commands followed by enter for each:

  1. xcopy /E /H /O /X /Y /I C:\Users D:\Users
  2. rmdir /S /Q C:\Users
  3. rmdir “C:\Documents and Settings”
  4. mklink /J C:\Users D:\Users
  5. mklink /J “C:\Documents and Settings” D:\Users

What you’ve done here is copied everything in the Users directory to the new location and then created an NTFS junction to the new location. You might also notice that Documents and Settings showed up again. You thought Vista got rid of it for good didn’t you? Many applications are hard coded to use the Documents and Settings directory and do not know that Vista has changed this. To make sure these applications still work under Vista Microsoft cleverly created their own junction from the older Documents and Settings to their new Users. You might ask why is it necessary to do change the existing junction then. Well as I discovered myself NTFS for some reason has a bit of trouble with accessing a junction of a junction. So when I first attempted this hack I encountered problems.

You may now restart your computer and you should have successfully moved your entire Users directory to your new location. Congratulations!

Update: After some further testing i’ve discovered something interesting. When using xcopy to move the data files to a new location the special folder icons for Documents, Pictures, Searches, Music, etc. appear to be lost. Also, performance when booting up again may seem slightly slower at first. So instead of using xcopy I tried using a backup program like TruImage to backup the Users directory and then restore it in the location I desired. Using this kept all the special folder icons and the system appeared to be a bit more snappy at first bootup. So while the method described works just fine, for performance and aesthetic reasons I would say backup/restore your Users folder instead. Thus the steps would be as such:

  1. Backup C:\Users using a backup program
  2. Restore the C:\Users to your new desired location (example: D:\Users)
  3. Start WinPE or Windows Installation disc command prompt
  4. Using the command prompt
    1. rmdir /S /Q C:\Users
    2. rmdir “C:\Documents and Settings”
    3. mklink /J C:\Users D:\Users
    4. mklink /J “C:\Documents and Settings” D:\Users
  5. Restart

Update (Oct 02, 2012): After spending some time working on a new install recently I discovered that robocopy is a perfectly suitable replacement for both xcopy and a backup program. In my testing I found the following command options work perfectly to create an accurate copy.

robocopy /B /COPYALL /MIR /XJ <Source> <Destination>

It works so good in fact that I use the command internally in my new MoveUserData utility program I wrote to automate the whole process. I have detailed the new program in an article here.