Windows

How do I... recover a damaged Windows XP user profile?

Greg Shultz explains how you can recover your Microsoft Windows XP user profile and your preferred operating system environment.

A user profile on a Microsoft Windows XP system contains all the files and settings needed to configure your work environment. If the user profile becomes damaged, Windows XP will display one of two error messages when you log on to the system:

Windows cannot load your profile because it may be corrupted. You may be logged in using a temporary User Profile.

OR:

The system has recovered from a serious error.

The operating system will then automatically create a new user profile and log you in to this new profile. When this occurs, you'll immediately discover that all your personalized settings -- such as color scheme, wallpaper, and icons -- are gone. Even more disturbing is that the My Documents folder doesn't show any of your documents. You'll also discover that Outlook Express and Internet Explorer will be void of any of your personal settings and data.

When this happens, it's very easy to quickly go into panic mode and think that you've lost everything. However, in most cases, all you've actually lost is the user profile and most, if not all, of your data is safe and sound.

This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic download.

Must be an administrator

Keep in mind that in order to perform the recovery operations discussed in this article, you must be working from an account with Computer Administrator privileges. If the temporary account that Windows XP creates for you when your original becomes damaged has Computer Administrator privileges, you can use it as a staging area for the recovery operation. If it's not, you'll need to log off, then log on to the default Administrator account or to another account that has Computer Administrator privileges. I'll refer to this as the "working account" throughout this article.

Backing up your data

The first thing that you'll want to do is make sure that the data in your original account is safe and then back it up. To begin the backup operation, launch Windows Explorer and navigate to the C:\Documents and Settings folder. Then, locate and open your original account folder. At this point, you should see all the files and folders in your original user profile, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

You can open your original account folder and back up all the files and folders containing crucial data.

You'll then want to copy your crucial data files to another location. For example, you'll definitely want to copy the contents of your My Documents folder, which will appear as UserName'sDocuments. (On my example system, it's called Greg Shultz's Documents.) You may also want to copy the contents of the Favorites folder. If you're using Outlook Express, you can find the files that make up your e-mail messages stored in the Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\{#####}\Microsoft\Outlook Express folder. You'll find your Address Book file in the Application Data\Microsoft\Address Book folder. If you're using Outlook 2000/XP, you'll find the PST file in the Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook folder.

Once you've backed up your crucial data files, you can proceed with the recovery operation knowing that your data is indeed safe and sound.

Using System Restore

The first thing to try when attempting to recover a damaged user profile is a System Restore operation. As you know, the System Restore utility is designed to allow you to return your computer to the state it was at an earlier time period. In this case, the goal is to return your system to the state it was in before the user profile was damaged.

Before you attempt this operation, there are two things you need to be aware of. First, if there are multiple user accounts on the system, performing a System Restore operation will return all user profiles to the state they were in at that earlier time. Second, depending on the severity of the damage to the user profile, performing a System Restore operation may not be able to rectify the problem.

You'll find the System Restore utility on the All Programs | Accessories | System Tools menu. Once you launch System Restore, you'll see the Welcome To System Restore page and can simply click Next. On the Select A Restore Point page, select the last restore point created before the damage to the user profile became apparent, then click Next. When you're prompted to confirm the operation, click Next, and the restore operation will begin.

Once System Restore finishes, it will restart the system. When it does, you can attempt to log on using your original user account. If System Restore was able to successfully recover the user profile, everything should be the way it was.

If you're still unable to log on to your original account, it's time to escalate your user profile recovery operation to the next level. However, you may first want to undo the System Restore operation.

To undo the System Restore operation, log on to the working account and launch System Restore. When you see the Welcome To System Restore page, you'll discover a new option titled Undo My Last Restoration. Just select that option, click Next, and follow the onscreen instructions.

Copying your user profile

In this user profile recovery technique, you'll attempt to revive the user profile by creating a new account and, subsequently, a new user profile. You'll then copy your old user profile in its entirety to the new account. While this may sound like an operation that will simply replicate the problem over to the new account, it does indeed revive the user profile on occasion. Again, keep in mind that the success of this attempt depends on the severity of the damage to the user profile. However, since it's a relatively painless operation, it's worth a shot.

To begin, access the Control Panel and launch the User Accounts tool. Next, select the Create A New Account link. Then, give the account a name and click Next. When prompted to pick an account type, make sure the Computer Administrator option button is selected, and then click the Create Account button.

Once you create the new account, close the User Accounts tool. Then, click Start | Log Off. When you see the Log Off Windows dialog box, click the Log Off button. When either the Welcome Screen or the Log On To Windows dialog box opens, select or type the name you used for the new account. As soon as you do, Windows XP will create a user profile for the new account.

When the user profile creation procedure is complete and the system starts up, immediately click Log Off. Then, log back on to the working account.

Now, open the Start menu, right-click My Computer, and select Properties. When you see the System Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab. Then, locate and click the Settings button in the User Profiles section. You'll now see a User Profiles dialog box that looks like the one shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You'll use the User Profiles tool to copy your old user profile to the new account.

In this example, I'll be copying the user profile from the Greg Shultz account to the Greg Shultz2 account. I'll begin by selecting the Greg Shultz user profile and clicking the Copy To button. When the Copy To dialog box appears, click the Browse button and then use the resulting Browse For Folder dialog box to locate the Documents and Settings folder and select the new account.

At this point, the Copy To dialog box will look like the one shown in Figure C. To continue, just click OK. You'll then see a confirmation dialog box that informs you that the original files will be deleted and prompts you to confirm the copy operation. Just click Yes.

Figure C

At this point, you'll see the path to your new account in the Copy To dialog box.

Once the copy operation finishes, close the User Profiles dialog box and the System Properties dialog box, then log off. At this point, you can attempt to log on to the new account. If this technique was able to successfully recover the user profile, everything should be the way it was.

If you're still unable to log on to your account, it's time to move to the next level. However, you'll first need to completely remove the new user account and user profile. To do so, log on to the working account, access the User Profiles dialog box again, select the profile, and click the Delete button. Then, access the User Accounts tool and delete the new account and its files.

Moving to a new user profile

In this user profile recovery technique, you'll move to a new user profile by creating a new account and, subsequently, a new user profile. You'll then copy your data files and other portions of the user profile from your original to the new one. Keep in mind that when you move to a new user profile in this manner, you will lose all your personalized settings, such as color scheme, wallpaper, and icons.

You'll follow the instructions I presented earlier for creating a new account and a new user profile. In short, you'll access the User Accounts tool to create a new account. Then, log on to the new account to create a default new user profile. Finally, log off and then log back on to the working account.

To begin this operation, launch Windows Explorer and navigate to the C:\Documents and Settings folder. Then, locate and open your original account folder. At this point, you should see all the files and folders in your original user profile, as shown earlier in Figure A.

Copy the contents of the folders containing the data that you want to move to your new user profile. In the case of my example system, I'd begin by copying the contents of the C:\Documents and Settings\Greg Shultz\Greg Shultz's Documents folder to the C:\Documents and Settings\Greg Shultz2\Greg Shultz2's folder.

In addition, you'll want to copy the contents of the Favorites, Outlook Express, and Address Book folders if you're using that e-mail program, or the Outlook folder. You may also want to copy the contents of Cookies, Templates, and any other folders that contain critical data files.

Be careful not to copy any files that are specifically related to the operating system, as any one of those files could be the culprit in the case of the corrupted user profile. For example, you definitely won't want to copy Ntuser.dat, Ntuser.pol, or Ntuser.ini from your old user profile to your new one.

When you're finished copying files, log out of the working profile, and then log on to your new user profile. When you do, you should be able to access all your data files and most of your applications, just as you did with your old profile. However, keep in mind that you may have to reinstall or at least reconfigure some of your applications. And, of course, you'll need to recreate all your personalized settings.

Cleaning out your old profile

Once you've totally moved into your new user profile, you'll want to permanently delete your old, corrupted user profile. While you may be tempted to do so from within Windows Explorer, you shouldn't because it won't completely remove all the settings associated with your old user profile.

To do it the right way, access the User Profiles tool from the Advanced tab of the System Properties dialog box. Once you do, select the old user profile from the list and click the Delete button.

The automatic user profile backup technique

So you won't ever have to go through all these troubleshooting steps should the user profile ever get corrupted again, you can trick Windows XP into administering the local user profile as if it were a roaming user profile. When you do so, Windows XP will back up your user profile each time you log off.

To use this trick, you have to log off your new account and log on to the working account. Then, access the User Profiles tool from the Advanced tab of the System Properties dialog box, select your user profile, click the Copy To button, and type the name of a folder on another drive in the Copy Profile To text box.

Once you complete that part of the operation, launch the Computer Management console, which you can do by pressing [Windows]-R and typing compmgmt.msc in the Open text box. Then, drill down to System Tools\Local Users and Groups\Users folder. Next, double-click on your account name and select the Profile tab. Then, type the path to the backup in the Profile Path text box, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

You can configure Windows XP to automatically back up the local user profile each time you log off.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

32 comments
atkin8
atkin8

This simple solution works for me. Restart and press F8 on startup screen depends on your PC it maybe another key. In the choices menu select '' last known good configuration'' and load hopefully PRESTO it works. I had so much difficulty trying to do this manually as suggested above.I could not create a new user account or transfer files etc. You could boot into safe mode and try manually.

sai_hyh
sai_hyh

Great, that is what I am looking for long time ago, instead by using this technic, I wouldd't need to manually copy user profile.

n4djs
n4djs

I beat my head against a wall with this on my wife's Vista laptop, and finally determine that the real problem was that her account no longer had read/write to the NTuser.dat file - I fixed this and the problem disappeared.... always check permissions on files and directories first before going to more extreme measures! -- Dave

Doug Vitale
Doug Vitale

It looks like UPHClean can help prevent some user profile problems (I don't know if actual profile corruption is one of them). "UPHClean is a tool to help resolve the problem of user profile hive not unloading. When user profile hives do not unload you get a variety of problems including slow logoff (on Windows 2000), no reconciliation of roaming profiles, possible kernel memory exhaustion and a variety of error events logged in the application log." http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=1B286E6D-8912-4E18-B570-42470E2F3582&displaylang=en

blarman
blarman

There is a better way: assume that the profile is going to get corrupted. Take backups of your browser favorites periodically (HTML export works great from either Firefox or IE). Don't put your documents in the My Documents folder. (Now some will say - but then I can't use Windows' built-in encryption which is based on the user profile... Oh, right.) I've dealt with lots of corrupt profiles, and it is a nasty, recurring problem on computers that have been shared around. Store your documents on a flash drive or back them up to a server, but take the mindset of preparing for this eventuality.

earbuckle
earbuckle

Funny, I just had this happen to me yesterday. Makes me wonder why, when I've never seen it before in years of Windows computing. Anyway, I researched the problem and arrived at the same solution that Greg posted. I didn't try System Restore, because I diabled that long ago. Greg's method seemed to work until, during the profile copy process, I ran out of HD space. I have about 97 GB on my 120 GB laptop HD. Not enough space! My ultimate solution was to simply re-image my drive from my Acronis True Image backup on an external USB HD, which was only 2 days old. That worked perfectly and virtually nothing was lost. Image backups have saved my bacon on several occasions and I recommend them highly. Daily incremental backups are truly worthwhile. But I still wonder how my profile could become corrupt?

bruce
bruce

So, if you set the profile path to D:\userprofilebackup , does it actually backup the profile to this location at every log off,and create a second copy, or is it running the original profile from there ?

bmadams
bmadams

I've had this happen before, thanks for the write up with all the options. As usual, I know all this stuff but it is scattered in my head (need to defrag). Its nice to have everything concise and step by step and in one place..it is now in my "Tool Box"

SanSan
SanSan

I had the same problem of getting a temporary user profile. Then I performed a disk check and found that NTUser.dat was damaged. I let Windows do a Check Disk with all options active (Automatically fix file system errors, and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors) and voila, my user profile was restored!

robert_wheeler
robert_wheeler

Another trick I've used when a second profile for a user is created (in a domain it usually has an extended suffix of .000, .001 etc.) particularly in XP if you have to rejoin a domain, is as follows. Run regedit and locate the :- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\ProfileList Here you will see a list of all the profiles stored on the PC. Scroll down each one in turn until you find the new one where the ProfileImagePath reflects the newly created one. Change the path to the original and reboot. All your original settings are restored including your Outlook folders etc. Another trick when setting up a new PC in a business or college environment for multiple users, if you want everyone to have the same settings, create an administrator account eg. ITSupport, and configure the settings you want for the computer, desktop, menus etc. Then reboot, log in as Administrator and in My Computer\Documents and Settings - copy the newly created (and hidden) ntuser.dat files from the ITSupport folder to the Default User. Now anyone logging in for the 1st time will have these same settings applied.

mirossmac2
mirossmac2

Wonderful! I think you could package the final part - automatic backup of the user profile - as a separate tip, expanding the bit on how to get to User Profiles.

letter_2_roy
letter_2_roy

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Teddy999
Teddy999

My problem is not a corrupted user account folder. I had to create a new user account with a NEW DOMAIN, that created a new set of folders under the Documents and Settings folder. There is a ton of Application Data folders, Local Settings folders, etc. etc. Is there an easy way to move this data to the new user account folders WITHOUT screwing up my system? Thanks for your help.

Lynne's Honey
Lynne's Honey

I had exactly that message when I booted up my laptop to finish my workday at home today. I let the boot finish, restarted the machine, and voila, my user profile was, indeed, intact, and not corrupted. This works about 95% of the time. If it doesn't work, you can then proceed with the fixes given here, though I would avoid the system restore, since it seems to do more damage than fixing when it is run.

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

something changed the permissions on the ntuser.dat? Sounds like a virus or spyware to me.

mike
mike

My guess is that when windows shuts down a disk or memory write occurs while the profile is closed. On next boot up bam! your in trouble. I haven't had it happen in a very long time, but when it did it was only a day later I discoverd that my HD had a bad sector on it.

MarkSpeevak
MarkSpeevak

It will copy your profile to this location everytime you do a log off, and it will load it from this location everytime you do a log on. So, I don't think this would be of much value if the coruption is just copied but better than nothing.

kenneth.montes
kenneth.montes

I've found that instead of restoring a corrupt profile it is better to start over. I'll rename the old profile, have the user logon and create a new "clean" profile. Then go back and move over the data that is unique to the individual. What you do need to know is what programs your running that stores user settings/data in the profile. In the article it referred to the Outlook PST folder location, you'll also want the archive.pst file. I know a lot of IT people miss the Outlook.NK2 file though. It is located in the D & S\user.name\application data\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook folder. For those that don't know, this is the email address auto-complete feature. If the user uses a lot of unique Word features then you'll need their .DOT file also.

ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org
ChrisHyche@AlabamaOne.Org

A full HD can cause all sorts of problems including the appearance of a corrupted profile. It can also cause Windows to generate new profiles because it can't load the old. If you see profiles named with the USERNAME_1(or 2, 3 etc) then Windows created a new instead of going temp. Not as much an issue now with the large drives but I used to have this problem all over the place a few years back.

1bn0
1bn0

I will have to try this. I am currently working from a machine with a corrupted profile. The only problem it gave me is I can no longer reset passwords in Active Directory Users and Groups. Everything else works fine. I tried copying my profile. "How to copy data from a corrupted user profile to a new profile in Windows XP" http://support.microsoft.com/kb/811151 But it did not fix the problem. I have too many other programs , utilities etc. to start over. Since I have two other computers on my desk, changing passwords is not an issue, but I would like to correct the prioblem. If nothing else it will let me test your solution.

XnavyDK
XnavyDK

Is this how mandatory profiles are created no?

jimbrubaker
jimbrubaker

That second tip for multiple users on one machine is nice. It will same me some time on setups

rpsibew110
rpsibew110

I know this post is old and the solution could be some where but I have not seen it. In Windows XP Log in as local administrator or an account that has Admin rights. Create the account (make all the accounts admin the process just seems to work better) in user accounts close, reboot and log into the account to finish creating, reboot to the admin account which can not be the source or destination account, Right click My Computer, go to Advanced tab, down to User Profiles, click settings, here you will see the accounts highlight the account you want to copy click copy to and browse to the folder with the new account name and click ok, then click ok again to copy the account when you get the copy confirm click yes, wait and then wait some more for it to finish log into new account. No cut and paste, No command line in terminal, No using ADMT or USMT, no google program. Does that suck?

Teddy999
Teddy999

First, thanks to everyone for their inputs. It is very much appreciated. After a bit of searching, I was able to find an absolutely outstanding solution at http://www.forensit.com/Profwiz/index.htm This wizard actually uses your existing profile and allows you to share the profile with another user/domain. It's pretty cool. Please read the user manual to understand it better than my description. I used this yesterday and am now running all my existing "stuff" under my new username/domain. It works very well. BTW, single user license is free. Again, thanks to everyone. P.S. THIS SOLUTION WOULD MOST LIKELY ONLY WORK WITH UNDAMAGED PROFILES. SO BEWARE IF YOU ATTEMPT TO USE IT WITH A DAMAGED PROFILE.

bcox
bcox

Backup the old user profile as described in the article, Create a new profile as described in the article, log out and log in as working user or administrator, from the command prompt navigate to the old domain user profile folder, do the commands "attrib -s -h ntuser.ini", "attrib -s -h ntuser.dat.log", repeat this command in the new domain user profile folder, delete the entire contents of the new domain user profile folder, copy the entire contents of the old profile to the new profile using (by entire contents, also include hidden files,etc), attrib +s +h ntuser.ini and attrib +s +h ntuser.dat.log on the new domain user folder, reboot and log in as new domain user - works 99% for me

txbluzmn
txbluzmn

XP will create a new profile every time you change domains. You should be able to copy over the profile information including the NTUSER.dat file and come up with the same settings. Now in doing this it will carry over any exchange settings and what not as well, so keep in mind that you will have some conflicts. Also know that once a profile is active, a reboot is required to unlock the profile; therefore you will not be able to copy the complete profile without errors until you restart.

rrose
rrose

Google "moveuser.exe". It's a tool we used to migrate local Windows profiles to AD profiles. Everything transfered over EXCEPT the stored Outlook password.

dalesnelgrove
dalesnelgrove

If the problem is due to a CRC problem with the Ntuser.dat file, then just run a chkdsk on the hard drive in question, and most likely the problem will be cured

kabluiii
kabluiii

Some time ago I did a system restore to try to recover from a program installation that had caused a minor problem. I found out that the system restore didn't correct that problem, and therefore decided to undo the restore. In the middle of the undo process, I received an error message saying something like "Windows is unable to undo the system restore". I ended up with a completely messed up, unusable system, and had to reinstall Windows XP from scratch. So, I would avoid using System Restore, except as the very last resort, if nothing else works. Of course, if you have first performed a full backup (not only of the user data, but a complete disk image), then you can try System Restore, because you know that you can actually recover if it messes up.

robert_wheeler
robert_wheeler

This creates a default local profile for every new user that logs in to the computer, either locally or in a domain. If you run gpedit.msc when creating your default you can also set options regarding display settings, login settings, and restrict what options the User can apply. e.g. If you set a default home page in the internet explorer settings (User Configuration\Windows Settings\Internet Explorer\URLs\Important URLs) this also prevents the - "about:blank" - page encountered sometimes after someone visits one of those unwanted sites.

System007
System007

Sorry to hear of the bad experience. However, I have used System Restore numerous times on systems I support and have had excellent results. As with any type of recovery/repair procedure, always make backups of critical data, onto a media other than the media that has the issue being addressed; preferably, a removable media or different system, NAS, file server, etc.