Backing Up Personal Files on a PC

This document explains the various locations where Windows applications store personal documents and configuration files.

General Tips

Windows applications usually default to the C:\My Documents\ folder when opening and saving documents. Those applications that don't use this folder usually default to a subfolder of their own installation folder, which is itself a subfolder of C:\Program Files\. Still other applications (notably Outlook) store documents in subfolders of the C:\Windows\ folder.

In addition to document files, many applications have configuration files. These are usually stored in the application's own installation folder, but are sometimes stored in subfolders of the \Windows\Application Data\ folder (see below). Configuration information is also stored in the registry, but this is very difficult to backup.

To find where user-generated documents are stored, one method is to use the file-find utility (Start | Find | Files or Folders ). Search for .doc files, starting from the root folder of the C: drive. This will only find word documents (and may include those included with installed software), but other document files will probably be stored in the same folders.

Document Filename Extensions

.XLS Excel spreadsheet files
.MDB Access database
.PPS Powerpoint presentation
.PST Outlook personal folders file
.OST Outlook offline folders file
.PAB Personal address book
.SPS SPSS syntax file
.SPO SPSS viewer file
.SAV SPSS data file

\My Documents\

Naturally, most, if not all, of the user's documents are stored here. Users should be encouraged to store ALL their documents in here, organised into subfolders. Some users tend to store documents in subfolders of the root folder. This makes it more difficult to identify which files and folders belong to a user and need to be backed up. If every document is stored in \My Documents\, the backup process is much simpler.

\Windows\Application Data\

Note that this folder is duplicated in \Windows\Profiles\<username>\Application Data\ if the user has logged on with a username. This can cause problems, especially with Outlook, if the user cancels the login, as Outlook then uses the non-profiles Application Data\ folder for its settings, with confusing consequences. When backing up Outlook data, include both Application Data\ folders if necessary.

\Windows\Application Data\Identities\...<codename>...\Microsoft\Outlook Express\

Under the Identities\ subfolder there are one or more subfolders with a very long name of numbers and letters. Each of these correspond to a specific username that has been used on that computer. Outlook Express stores its mailbox here, in a subfolder called Microsoft\Outlook Express\.

\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\

Outlook 2000 stores many files here, these include Rules, the Junk Sender's list, offline folders, personal folders, and archive folders.

\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Proof\

Word 2000 stores any custom dictionaries that the user creates here.

\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Signatures\

Email signatures for Outlook 2000 are stored here.

\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Templates\

MS Word 2000 stores templates here. These contain default settings for word documents, such as paper size, font settings, and so forth.


Web page bookmarks are stored here.


This stores all the web pages that the user has viewed recently.

\Windows\Local Settings\

This folder only appears on Windows NT computers, or when connected to a Windows NT Network. It stores various configurations in multiple subfolders. Windows NT remembers certain information about the user which is automatically carried over to any computer the user logs in to. This folder contains information that isn't carried over to different computers. It may be worth checking the contents of \Windows\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ in case there are valuable files here.


This folder is created only if Windows has been configured to allow each user who logs in at that computer to have different desktop settings. Copies of most of the folders mentioned above are created within this folder for each new user, from where they can make their own configuration adjustments.


This was one of the default locations for personal-folders files in Outlook 97/98.

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Content last updated: 2003-09-23