What’s the “Appdata roaming” folder?

Appdata roaming doesn't mean your computer has been roaming. It's nothing more than a folder designation on your machine. Why data may be put there, however, is a bit more complex.

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I just ran CCleaner and I had at least 100 app data roaming entries, which have never appeared before when running a scan. I’ve been reading articles about app data roaming and I’m a little fuzzy on what it means. My computer’s hooked up to a modem and a router. I do not use wireless for this computer, but I do have it enabled for my iPad touch and the appdata roaming is showing all my activity on this computer. I’m a little concerned about this. I recently did a clean install of Windows due to a virus and I’m about a week in on that clean install and now this has appeared. Also, another interesting problem is that I decided to have a look at the application data folder and I got a Windows pop-up saying, “Access is denied.” Any thoughts?

A couple of things are going on here.

First, AppData\Roaming probably isn’t what you think it is. It doesn’t have anything to do with wireless or the number of people using their computer in different places.

What is AppData\Roaming?

AppData is a folder in your Windows user account home folder, and Roaming is a folder within that. AppData\Roaming is where programs on your machine store data that is specific to your user account. The folder is normally hidden, and lives within your user account home folder. As an example, on one of my machines the full path would be:

c:\Users\LeoN\Appdata\Roaming

Where “Roaming” is a sub folder of “AppData”.

AppData\Roaming

Into that folder might be placed things like default templates, configuration files, and other support data that applications might use that a) might be different for other users of the machine, and b) aren’t your actual working documents.

Now, AppData makes sense – it’s where Applications place Data. But what’s with the “Roaming”?

Roaming around with Windows

AppData\Roaming is designed for use in what I’ll call a corporate environment, though any widespread deployment of Windows in a large environment could be configured to make use of it.

 

In these scenarios the idea is that your Windows account isn’t an account on a specific machine, but rather an account in your company’s overall IT infrastructure or “Domain”. In theory, then, you could log in to any machine connected to your corporate network on which you have permission with your single corporate Windows account.

And when you did so, the data that applications had placed in AppData\Roaming would follow you to the machine you logged in on. It would “roam” to whatever machine you happened to use.

AppData\Roaming at home

Outside of large Windows installations like I’ve described, the concept of roaming simply isn’t used that much. At home I’d dare say it’s not used at all.

However the folder most certainly is. When programs ask Windows, “Where should put my data?” Windows responds with “Well, put it over in the current user’s AppData\Roaming folder.”

At home and in most traditional small Windows installations the word ‘roaming’ really means nothing to us. It’s simply the folder in which applications can put data and nothing more.

What CCleaner is doing

Without knowing specifically what CCleaner is showing you in those folders, I’m not going to get too concerned. I don’t think it’s a sign of anything malicious.

AppData\Roaming is a place where temporary data might get placed and I could envision CCleaner deciding to clean it up. It might be a tad confusing, but it’s not necessarily a problem.

Bottom line is that I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about, and you don’t need to read anything into the “roaming” at all.

Access denied

Now, you indicated that you tried to look at the application data folder and you received an Access Denied message. I have an article on this – “Why can’t I access the Documents and Settings or Local Settings folders in Windows Vista?” (applies to Windows editions after Vista as well). When they made the transition from Windows XP to Windows Vista, they actually rearranged some of the places where data is stored.

For example, in Windows XP, you may remember there was a Documents and Settings folder. Well, that’s now part of the Users folder. And in fact, as we saw above, the application data folder is the c:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming folder, whereas it used to be in “c:\Documents and Settings\username”. It’s more complex and more confusing than that, in part because you’ll still see “Documents and Settings” on your machine , but you’ll get Access Denied if you try to open it.

There are two things that I would have you do.

  • Look for other similarly named folders. Documents, Application data, or another more easily accessible with a clearer name.
  • Make sure that you’re the Administrator. If you’re the Administrator (and you might need to run Windows Explorer “as Administrator”), then you should be able to see most all of these folders without restriction.

There are 9 comments:

  1. J R Acton III Reply

    It is perhaps applicable to point out the nature of these so-called folders in Vista and later Windows OSs as actually being mere “pointers” to the different storage locations used in these newer iterations of Windows. As Mr. Notenboom points out in the excellent 2007 article linked within this article above, these “junction points” represent, in effect, “virtual folders” that allow the maintenance of backwards compatibility with programs whose code calls for utilization of the “old” locations that NT OSs in their early generations contained; as is also pointed out in the afore-mentioned article, close attention to the actual icon Windows Explorer displays for these junction points are not the actual default folder icon, but rather the default “shortcut-to-a-folder” icon, complete with Windows’ ubiquitious shortcut arrow; as such, there’s no data to be discovered “inside” these “virtual folders”. Heaven forbid one should actually undertake an embrace of the “…I PAID for it, so it’s MINE” philosophy that seemingly leads many to take ownership of these junction points (through the right-click or right-click/shift context menus, often after applying a registry hack, or tweak, or through the effort of third-party software) and thereby create recursive loops that seriously break Windows; perhaps `tis better to heed Leo’s excellent advice on how to access the data in it’s “new” locations, which is after all what one is REALLY looking for, and leave the esoterics of meddling with complex systems arcane inner workings to those suited by inclination, advocation, or enterprise to such delving…

    • Ben Reply

      Very impressive treatise, J R Acton III. Now . . . if you’re really trying to help the original poster, can you summarize your reply in 25 words or less? Using no more than three syllables in any given word?

  2. GREG JACKSON Reply

    J R Acton III
    “meddling with complex systems arcane inner workings to those best suited ”
    —————————————————————
    I learned this lesson once, and once was enough.
    With way to much time on my hands, I too meddled way deep inside my XP . The more you see, the more confounded you become.
    I thought the Norton file was a left over from “trial-ware”, which kept popping up asking me to renew. So I thought “gotcha”, and deleted it. Oops. It was Norton Ghost – used for the back-up and restore utility……which I needed after discovering many more files I thought must be deleted.

  3. mandre Reply

    Leo, this doesn’t tell me how to stop the word document from being saved as Normal template in roaming; ……..users…. ; template I don’t want it save into anything else but documents

  4. yeskay Reply

    can we delete the entire contents of this folder?

    Does it affect my system’s functioning?

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      ~\AppData\Roaming is an essential system folder. If it’s deleted, Windows won’t work. Or at best it will mess things up pretty bad.

  5. Mike J Reply

    I’m having problems with hyperlinks in MS applications that have brought me to this discussion, but which have not been covered so far. I am entering hyperlinks in a large and important Excel file on an external hard drive (x:) that link to a variety of resources, including elsewhere in that Excel file, elsewhere on that x: drive, or online.
    I assumed (it turns out wrongly) that hyperlink data is hard, and does not change unless I edit it – but I’m wrong. Many links to files elsewhere on that x: drive are regularly getting changed to a path via \AppData\Roaming\ on c: . The destination file name is still correct, but as it is not present via this path, the link is useless – it no longer points to anything. The problem would not be so bad if at the same time as the hyperlink changing, the external resource is also copied to the new path, but that doesn’t happen. This problem seems to be connected in some way to a series of autosaves of the Excel file in \AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Excel\ .
    A bit more background: running Windows 7 Home Premium SP1. I use my external drive x: as my main data store, (and another external drive as data backup), and I only copy what I need to c: . The benefit is portability – I can plug up to any other computer – security (easier to store and hide an external drive than a laptop) – continued access to data in case of motherboard or other computer malfunction – and upgrade-friendly – when I change my laptop.
    No doubt this goes against the way Microsoft wants me to use hardware, and depending on your advice, I may have to think again. However, the discovery that hyperlinks can be alterered by Windows is alarming. There’s months of work going into them!
    So what are the fixes? Is there a way of hardening hyperlinks so they don’t get altered?
    Is this inevitable any time I plug the external drive to any other computer?
    Or does it only arise if there happens to be an autosave while x: is plugged up elsewhere?

  6. rj Reply

    how do i solve Rundll – Error in c:/users/rj/appdata/roaming/newnext.me/nengine.dll
    Missing entry: entrypoint ?

    this error keeps popping out whenever i open my windows 7 ultimate.

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