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Can I Move an Installed Program from One Drive to Another?

Question: Hi. I’m running a laptop with a 120 GB SSD. I installed a game and some expansions that are actually filling this SSD. And I’m starting to have to less and less free disk space. My question is this: can I copy all of the folders from the game from C where it’s installed and put them on a external USB 3.0 disk. Would it still work? Or should I uninstall it and then completely reinstall it again on the external hard drive?

Your laptop will fill up quickly, so having another drive makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, the answer to your question is typically no. You can’t just copy the folders from the old location to the new. As you suggested, you need to perform a complete uninstall and then a reinstall, specifying the new installation location when you set up the program again.

Let’s look at why that is and an exception to it.

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Setup programs

When the game was installed, its setup program wrote information about the game to Windows, the registry, and a few other places. This information is typically used by Windows and by the game to locate parts of the game, use shared components within Windows, and may even include things like your game’s registration information.

Just moving the games files doesn’t change or update any of that information; all it really does is invalidate a lot of it.

Trying to run the program from a new location without that information being correct means the program won’t run – in fact it’ll probably just crash when you try.

The rule of thumb is actually pretty simple: if you had to run a setup program to install that software, then you need to run that same setup program to either move it or uninstall it and then reinstall it to a new location.

ToolsPortable programs

The other side of that rule of thumb is pretty interesting: programs that don’t require a setup.

These applications, called portable programs, don’t use an installation program, but instead just “deal with” the state of the machine when they’re run. If something’s missing, they’ll just create it or update it as needed.

In reality most portable programs try to have as few dependencies on information stored on the computer as possible.

As a result, much of what I said above about programs that use a setup doesn’t apply. They will actually react very favorably if you simply move the folder or files.

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2 comments on “Can I Move an Installed Program from One Drive to Another?”

  1. PCMag has a utility (costs 7.97) called Windows application mover that might solve this issue. PCMag says:”Version: 1.0.14
    Released: June 27, 2013

    Supported Platforms: Windows XP, 7, & 8 (32 & 64bit)
    With the massive size of hard drives these days, I thought I’d never have to worry about running out of disk space. I was wrong. I recently purchased a laptop with two drives, a 128 GB SSD boot drive and a 512 GB data drive. SSD drives offer enhanced performance but, currently, at reduced capacities (at least at a reasonable price point). After a few installations of software that didn’t ask me where I wanted to install, my C drive quickly began to fill up. It got so bad I had to move the pagefile off of the fast SSD drive because I was running out of space.

    This got me thinking about a utility to move installed programs. Back in the 90s I remember a couple of programs that would do this including our own Change of Address which attempted to track down all references to a program in shortcuts, INI files, and the Registry and updated them with the new program location. This process can be very slow and it raises the potential for missing a value.

    I wanted a simpler, quicker, and safer way to allow the user to move program files, so we came up with Windows Application Mover (WAM).

    WAM allows you to move a program’s folder from one drive to another by physically moving the files and then creating a junction point on the original drive pointing to the new location. All registry entries, shortcuts, INI files, etc, remain unchanged, they still point to the original location. The junction point in essence redirects those requests to the new folder location.”



  2. Some portable programs do have a setup program. In that case, the installation simply consists of unpacking the compressed version of the program to a folder you specify. In those cases you can move or copy that folder to any location you desire.


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