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How Do I Reinstall Downloaded Programs?

Question: I recently downloaded and installed an application. It works just great, but having no CD, how do I reinstall the program in the event of a disaster?

There are several possible answers to reinstall downloaded programs that depend on exactly what it is you purchased and where you purchased it from.

The good news is that there’s rarely a reason you would ever lose what you purchased, as long as you took a few precautions.

Let’s look at what those precautions might be.

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Save the receipts and the keys!

I don’t think I can stress this enough: when you make an online purchase of software – any software – it’s important to save both the purchase receipt or confirmation email and any kind of activation key or code. Having these available when you need them may make the difference between being able to recover your purchase or needing to purchase it again later.

Similarly, back up what you save. If you save it all in a folder on your hard disk and that hard disk then dies, you’ll lose this critical information at exactly the time you might need it the most: when replacing the hard disk and all the software installed on it.

While you’re at it, save the download, too. I’ll have more to say on that below.

Operating systems

More operating systems are now available primarily as downloads, albeit large ones. There are typically two approaches:

Make media: Many downloads are provided in a form that allow you to immediately make installation media. Ubuntu, for example, is offered as a DVD image in the form of a .iso file. Because it’s free, you can download it at any time using any computer and make a bootable installation media by burning that .iso file to a DVD.

Even if you’ve purchased an operating system like Windows 8 online and installed it directly without making media, it’s possible that by using the information on your emailed purchase confirmation that you can download it again, this time making the choice to make installation media – either USB or DVD. For Windows in particular, remember to reinstall the operating system. You’ll need to have saved the product key that you received when you purchased it.

DownloadMake a backup: If for whatever reason re-downloading the operating system to make installation media isn’t an option, you should immediately make a full backup image of your machine. Ideally, you would do this immediately after installing the OS in the first place, but if you haven’t, then “as soon as possible” will have to do. Now, when disaster strikes, you simply restore this backup image to your presumably fixed machine and you’re running once again. This is also the only scenario that doesn’t require that you re-enter your product key to recover.


Particularly for free applications, a scenario that is forcing you to reinstall things is also a perfect scenario for making sure that you’re as up-to-date as possible. So, step one is to simply re-download the current version of the application from the original site or source and reinstall that.

When you’ve purchased an application things get a little more interesting.

Some vendors will let you download the program again at any time, and then have you enter your product key to activate, enable, or otherwise legitimize the installed program. Naturally, this is the reason I so strongly recommend that you save your product keys at the time you purchase the software.

Often a download link will expire after a certain amount of time. If you need that download again, you’ll usually be directed to that vendor’s customer support to provide some kind of proof that you did indeed purchase the software often in the form of an order or confirmation number from the original receipt. This is the reason I so strongly recommend that you save those as well. Having proved that you purchased the software once, most vendors will then provide you with another temporary link from which you can download the software.

What if you can’t download again?

The unfortunately too-common scenario is that people can’t download again. Perhaps the vendor has gone out of business. Perhaps you need a specific version that’s no longer available. Perhaps you’re not online any more. Or perhaps you’ve lost your receipt.

Then, my friend, you are out of luck.


Unless you saved a copy of what you downloaded on the day you purchased it.

Much like the receipt and the product key, whenever you purchase downloadable software, save it. Back it up. After you download the file (making sure to select “Save As…” if asked when you click on the download link), copy the file somewhere to save it. Make sure that copy gets backed up and you’ll always have it, ready to reinstall whenever you need it.

And, yes, that’s exactly what I do. Whenever I download software – purchased or not – I copy the file that gets downloaded to a location on another machine, which in turn gets backed up nightly.

Just in case.

Do this

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12 comments on “How Do I Reinstall Downloaded Programs?”

  1. Many companies offer you the option of a “download-only” version of the program or a “physical delivery” (ie: they ship you a CD and a box). It used to be the case that I’d usually opt for the “physical delivery” because this included a printed manual. Given that that is almost never the case nowadays (well, except for a “quick start guide” — sometimes), I rarely take that choice any more. Instead, I do as you advise — make a backup immediately, and keep a copy of the receipt and license key as well. (There are still the rare exceptions, where there is no extra charge for the “physical delivery” method, and the download is still available for “instant gratification”.)

    Unfortunately, there are some programs where all you download from the website is a small “web-based” installation program. During the install, bits and pieces of the rest of the program are downloaded off the ‘net. I really dislike those installs, as there is nothing you can back up, aside from the “web-based” installation program. I have no idea what happens if you need to re-install. Or, Diety-forbid, the company goes out of business and there is no longer anywhere to install from. Even Microsoft uses such installation methods. Fortunately, they usually provide an “offline” installation version as well.

  2. I always save all my downloads and back up all my registration keys. My Downloads folder is full of subfolders named for each piece of software I’ve ever downloaded, with the downloaded installers in those folders. Unfortunately, as Ken B says, sometimes the installer is just a bootstrap installer which then downloads the latest version of the product from the web. I’ve had situations when rebuilding a machine where I was forced to buy a new license for the software because my license was for an “old version” of the software and there was no way to get back to that old version.

    In such cases, if you email the Tech Support line for the company you bought the software from, they might be willing/able to provide you with an older version of the install program. But don’t count on it. They want to make money and keep people moving forward so they don’t have to support old versions.

    I’m trying a new approach now, since having my third lifetime disastrous hard disk crash a few months ago: I’m backing up the boot disk image (which has all the installed programs on it) using Acronis True Image. I also bought the add-on Universal Restore so that if needed I could restore the disk image to a brand new hard disk, even it’s in a new machine and is a different manufacturer and size than the one that died. There might be some driver issues, but I’m told this method should work. Have yet to test it out to see what would happen in a real scenario.

  3. I use a program called Ninite to download and install most of the freeware programs I use. It can install about 100 of the most popular freeware programs. Simply check the boxes for the programs you want to install, and it creates a downloader which downloads and installs the programs you’ve selected. And here’s the icing on the cake. It automatically installs the program with the crapware removed. And the cherry on top: if you run the installer at a later date, it will update any program needing updating, or if your programs were lost or damaged Ninite will repair them for you.

  4. hi Leo pls. help when i download from youtube by realplayer it dosnt work by any play
    some times the download is good
    i notes that the MB is smoll than the time
    what can i do?

    • @ayman- realplayer is realplayer and not compatible with any other player I’m aware of. I have seen and tried a format converter which changes the real player format to other video formats but had hit or miss results. Check out some of the products offered by Applian Technologies, That’s what I use for YouTube videos I save and stop wasting time with realplayer.

      • Try VSO downloader. It’s free and can convert the format during downloads. I use it all the time with YouTube.

  5. I have a stack of CD cases with programs I have downloaded.
    The first thing I do after downloading a program is to make a CD/DVD containing the downloaded file, a text file of the key or serial number, and any other documentation that came with the program.
    I also print out a copy of the invoice and or confirmation and place it in the case with the CD.
    Then when the inevitable happens, all of the information I need is in one place — not stored on some hard to access backup and a printout stored in a file — somewhere.

    • I save all downloaded programs into a file on a hard drive. Any emails or other material are saved in the folder as well. Web stuff that may disappear when saved I either save a screenshot of or I copy/paste into a Word document and save it with the file. All files go in a folder I simply call “Software” and I copy that file to a DVD-R (way past the point where CD-Rs are enough) and eventually I’ll be saving to a 50 GB Blu-Ray DVD-R. I make a copy periodically so I have both a saved copy on a hard drive and on physical media.

      A heads up for those using online backup services- I lost an external hard drive once I stored a lot of downloaded programs on. I both backed up the drive to another drive and saved the backup files to the online storage place. The drive died without warning, and I found my backup file for it to be corrupted when I tried to reinstall it. When I went to my online back up I found they had changed their policy and neither any type of executable file OR back-up file were allowed. They had purged my files and my reinstall was almost all empty folders. What a nightmare that was! I recovered about 90% of my stuff, but I lost some great software none the less. I also dropped them because the $60+ a year they wanted to save pictures, documents and music files would buy a whole lot of blank storage media.

      • I wish you’d tell us WHICH online backup service you’re talking about pulling such a stunt. I want to make sure mine is not the one you’re talking about.

  6. Sure it is good to save the original download files on a safe offsite disk. However it is better to keep a DVD of the software usually available at small extra cost. However be aware that this is still not fail safe because some upgrade software is linked ot the existance of a full version being avalble on your PC or optical disk. Some companies change the required previuos version so that when one tries to reinstall one is told that the upgrade requires a later full version than whne one first installed. Adobe are an example and I never know wether a reinstall with work with their products and there is always a problem since their support very poor and often out sourced to somewhere like India

  7. I read these comments and attempted to download VSO as Snert recommended. HOWEVER my McCaffrey virus protector said the the VSO download was “Dangerous” and contained spyware, and potential viruses and strongly recommended me not to download the software. I will not take this chance and thought others might appreciate this information.


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