How do you find the CD Key of the Windows CD you have? I have a
Windows XP Pro SP2 installation disk but I don’t know the CD Key. Can you
locate it on the CD? I do not have this installed on any other computers so I
can’t search the registry for it either.
There’s a lot of confusion about CD or, more properly, “Product Keys”, those
long strings of numbers and letters you need to type in when you install
One source of confusion is where the CD Key comes from.
One hint: it’s not on the CD.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
The fact is that for any given version of a Windows CD, the CDs are all the
same. The key to unlock the CD is not stored anywhere on the CD. If it
were, each CD would have to be slightly different – it’s not quite a
manufacturing nightmare, but it’s at least a bad dream.
more like you’re purchasing that product key.”
The product key is typically printed on a label on the product packaging
containing the CD when you purchase it. If you look closely at several copies
of the same product, you’ll see that the key is different on each label.
You may think you’re purchasing a CD, but in fact, it’s more like you’re
purchasing that product key. Any CD will do, but it’s your possession of a
unique product key that verifies you as having purchased a legitimate copy of
A CD without a product key? Without your unique product key? Not
worth very much.
One of the reasons that the product keys are unique is to prevent piracy.
Each person should receive a unique product key, and thus that product key
should be used to install on only one machine. Microsoft is fairly vague on
the details of “product activation”, but it’s likely that one of the things it
checks is that the product key you entered is unique, and not already in use by
someone else, or on another machine.
Now, if you have a legitimate, working installation of Microsoft Windows,
you can, in fact, get the product key without the sticker. There’s a free tool:
KeyFinder, that will report your
product keys for Windows, and several other installed programs.
So in case you haven’t guessed, those product key stickers are valuable, and
should be saved. Or at least make sure to save the product key information
somewhere. If you ever need to reinstall Windows, you’ll need the product key
again. I’ve actually collected all of mine and placed them in a spreadsheet for
And, I’m sorry to have to bother most of you with the following, but I know
I’ll get the questions if I don’t:
- I cannot retrieve your product key for you.
- I cannot activate a product for you.
- I cannot give you a product key or activation code for any