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Why can't I access the Documents and Settings or Local Settings folders in Windows Vista?


I can not longer access the Documents and Settings folder or the Local
Settings folder after my XP to Vista upgrade. I appear not have sufficient
privileges yet I am the administrator (full access) or my local PC?

As best I can figure Microsoft is trying to make it very difficult to access
those old folders.

Yes, I said “old folders”. Apparently in Windows Vista, the folders have
been moved. The information is elsewhere and fully accessible in the new

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If you try to open “C:\Documents and Settings” in Windows Explorer on Vista,
you’re quite likely to get this error:

Location Not Available Error

Even if you’re logged in as administrator you may still get that error.

The “problem” here is that Microsoft has apparently moved everything that
used to be in “Documents and Settings” into a new folder called “Users”. Open
that and you’ll probably get what you were expecting out of “Documents and

Windows Explorer open on the Users folder

In fact you may notice that “Documents and Settings” is displayed with a
shortcut icon in Windows Explorer:

Shortcut icon on Documents and Settings

As you can guess, “Documents and Settings” is a shortcut to “Users”,
presumably present for compatibility reasons.

You can probably also guess what’s happened with “Local Settings”. Normally
you’d find it in “c:\Documents and Settings\[user]\Local Settings”. It’s been
moved to “c:\Users\[user]\AppData\Local”:

Windows Explorer open on c:\Users\LeoN\AppData\Local

I don’t know the specific reasons for the changes. One observation is that the “new” paths have no spaces in them, making me wonder if the old
names were particularly problematic when configuring software to use these
locations. That doesn’t seem like enough of a reason, though, for a change of
this magnitude.

In any case, if you get access denied at the old location, the solution is
simple: go to the new location instead.

Do this

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39 comments on “Why can't I access the Documents and Settings or Local Settings folders in Windows Vista?”


    Now here’s the weird part – the “My Documents” folder is kind of still there in Vista. It is now a hidden “Junction Point”. A junction point is a hidden file pointer in NTFS. What does that mean to you? It means that older programs, which are hard coded to copy files to the My Documents directory, will be redirected to the new Documents folder in Windows Vista.

    If you’re really nerdy, you can try this test:
    1) Create a test file
    2) Start the cmd prompt
    3) CD to your normal user directory – usually it is C:\Users\YourUserName
    4) Now do this: cd “My Documents”
    5) Weird, eh? You are moved into an “empty” directory???
    6) copy your test file into this location from the CMD prompt
    7) Perform a DIR – the file isn’t there? Where is it?
    8) Check your Vista Documents directory – there it is!

    Where does this get to be a challenge? I use RoboCopy to back-up my documents onto a thumb-drive each day at work. This gives me a portable, readable image that is easy to work with. However, the “My Documents” junction point gives RoboCopy fits causing “Access Denied” errors. I had to add the /R:1 command line option to skip the error and continue with the MIRror.

  2. Guys, the solution for this is simple. You just have to take ownership of those folders (and there subfolders) in Vista. Then you will have full permission to access the content. Make sure your account has full access on the security settings and your current account is what holds the ownership permission and not “Administrator” (the one for XP)or whatever its set as by default.. Don’t worry, if you are doing a dual boot, you can still access XP. The permission only changes in Vista.

  3. Hi. Not all folders are accessible. The junction point folders will still say denied. No matter what you do. Because they are are virtual. You need to access then using the “Compatibility Files button”. Which will lead you to the real folders in: C:\Users\User_name\AppData\Local\VirtualStore
    The reason is to try to keep melware from being able to take control.

    “Example” Here, IE7 running in protected mode utilizes this functionality so when you visit a webpage that tries to insert a file into the Startup folder, it instead is placed in the virtual startup folder and will not execute upon the next boot.

    By placing them in a virtual folder. the system does not look for them on boot-up. But they are accessible by ways of the junction point folders. Which will always give you a “Denied” pop-up. No matter how you try to set them or your permissions.

    Yes I know it’s confusing, But that is how it’s supposed to work.


  4. One possible reason for changing the location is due to the fact that most Windows applications can’t deal with path names greater than 255 characters and so shortening “Documents and Settings” to “Users” and shortening “My Documents” to “Documents” and shortening “My Documents\My Pictures” to just “Pictures” (and so on) saves on valuable characters that might be the difference between an application working or not working.

    For example, if you tried to install Visual Studio 2003 Beta 1 from a folder on your desktop in Windows XP (assuming your username was your first and last name) there were files that would fail to install because of this limitation.

  5. hi

    i just got vista and was setting up permissions and got very confused by the
    inability to access the documents and settings folder. I eventually figured
    this out, but in the process i deleted some of these junction points. is
    there a way to bring these back, and is it necessary??
    many thanks


  6. damn i hate vista. moving things does not a better program make.
    what it did do was make all prior windows programs nonfunctioning under vista. other programs, 95, 98, 2000, millinum, nt, and xp will not even see vista and dont expect programs that run on them to run on vista.
    so looking for programs where they used to be and finding the directory locked does nothing to increase performance.

  7. Ok, so I accidently fried my old mobo, (don’t ask, but it involves an electric drill) so I hooked up my old hard drive to my new computer, to transfer the files.
    Looking at the original article, I believe I did everything right.
    Except I can’t move my Outlook files and folders. It says I don’t have permission to look, or move my .pst files and such. (local settings)
    What did I miss?
    I went thru and added myself, as administrator and as user for the security settings.
    What did I miss?
    Anyhelp would be GREATLY appreciated!

  8. Leo and others…

    I have known about the shortcut and hidden juntions but my question is, if I erase them will Vista still work ok?

    Any ideas?

  9. I found that the change in location, by Vista, can affect Movie Maker. It can return a “General access denied error”. When this happens the registry has to be edited to change the location of the temporary files from C:\Users\Local Settings\Temp folder to one that is accessible. I created C:\Users\Temp as the folder. There may be other programs that have the same problem. I have not come across them. What is strange is that Movie Maker comes installed with the OS.

  10. Hi all
    I’m new with Vista. I’m trying to open the ‘History’ folder and also the ‘temporary internet folder’,however I was unable to open the folder. I tried many times by using ‘properties’ changing the share options but it didn’t work. Any idea how to open thay both folder?
    thank you.

  11. If you have show all files selected in vista it will show you old files like my documents that won’t open. Uncheck show all files and the problem goes away.

  12. Thank god you posted this. My outlook.pst file went currupt and for the life of me I couldn’t find it. I found it under my user/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Outlook Why did they move everything?

  13. I am unable to locate the AppData folder on my C drive. Where would the old “Local Settings” folder go?

    I was making an Outlook archive and wrote down the default location where the archive file was to be saved at, which was “Documents and Settings” -> (my account name) -> Local Settings -> Application Data -> Microsoft -> Outlook -> archive.pst

    Once te archive process was done, my C drive free space was down by a little more than 3GB (yes, I had a lot of stuff accumulated in Outlook). Then I went looking for that archive file, only to found that there is no “Local Settings” folder under my account name. Then I used the search looking for any folder with names having “Application” or “App” or “Data” but with no results from the WE search; I then did use WE to search for any file with “archive” in the file name; still no results.

    Where would the archive file go that took 3GB out of my 40GB C drive?

  14. Sorry, I forgot to mention that my computer has the Windows XP Pro with the latest updates, SP3 and beyond.

  15. I have windows vista and subscribe to msn/hotmail, up until today I have had no problems opening attachments, why do I now have to download a document before I can open it?
    p.s. when I do try to open it I get the message “failed to execute”

  16. I was able to access Documents and Settings and a number of other directories until I uninstalled Norton 360 from my Windohs Vista SP2 machine. After this, the link icon appeared on certain folders. Norton has some kind of service for backing up your system files and all, and are persistent that you use this service to the point of being obnoxious, and are more than happy to sell you more storage space if you can’t back up your data because of space limitations. I am buying a Mac laptop this coming week primarily because of the poor quality of the Vista OS. I work 10 hours a day as a software developer and tester, and don’t enjoy testing Microsofts beta software. Also, I find the “service” of backing my data up an invasion of privacy on the part of Norton and others. The explanations are always sugar coated and with only you’re best interest in mind. What’s the deal with only one week between Vista SP1 > SP2 releases? Sorry for the vitriol towards Microsoft, but when I spend 2 months of my time working out one Vista bug after another with my Bangalore buddies, and loosing hours of work (yes I back up) I kind of loose interest in even turning the machine at all…

  17. Along these same lines, I have a user who’s laptop (an HP) is totally dead. They have replaced it and asked me to retrieve their data. I have removed the drive and have it in a USB connected drive case. I can read some of the folders in Users, but many are still inaccessible – This folder may have been moved or be offline…. –
    I am using an XP Pro machine to do this….all she is interested in retrieving are the docs, pics and music….

  18. Hey, the only reason I’m looking for Documents and Settings is because my music is read several folders deep in it by my iTunes…I haven’t tried it yet, because if it doesn’t work, it could ruin everything, but I wonder if I try making the path exactly the same as it was on XP, but switch out the “Documents and Settings” part of the path for “Users” it would work…?

  19. CONSTANT computer problems. I don’t know if it’s Vipre Software, Verizon DSL or what, but I’ve never been this disgusted with anything in my life. I’m trying to get the SETTINGS to match Verizon and Vista Email. Can’t get to it, so I can’t fix it. Verizon claims a lot of my connection problems are because of VIPRE. I’m about to completely give up with computers all together.

  20. Lol i found how finally
    at C:\Documents and Settings\Account
    double click on account ->properties click hidden and click apply,then again click hidden and click apply
    its like 2-3 folders appeared
    2-3 folders were hidden for the account folder i made all to hide and then i click hidden again to unhide all

  21. hi I hope you can help, I had a problem where my user profile dissapeared, since that happened I wiped my hard drive and reinstalled windows thinking it would make everything all right but it didnt for some reason none of the accounts are showing the local settings or application settings. I must add that I am using windows xp home not the program you are talking about but thought you might still be able to help

  22. never mind I read Cvetomir’s comment and realised maybe it was to do with the folder view and it was so it is all okay now..yippee cos I sure was getting worried about my laptop being ready for the scrap heap….thanks every one

  23. I found a solution to show the Documents and Settings
    yesterday i open it
    1. go to Organize
    2. folder and search option
    3.choose show all hidden files,folder and …. my computer and choose c:
    5. right click on Documents and Settings then properties
    6. choose security then advanced
    7. on Permission choose change permission
    8. for example if your account name is “windows” select it and choose Edit …
    9. give yourself full access and check the check box to apply it to all the folder
    Documents and Settings contain .
    note : if not do this issue for any folder do you want to open it
    10 . enjoy !! windows 7

  24. Hey I m Nafiz, I can,t access my recent and cookies folder in my profile in windows 7. Can u give any solution to that????

  25. Office 2007 Local files (Signatures, Personal.XLS) in Windows 7 can be found in the …AppData\Roaming\Microsoft Folder. Why it’s under Roaming is still puzzling to me…

    It has to do with what are called “roaming profiles” used typically in corporate or other large environments. As I understand it you can log into any(?) computer on the corporate network and your roaming profile is available there. Never played with it myself.


  26. “In any case, if you get access denied at the old location, the solution is simple: go to the new location instead.”

    Dumb comment – its not a solution to have crap on the drive which we can’t access.

  27. Thanks for the very useful tips, I am in the same situation and I finally got to the “History” by following your suggestion, yet, when I click on “History” nothing happens…it does not open…

  28. i can’t find he local settings on the drive. i checked on user then tried all users, still unable to locate it. i defragmented my files and there’s tons of files that can’t be defragmented in that folder. i’m using winxp.
    would appreciate the help. thanx

  29. hi Leo, I am not sure that you are right. I am searching for a downloaded file that was :\”save to Temp” or something. It was corrupt or something and wouldnt open when download finished so I did a search and the search result was “Documents and Settings\Roen Davis\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5\WB8M1XBG” None of these addresses are in the User directory. I dont like owning a chest of drawers that the manufacturer locks me out of some drawers!

  30. I really don’t like Vista for I can’t find anything once I have put it in a folder or documents why am I having so much trouble with this

  31. if you look at the permissions on the Docs and Settings folder, you’ll see how this works. You have access to see the folder but not the contents.

    Administrators however have access to see subfolders and contents.

    in the windows explorer address bar for example, type:

    C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator

    and you’ll see you can access that – which is actually showing you C:\Users\Administrator

    For the person who said “Dumb comment – its not a solution to have crap on the drive which we can’t access.” – you actually can access it is the point.

    It’s like one of the two roads leading to your house being blocked off – just use the other one.

  32. Thank you for these useful tips, iv been trying to access pictures that iv lost for months, and iv finally been able to access them!! thank you

  33. Try the steps below to get access to the Documents folder.

    1. Right-click on the Documents Folder.
    2. Select Properties.
    3. Click Security tab.
    4. Click Advanced in the lower right corner.
    5. In the Advanced Security Settings window that pops up, click on the Owner tab.
    6. Click Edit.
    7. Click Other users or groups.
    8. In the “Enter the object names to select” type in Everyone.
    9. Click OK.
    10. Then select Everyone under “group or user names” and then “Allow” “Full control” to the folder.
    11. Apply the settings.
    Then try accessing the Document folder.
    {url removed}

  34. I can’t comment on Vista as I don’t have it running on a system atm to check (and I’m to lazy to look it up), but I would like to update jhon’s instructions for use with Windows 7 as the currently outlined steps could introduce a security risk if used in Windows 7.

    //{boring technical explanation part}
    In Win 7 access to theses shortcuts(technically junction points) such as “Local Settings”, “My Documents”, etc is restricted by a security setting for the user group “Everyone” which is a non inherited special permission set to deny “List folders/read data” for those folders only. Permissions that deny take precedence over any allow permissions and thus even if a user or group is given “full control” permissions for these folders, the deny permission setting for the group “everyone” overrides these permissions and prevents access. What this means, as Nick pointed out, is that this default special permission setting prevents access no matter what other permissions are granted, but only to this one folder and you still have access to all sub-folders if you link directly to them.

    To illustrate this point try typing “C:UsersDefaultStart Menu” into your location bar and you will be denied access, but if you instead type “C:UsersDefaultStart MenuPrograms” you will have access to this folder. Only the top folder “Start Menu” has the permissions set to deny access, but this does not apply to any sub-folders. It is important to note that even though the address bar will display your location as “C:UsersDefaultStart MenuPrograms” the folder “Start Menu” is actually a junction point(think fancy shortcut) to the folders new location “C:UsersDefaultAppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms” and any changes that you make in one will also apply to the other as they are in fact the same location. Always use the new path when setting directory paths within programs to prevent potential issues.

    Also note that if you use the latter path to access the actual new location of “Start Menu” at “C:UsersDefaultAppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart Menu” that you have permissions to this folder even though you do not via the other path, this is one way that junction points are different than standard shortcuts(just fyi). This dual method of access is to allow older applications a path to access the new folder locations in such a way that to the program it appears as if the files are in the correct location it expects, but without actually having two separate locations to enable this backward compatibility. Why the genius programmers decided to set a default permission to deny us (legacy minded users) the ability to use these existing shortcuts to access the new folder locations in a manner with which we are familiar is beyond me, but that’s M$ for you.

    //{steps to allow access to “restricted” shortcuts with minimum security risks}
    Now onto the practical/useful part:

    The below steps basically do the same as jhon’s instructions, but in a slightly different manner that does not open up the potential for other users or unauthorized programs to have too much access to the folder by making “everyone” owners of the folder. Note that this method is for gaining access to any hidden & restricted sub-folders of “C:Users” and more complex steps are needed to open up “C:Documents and Settings”(i.e. taking ownership), but as the article states “C:Documents and Settings” is just a junction point to “C:Users” so just open “C:users” instead. The below steps should work for any sub-folder of “C:users”(Local Settings/My Documents/etc).

    You must be logged in as an administrator:

    1. Right-click on the shortcut that you want access to.
    2. Select Properties.
    3. Click on the Security tab.
    4. Click on the “Advanced” button.
    5. Click on the “Change Permissions” button.
    6. Click on the line that reads across as “Deny, Everyone, List folder/read data, not inherited, this folder only”.
    If this line doesn’t exist, verify you are working with the correct folder or do further research.
    7. With that line highlighted click the “Remove” button.
    8. Click the “OK” button three times to set the permissions and get back out of the properties window.
    9. You should now have the proper permissions to open the junction point as if it is a standard shortcut.

    //{Steps if the above steps successfully remove the permissions in step 6, but you still don’t have access}
    Rarely the default permissions may have been changed somehow. If the above steps do not give you access you may need to add new allow permissions in order to gain access.

    1. Follow steps 1-5 from above.
    2. Click the “Add” button.
    3. Click the “Advanced” button.
    4. Click the “Find Now” button.
    5. In the list that will populate at the bottom of the window you will need to select a different option depending on what your intended outcome is. Choose the most specific group that still allows your intended user(s) to have the permissions on the folder.

    The most commonly used ones are:
    -“Anonymous Login” – Allows anyone anonymous access (Don’t use this unless you really know what you are doing).
    – “Guest” or “Guests” – Not recommended (in fact you should have your guest account disabled)
    -“Everyone” – All users, even guest accounts(not recommended again due to guest access).
    -“Users” – Anyone who has an account on the computer, but also allows null network session list access(not recommended unless you wish to share the file on a network and “Authenticated Users” doesn’t allow access for some reason).
    -“Authenticated Users” – Like the plain “Users” group only more secure(recommended setting for letting all local users have the permission)
    “Administrators” – Any Administrator(use this for granting permission for all other admin accounts, but not all user accounts)
    “Administrator” – The built in Administrator account only as opposed to any administrator.
    – ~a user account name~ – The actual name will vary depending on the names of the users you have on your system, but using this option will grant the permission to the account with the same name.(recommended for use on a users personal file folders as it grants the permission only to that user).
    6. Once you have decided who you want to have access to this folder, highlight the name and click “OK” twice.
    7. The choice of permissions to grant the selected group/account will now open. You can look up what the various permissions do, but for most people you will want one of two choices. a) You want to grant permission to do anything, then select tick “Full Control” under the allow column. b) You want to give access to read/execute the contents but not make any changes then tick all these {Traverse folder/execute file, List folder/read data, Read attributes, Read extended attributes, Read permissions}.
    8. To the right of “Apply to:” chose which files/folders you want the permission applied to(think carefully)
    9. Click “Ok” four times and you should then have the wanted permissions for the folder/file.

    Overly long explanations I know, but a lot of these details seem to be hard to find in one spot on the net and often are not very clear to less advanced users. Hopefully you found the info useful.

  35. I’m running Microsoft Vista Home Edition. Would you know where the auto recovery files are kept for Excel, Word etc? I do not have the AppData directory you have indicated. When I shutdown the computer, it asks me if I want to do auto-recovery, but I’m unable to find the location where these files are being put.


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