User old user data on new Windows install?
October 3, 2016 8:14 PM   Subscribe

So, hard drive trouble, had to reinstall Windows 7. Fortunately, I had my user data on the other drive, (which is Raid 1) so it's safe. Now, how do I convince Windows to use that user data?
posted by RobotHero to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
How did you do it the first time?
posted by flabdablet at 9:17 PM on October 3, 2016

What user data do you mean?
posted by demiurge at 9:17 PM on October 3, 2016

Do you mean something like tell Windows that the old drive is where, say My Documents now is/should be? Right clicking the old folders, and selecting 'Include in Library...' might get you somewhere near where you want, but a bit more info would be good.
posted by quinndexter at 1:58 AM on October 4, 2016

My Documents I've figured out, it's pretty straight-forward.

But I also had user data using a symbolic link, so at
There was a symbolic link to

I tried re-creating that but when I try to log in as RobotHero, I get "Group Policy Client Service failed the logon. Access is denied"
posted by RobotHero at 6:30 AM on October 4, 2016

Cross-drive symlinks are asking for trouble and are not a supported configuration when used for your user profile or profile root, but if you're prepared to deal with occasional weirdness, you should be able to restore that setup in a way that doesn't break any worse than it did before your reinstallation.

The logon failure will be due to Windows being unable to read your user registry hive from the folder your symlink now points to. This, in turn, will be because the permissions on all the files in that folder are still set up for your old Windows installation, which has a different machine Security ID from your new one.

If you're really lucky, you might be able to get it working just by fixing those permissions. Be aware that if you just do a recursive permissions change over the whole folder, you will need to clean up permissions for the hidden compatibility symlinks afterwards; Junction Box is the easiest tool I know of for that job. You might also need to fix permissions inside the registry hive for your old user as well. This is finicky, painstaking and annoying work. There was a time in my life when I would have done it. That time is long past.

If you're not so lucky, you'll need to break the symlink temporarily, log in as RobotHero to make Windows create your user registry hive inside C:\Users\RobotHero, then copy that over to D:\UsersData\RobotHero before re-establishing the symlink. That will mean, of course, that all the settings stored in your user hive will need setting up again.

The least broken way to do what you want is to leave the user profile itself on the system drive (as a real folder, not a symlink, under C:\Users), then use the Libraries feature to add folders from your user drive and set them as default save locations for various kinds of stuff (Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos and so forth). This is of course a complete PITA to do, but that's life for the Windows sysadmin with ambitions to use any configuration more complex than just having a single big C: drive with everything on it.

I also recommend backing up your entire D: drive to an external drive before you start, lest you learn the hard way why grizzled industry veterans go about muttering into our beards that RAID Is Not Backup.
posted by flabdablet at 7:11 AM on October 4, 2016

Thank you for your help. If you're wondering why I had the symlink, the boot drive is a 128 GB SSD and the storage drive is 2TB. So when I just let the user profile run wild, it would use 50 gigs of space and I set up the symlink to avoid running out of room.

But maybe I did this backwards. So now I'm thinking I should move all my user data back onto the SSD and then install as much of my software as I can on the storage drive. That would be a less annoying way to handle this?
posted by RobotHero at 6:39 PM on October 5, 2016

when I just let the user profile run wild, it would use 50 gigs of space and I set up the symlink to avoid running out of room.

The way I've learned to deal with this problem is to leave the user profile folder itself on the system drive where Windows clearly wants it to be, then keep an eye on it with a size monitoring utility like SpaceMonger or WinDirStat and deal with blowouts as they happen.

Judicious use of cross-drive symlinks inside a user profile folder, or the Libraries feature to change the default save location for documents, music etc. generally causes a lot less trouble than trying to redirect either the user profile folder itself or the profiles root (C:\Users).

The best arrangement, it seems to me, is to keep any files you care about outside your Windows user profile, and let Windows keep stuff that it cares about in the default locations. About the only way that this approach ever goes wrong is if you don't periodically clean out your %temp% folder.
posted by flabdablet at 6:53 PM on October 5, 2016

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