Explained: Why You Can't Copy / Restore the Program Files Folder

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Guy P. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

A few days ago I turned my PC on and instead of booting into Windows, it went directly into Windows Startup Repair. It scanned the drive but then reported that 'Startup Repair cannot repair this computer automatically'. I restarted the system and tried to boot Windows normally, but again it went into the Startup Repair, and with the same results. I backed up my system previously from within Windows but there was no way for me to restore the backup (since the backup program runs inside of Windows). Long story short, I decided to format my hard drive and reinstall Windows from scratch. Now that I have Windows working again I'd like to copy over my program files from my backup onto my C drive, but I'm not sure how to do that. Can you help? "

My response:

I've been asked this question twice this week, though the circumstances varied slightly. In the other scenario, a user upgraded from Windows 10 32-bit to Windows 10 64-bit (which requires a clean install of Windows 64-bit - click here to read why). After the upgrade, he wanted to copy over his program files from a backup onto his new 64-bit system.

The short and sweet answer is that you cannot simply copy over your program files in this manner and expect them to work. The main reason is that all program files must be installed using an installer (a 'setup.exe' file), which is usually downloaded from the Internet. Once you run the installer, it looks at your system's configuration and installs files in the appropriate spot, then updates the system registry to register the program as being installed. If you simply copy over a folder in your Program Files directory, then you are circumventing all of that.

In the case of upgrading from Windows 10 32-bit to Windows 10 64-bit (for example) - the rules are the same. One other thing to consider is that if you're upgrading from Windows 10 32-bit to Windows 10 64-bit, you will want to download 64-bit installer programs instead of the 32-bit counterparts. Chances are that the 64-bit versions will run faster because they have access to more memory, which means calculations should go a little faster. This is especially true when handling large files for computation.

In the future you might want to consider using disk image backups of the operating system and restore the backups from CD / DVD / USB rescue media. In this case, the restore procedure runs from the CD / DVD / USB even if Windows won't start - so you won't have to reinstall Windows just to access your backup program. Acronis True Image is capable of doing that.

I hope that helps.

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About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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