Windows is made of so many program files that every so often us users find a file with a random extension, be it .exe or .DAT, and wonder what does it do. One such file that you might come across is NTUSER.DAT. Whether or not you have an idea about what it is or what does it do, remember not to delete it.
The file contains user-specific configuration information sensitive to Windows. It is read by Windows whenever you log into your Windows account. The file is also a copy of all the information that is collected and stored in the system registry while you run Windows.
What is the Significance of NTUSER.DAT Files?
As stated above, NTUSER.DAT is a file that stores a user’s profile information. This information is critical for those who are running multiple accounts on a single computer. It saves a user’s unique preferences, personal applications, and data to ensure that there is no mix up among the users. This is how the background on your account’s desktop remains the same even if another user on the Windows device changes theirs.
Every user has their own NTUSER.DAT file. Windows, with the help of the data collected and stored in the NTUSER.DAT files, configures every user account. The file is usually located in the home directory of each user.
The History of NTUSER.DAT Files
The file is named after Windows NT, an older Microsoft OS which was introduced with Windows 3.1 and from which the newer versions of Windows have evolved. It is with the Windows NT operating system that the tradition of using the .DAT extension started. The extension signifies that the file contains data.
Windows didn’t always have full support for multiple user profiles. Previously, every user shared the same desktop background, files, and even programs. It is with the use of NTUSER.DAT files that Windows was able to keep data, files, programs, and desktop of each user account unique.
A user can access these files by entering %userprofile% on their File Explorer’s address bar or run command. In certain circumstances, a user may not be able to find the files on their computers. This may be because Microsoft does not intend for their users to access these files. Intentionally or unintentionally made changes can delete vital information. However, if you are still willing to access them, you can do it by clicking on “Show Hidden Files”.
What are the Other NTUSER.DAT Files with Numbers?
If you access these files to see what is in there, you will probably notice that in addition to the main NTUSER.DAT files, there are other files as well. These other files are named as NTUSER.DAT.LOG and end with some increment numbers. These are the backup files for your previous settings. Every time you make a change to any settings in your Windows account, Windows saves your new preferences to NTUSER.DAT. But before that, it saves a back up of your previous settings in the NTUSER.DAT.LOG files to make it easier in case you wish to undo the recent changes.
How Do NTUSER.DAT Files Work?
The data stored in the NTUSER.DAT file is copied back and forth between the file and Windows registry. Windows registry is a database that is used by Windows to maintain settings of the OS and other software on the Windows device. This registry is divided into two sections that are known as Hives in technical terms. One of these Hives is dedicated to store data of a specific user and this is where the copy of NTUSER.DAT data is stored. The data is organized in a set of hives known as HKEY_USERS. When you log into your specific Windows account, you will be able to find this data in an HKEY_CURRENT_USER registry.
Tool that Lets You Make Changes to NTUSER.DAT Files
Generally, there are some administrators who need to make quick changes to several user accounts at once. But in case you are not a pro administrator or are not careful enough, you can end up with a problem that might be hard to fix. Therefore, it is better to use a tool to access the Windows Registry and then make changes. However, this process too requires the administrator to be extremely cautious.
There is an available built-in tool called Regedit, which can be used to not only browse but also edit this Windows Registry. A reliable guide for using this tool to make changes to the registry can be easily found on the Internet. It will walk you through the necessary steps so you avoid making any mistakes. After you edit the registry, you will need to log off the account or shut down the computer to ensure the new settings are saved to the NTUSER.DAT file.
Why You Should Never Delete or Alter NTUSER.DAT Files
Editing the Windows registry can be too risky if you are not sure what you are doing. Windows is adept enough to take care of the user’s information without leaking it into another user’s account. Therefore, you will never need to edit or browse this registry. Directly deleting anything in the NTUSER.DAT files will only result in losing data permanently from the computer. Deleting or altering the files can also make it difficult to save new configuration information. Since Windows depends on the information inside these files to load user-specific settings and preferences, deletion of these files would corrupt your profile. You might even end up permanently locked out of the account.
Since the file does not take much space on the computer, it is better to delete an unused to now redundant user account through Windows. Since deleting the NTUSER.DAT can create an irreversible fiasco.
Once, deleted, there is no way of recovering these files. To undo the changes, if you create a plain NTUSER.DAT file to replace the one you deleted, you will experience an endless loop where the Windows will keep showing the first-time setup dialog “Hi. We’re getting everything ready for you. This might take several minutes.” It will never finish logging in. In this instance, you will permanently be locked out of all the accounts on the computer.
Ways to Ensure the Safety of Every User’s NTUSER.DAT Files
If you are the system administrator and worried about losing information in case someone tried to alter the files in their own NTUSER.DAT files to change profile settings, you can take certain steps to prevent this from happening. The easiest way to ensure the security of these files is by renaming a particular (suspected or potentially finicky) user’s NTUSER.DAT files to NTUSER.MAN. This way Windows will still be able to read the file as it is but will prevent user configuration changes from saving for future use.
Conclusion: What is the NTUSER.DAT File in Windows
NTUSER.DAT is a file found in every user account of Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The file contains data and information that is responsible for saving unique settings and preferences of each user. Windows uses this information to configure each user account. However, there are a lot of questions revolving around these files. What is the NTUSER.DAT file used for? How to access them? Can they be edited? How to edit them? How to ensure that no user is able to make changes to them? What happens if the file is deleted? All these questions are answered in this article. Written in the simplest language, it can be understood by anyone – expert or not.