About profiles

A Windows user profile is a collection of folders, files, registry settings, and configuration settings that define the environment for a user who logs on with a particular user account. These settings may be customizable by the user, depending on the administrative configuration. Examples of settings that can be customized are:

  • Desktop settings such as wallpaper and screen saver
  • Shortcuts and Start menu setting
  • Internet Explorer Favorites and Home Page
  • Microsoft Outlook signature
  • Printers

Some user settings and data can be redirected by folder redirection. However, if folder redirection is not used these settings are stored within the user profile.

Types of profiles

Windows includes several types of profiles:

Profile Type Storage Location Configuration Location Application Save Changes?
Local Local device Local device Local device only Yes
Roaming Network Active Directory Any device accessed Yes
Mandatory (Mandatory Roaming) Network Active Directory Any device accessed No
Temporary Not Applicable Not Applicable Local device only No

A temporary profile is only assigned when a specific profile type cannot be assigned. Except mandatory profiles, a distinct profile typically exists for each user. In addition, mandatory profiles do not allow users to save any customizations.

For Remote Desktop Services users, a specific roaming or mandatory profile can be assigned to avoid issues that may occur if the same profile is assigned to a user within a Remote Desktop Services session and a local session.

Profile versions

Versions of Microsoft Windows user profiles are as follows:

  • Version 5 – Windows 10
  • Version 4 – Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Version 3 - Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012
  • Version 2 - Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server R2
  • Version 1 – Operating systems earlier than Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008

The folder structure (or namespace) of Microsoft’s Version 1 profiles is mostly interchangeable. For example, the folders on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 are almost identical. Likewise, the structure of Version 2 profiles is mostly interchangeable.

However, the namespace is different between Version 1 and later profiles. This folder structure was changed in the later operating systems to provide user-specific folders isolated for user and application data. Version 1 profiles store data in the root folder, Documents and Settings. Version 2 profiles store data in a more intuitively named folder called Users. For example, the folder contents of AppData\Local in Windows Vista is the same as the contents of Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Application Data in Windows XP.

For more information about the differences between Version 1 and later profiles, see Managing Roaming User Data Deployment Guide.

About profiles