A Tutorial on Moving User My Documents and Personal Folders to Another Drive
Each user on a Windows computer (Windows 8.1, Windows 8 and Windows 7 and earlier) is given a private location on the PC into which they can store their work. This work can be pictures, documents, music, emails, videos and anything else that they use or generate. It is private because other users cannot view their files (unless they are logged in as an Administrator). When a user logs on they can work with their private files and any Public files. To let other users see their work it needs be moved or copied into the relevant Public folders, or a directory needs to be marked as shared.
The default installation for Windows is to put all the users folders onto the same hard disk drive as the operating system itself, usually the first, and only, hard disk in the system, called the C: drive. This drive will also hold any additional programs that are installed. Each user is located under the Users folder on C:, so a user call John Doe has folders located at C:\Users\John Doe. Under the users main folder is a folder to store different types of files that programs generate or use. For example there is a Contacts folder (at C:\Users\John Doe\Contacts) to store, well, contacts (name, address, phone numbers, etc.). Use Windows Explorer to view the Users folders. Open Windows Explorer via the Start button, All Programs and Accessories, or in Windows 8.1 hold the Windows key and press E. The various folders created by Windows for the user can be seen under the user’s name from the Desktop icon (Windows 7) or under C:\Users\User Name in Windows 8.1.
Some of the folders are also accessible via the various Library icons. In Windows 7 in Explorer some folders begin with My, such as My Documents or My Music. However, the actual folder name on the hard disk does not have My, thus My Documents in Explorer points to C:\Users\John Doe\Documents. This table shows the folder name, the display name in Explorer and whether or not a public version is available, located at C:\Users\Public (this folder itself can be used to make files public).
|Folder||Win 7 Name in Explorer||Public Version|
|Documents||My Documents||Public Documents|
|Music||My Music||Public Music|
|Pictures||My Pictures||Public Pictures|
|Saved Games||Saved Games||N/A|
|Videos||My Videos||Public Videos|
Locating all the user folders on the one hard disk drive along with Windows and all the programs makes configuration and manufacture of a new computer easier. Unfortunately it has several disadvantages:
- If the disk fails the operating system, programs and all user data fails all at once.
- Upgrading to a newer version of Windows does not allow for a clean install (the users files and programs must usually remain in place).
- If a lot of program and user files are on the disk it can become full and prevent the operating system from working.
- Performing a disk upgrade to a bigger and, or, faster disk means moving everything from the current disk to the new one.
Another configuration is to use at least two disks, a smaller but very fast disk on which Windows is installed, and a much larger disk that will hold all the user data. Depending upon the programs that need to be installed and the size of the two disks, programs can either be installed to the Windows drive or the user data drive. This combination of a C: drive for operating system and a D: drive for data is popular when using a solid state drive (SSD), which are more expensive per gigabyte (GB) than traditional hard disks but perform better due to having no mechanical parts. (The second drive does not, or may not, have the letter D:, another letter may be assigned, such as E: or F:, it depends upon the type of computer and its hardware.)
Move My Documents (Documents and Other Personal Folders) to Another Drive
When Windows is installed on C: by default new user folders are created on C:. Move My Documents and other personal folder to the D: drive (or other hard drive) via Windows Explorer. Remember this only works if your computer has another formatted drive with plenty of free space. Start Explorer and locate the required user folder. All of the various folders for the user will be visible. All or any number of these folders can be relocated to another drive. This is done via the Properties option on the context menu for the particular user folder. (The context menu is usually accessed via the right-click button with the mouse.)
Select the user who’s folders will be moved in Windows Explorer. Here we have selected the John Doe folder so that name is used in the rest of this explanation. You will be substituting John Doe with your selected user name.
Bring up the context menu on the first folder under the John Doe folder, here it is Contacts, click Properties. The dialog for the folder properties appears. Click on the Location tab. A box will show the current physical location of the Contacts folder being C:\Users\John Doe\Contacts. The entry is changed to be D:\Users\John Doe\Contacts. The new location of the folder, remember it may not be a D: drive on your system, use the correct letter of the drive to which the folder is being moved. The new folder does not need to exist as it will be created. Click on the OK button to move the folder to the new location. A message box will appear warning that the new location does not exist.
Select Yes to create the new location. Another message box will appear to confirm that the contents of the folder should be move. Select Yes because the new locations are to contain all the work files.
After a short pause, depending upon the number of files that need to be moved, Windows Explorer will update and show that the Contacts folder is no longer under C:\Users\John Doe. Repeat the procedure for each of the folders under C:\Users\John Doe. For each folder bring up the context menu (right click), select the location tab. Change C: to D: (or whatever drive letter is required) in the path to the folder. Click OK and then Yes to each of the message boxes. Once that has been done you can select the new location in Explorer to see the results. The new folder locations do not affect how the files are viewed from within Explorer, for example they are still visible in the libraries.
This guide has shown how straightforward it is to move your Windows work folders. Even if you are not using a SSD having two drives on your computer has advantages. If the drives are big enough they can be used to hold a back up of the other one. This makes restoring from a failed drive easier. Separate data and operating system drives also help with future operating system and computer upgrades.
Programs with Hard Coded Paths to My Documents and Other Personal Folders
One thing to keep in mind is that some programs, particularly Command Prompt batch files or programs, have hard coded references to files and folders. This means that some programs may not like standard folders being moved from the default location. Fortunately this problem has been around long enough for a solution and that solution is to use a symbolic link, also known as a symlink.
So how do you use a symlink in Windows? There is a command line utility mklink.exe (for make link). Open a Command Prompt to run mklink. Open Command Prompt via Accessories from the Start button then All Programs, or in Windows 8.1 hold the Windows key and press X then select Command Prompt. Type mklink and press the Enter key to see the command options. For folders that have been moved a Directory Junction is required. So for a user’s Contacts folder moved from C:\Users\John Doe\Contacts to D:\Users\John Does\Contacts the command would be:
mklink /J “C:\Users\John Doe\Contacts” “D:\Users\John Doe\Contacts”
(The mklink command is not shipped with Windows XP, to create a Directory Junction on Windows XP us the Sysinternal Junction tool.)
This article has given an example on how to move the Documents folder and other personal folders on a PC from the default location to a new drive. This is done via the folders properties. For programs that need to use the old location a link to the new location can be created with mklink.