All in the <head> – Ponderings and code by Drew McLellan –

Recovering a Windows Profile

Our server going tits-up the other day had a big knock-on effect on the client machines – bigger than I initially realised. As I’d had to rebuild the Active Directory and the client machines were authenticated against the old AD, when it came to reboot a client they of course would not log back on. I had created the user and computer accounts in the new AD, but I think Windows uses GUID references rather than object names so although to the naked eye this was an exact replica of the original directory, to Windows it was something entirely different.

The solution was to log into each client as the local machine administrator, leave the domain, reboot and rejoin the domain. Another reboot and you can then authenticate with the new Active Directory. However – you could hear the ‘but’ coming, right? – when joining a domain Windows creates a new user profile on the client machine for that user. As it’s a new domain, you get a brand new user and all your beloved tweaks and settings get left behind on an account to which you cannot log on. Extremely off-pissing.

I’ve tried many times in the past to get around this issue and have never been successful, apart from today. Fortunately, I managed to recover my profile through a little registry quick-step. Here’s what I did on my Windows XP Professional client.

  1. After successfully logging in as your new user, immediately log out and log back in as the local machine administrator.
  2. Go to Documents and Settings and you’ll see two profile folders with similar names. One will probably have .DOMAIN appended to the end. This is the new profile.
  3. Drag that new profile folder outta there and dump it somewhere else (I moved mine to a different drive for backup). Remember what it’s called.
  4. Go Start > Run and type regedit followed by OK.
  5. Go Edit > Find and type the name of the folder you just KO’d. It’ll be somewhere like: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Microsoft > Windows NT > CurrentVersion > ProfileList > weird numbers and the key is called ProfileImagePath.
  6. Change the value of this key to the address of your original profile folder.
  7. Reboot and log in as your normal user.

With a bit of luck, this should restore your settings – at least it did for me. The usual disclaimers apply – I don’t guarantee it’ll work, and messing with the registry can bugger up your computer. I don’t think this is a particularly risky maneuver, but if your try it you’re on your own.