Roaming user profile: Wikis


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A roaming user profile is a concept in the Microsoft Windows NT family of operating systems that allows a user with a computer joined to a Windows Server domain to log on to any computer on the same network and access their local files and settings.



A roaming user profile must first be set up on the domain controller to which client computers are joined. In Windows 2000 and later versions, this is set using the Active Directory Users and Computers snap-in. Windows NT 4.0 and earlier used the User Manager for Domains program. A user profile location is set on the server and can be customized, as required. When a user logs onto a domain, the roaming user profile is downloaded from the server onto the local computer and applied. When the user logs off, the changes made to the roaming profile are transferred back to the domain controller.

Files that make up a roaming user profile include all the files that would typically appear in the user's local user profile folder, as well as application data, and the per user registry keys (HKEY_CURRENT_USER).

Although a roaming user profile may be stored in any shared folder of a computer available inside a local Microsoft Windows network, using the domain controller is recommended because the profile data should be available at any workstation the user tries to log on to. Should the server not be available, the user will still be able to log on using a cached copy of the profile on his workstation, unless the profile is super-mandatory.

- Enabling roaming profiles for a workstation running Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Business or Ultimate is done by specifying a location on the server where the users' profiles are located; this is done under User Manager for Domains in Windows NT 4.0 Server and Active Directory Users and Computers in Windows 2000 and later. Workstations running Windows 95, 98 or Me can also have roaming profiles, roaming profiles become available in Windows 9x when a home directory on the network is specified for the user and multiple desktop settings have been enabled under the Passwords box in the Windows Control Panel.

Roaming profiles on Windows 95, 98 and Me are all compatible with each other so if a network has mixture of Windows 95 and Windows 98 workstations the same user profile may be used for each workstation. This is also the case with Roaming profiles between Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP but there may be some compatibility issues due to differences in each version of Windows. Roaming profiles in Windows Vista and Windows 7 are compatible with each other but these versions are not compatible with earlier versions of Windows. A separate profile folder with the extension .V2 will be created when using Roaming profiles with Windows Vista or 7. The easiest solution is to have all workstations running the same version of Windows. (see Compatibility section)

Roaming profiles are also available for networks running Novell Netware or Zenworks; in Netware a different user profile is used for each version of Windows NT.

Mandatory profiles

A mandatory user profile is a preconfigured, read-only roaming user profile that administrators can use to specify settings for users. With a mandatory user profile, a user can modify the desktop, but any changes made are not saved when the user logs off. The next time the user logs on, the mandatory user profile set by the administrator is downloaded. There is also a special type of mandatory profile known as a super-mandatory profile.

Super-mandatory user profiles are similar to normal mandatory profiles, with the exception that users who have super-mandatory profiles cannot log on when the server that stores the mandatory profile is unavailable. Users with normal mandatory profiles can log on with the locally cached copy.

If the administrator renames the NTuser.dat file (the Windows Registry hive) on the server to, the profile becomes mandatory. The .man extension causes the user profile to be a read-only profile. User profiles become super-mandatory when the folder name of the profile path ends in .man; for example,


Only system administrators can make changes to mandatory user profiles.

Advantages of roaming user profiles

  • Automatic resource availability: A user's unique profile is automatically available when he or she logs on to any computer on the network that is running Windows NT-based operating system. Users do not need to create a profile on each computer they use on a network. Changes made to the profile will become available on any computer the user chooses to log on.
  • Simplified computer replacement and backup: If a user's computer must be replaced, all of the user's profile information is still available on the network.
  • Enforcement of administrative control by using mandatory user profiles which helps to protect the user's environment from being damaged by the user himself/herself.
  • Users can access their data anywhere in the network with more reliability
  • Easier backup as most data is in one location on the server

Disadvantages of roaming user profiles

  • Each time a user logs into a workstation all of the files and settings are transferred over the network; the result is that the login process takes longer than if the user were to use a local profile, this is particularly the case if the profile is large in size. The login time may be reduced if the profile is cached as some files can be loaded from the local workstation and by using folder redirection to redirect folders that can grow to a large size, like My Documents, to a network share.

    However, this "limitation" has been addressed in Windows Server 2008 Active Directory by allowing folder redirection of virtually all folders that were previously stored in a user's profile (including My Music, Favorites, and others) to a centralized and secured network share. This means that a user's roaming profile can easily be reduced to size smaller than 20MB, thus eliminating the long login times that were experienced with previous versions of AD. When using folder redirection and automatic caching of offline files, all of a user's files and preferences are available offline and synced in a much more efficient manner than previously possible when the computer is reconnected to the network using Remote Differential Compression (RDC). Still other third-party solutions like Script Start ProfileUnity have addressed the issue of 'profile bloat' by using compression and only enabling the integral parts of a user's profile to be transferred. Script Start ProfileUnity touts reductions in user profile size and logons as much as 90 percent (references pending).

    Another problem is related to different set of applications installed on machines, applications stores information into Local Settings and some into the registry, but only the registry is transferred across. It can corrupt application functionality under roaming profile.


Whilst Windows XP and Windows 2000 profiles are basically similar, Windows Vista and its successor Windows 7 use an entirely different profile structure. Thus, a user who switches-desk between the two classes of OS cannot have personal data transferred automatically, as would normally happen with roaming profiles. Instead, two distinct server-side profiles are created for this user.

This is an important consideration for any site intending to introduce Vista or Windows 7 computers into an existing Windows 2000/XP roaming-profile network. If possible it should be planned that users will not have to migrate regularly between the two classes of OS.


Mylogon - Allows any-user logon to a client computer whilst maintaining the same local settings. May be preferable to Roaming Profiles for small-site networks, data-entry stations and the like.


  • Windows Help

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