Windows applications often store their data and settings in an AppData folder, and each Windows user account has its own. It’s a hidden folder, so you’ll only see it if you show hidden files in the file manager.
Where You’ll Find AppData
Each user account has its own AppData folder with its own contents. This allows Windows programs to store multiple sets of settings if a computer is used by multiple people. The AppData folder was introduced on Windows Vista, and is still in use on Windows 10, 8, and 7 today.
You’ll find each user account’s AppData folder—short for Application Data—in that user’s directory. For example, if your user name is “Bob”, you’ll find your application data folder at
C:\Users\Bob\AppData by default. You can just plug this address into the address bar to view it, or show hidden folders and browse to your user account directory at
C:\Users\NAME . (You can also type
%APPDATA% into File Explorer’s address bar to head directly to the AppData\Roaming folder, which we’ll talk about in a moment.)
What Are Local, LocalLow, and Roaming?
There are actually three folders inside AppData, and different programs store different types of settings in each. Open your AppData folder and you’ll see Local, LocalLow, and Roaming folders.
Let’s start with Roaming. The Roaming folder contains data that would “roam” with a user account from computer to computer if your PC was connected to a domain with a roaming profile. This is often used for important settings. For example, Firefox stores its user profiles here, allowing your bookmarks and other browsing data to follow you from PC to PC.
The Local folder contains data that’s specific to a single computer. It’s never synced from computer to computer, even if you sign into a domain. This data is generally specific to a computer, or contains files that are too large. This data may include downloaded cache files and other large files, or just settings that a developer doesn’t think should sync between PCs. It’s up to each developer to decide what goes where.
If you’re not connected to a domain, there’s no real difference between the Roaming and Local folders. It’s all just stored on your PC. However, application developers still divide different types of data between different folders just in case.
The LocalLow folder is the same as the Local folder, but is designed for “low integrity” applications that run with more restricted security settings. For example, Internet Explorer when run in Protected Mode only has access to the LocalLow folder. The difference doesn’t really matter for your personal use, but some applications just need a folder to write to because they don’t have access to the main Local folder.
If a program wants to have a single set of settings or files that are used by multiple users, it should use the ProgramData folder instead. This was known as the “All Users” AppData folder in previous versions of Windows. For example, an antivirus application might keep its scan logs and settings in ProgramData and share them with all users on the PC.
These guidelines aren’t always adhered to. For example, Google Chrome stores all its settings and your user data in the Local folder, while we might expect it to store these settings in the Roaming folder instead.
Some applications may store their settings in your main user account folder at
C:\Users\NAME\ , or in your documents folder at
C:\Users\NAME\Documents . Others may store data in the registry, or in a folder elsewhere in your system. On Windows, application developers can store data wherever they like.
Should You Back Up the AppData Folder?
Most Windows users should never even need to know this folder exists. That’s why it’s hidden by default. Programs store their application data here, and you can poke around if you like—but you’ll rarely have a need to.
You shouldn’t need to back up this entire folder, although you may want to include it in backups just so you have everything, should you need to restore it.
But, if you want to back up a specific program’s settings or a computer game’s save files, you may be able to do it by digging into the AppData folder, finding the program’s directory, and copying it to another location. You may then be able to copy that folder to the same place on a new computer and the program will use the same settings. Whether this will work really depends on the programs—some programs store their settings in the registry, for example, or elsewhere on the system.
Many programs provide a way to synchronize their data between computers, or at least export it. It’s rare that you’ll have to dig into the AppData folder, but you may want to do it occasionally.