Backing Up Configuration Files

– Grogan –

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Why back up configuration files?

Have you ever installed a program, found out you didn’t like it and uninstalled it only to find that now something doesn’t work properly or you are getting error messages? This can partly be avoided by keeping current backups of your configuration files, especially immediately before installing software. Should you decide that you want to remove the software, or perhaps roll back to previous software this will help in the event that changes to the registry or .ini files didn’t get undone after removal of the software. Perhaps you had trouble installing some new hardware and after the aborted attempt Windows won’t boot? Your dog ate your system.ini file? Whatever the reason, it sure would have been nice to have a backup.

There are a few different ways of doing this. If you have Norton Utilities or a similar utility package you can make a rescue disk set. If you are running Windows 98, this problem almost takes care of itself with The Registry Checker utility that automatically makes a backup of the registry and system.ini and win.ini (more on this further down on the page). You can make a registry backup using Regedit and export the entire registry database to a .reg file (doesn’t get the .ini files though), or you can simply copy the files to a directory and when problems arise, boot to Command Prompt and replace them.

Before we get started, we need to make sure that you can see everything in Windows Explorer. As an educated Windows user, there is no reason that you should let Windows hide files and extensions from you. To get Windows Explorer to show all files and not hide file extensions, open Windows Explorer and click the View menu (Tools menu in Windows 2000) and choose: Options (Win95 without Internet Explorer 4 interface) or Folder Options (Win98 or Win95 with IE4 interface). Click the View tab and find the checkbox that shows all files. Also uncheck the box Hide extensions for known file types. Now you’ll be able to see hidden and system files and their file extensions.

What Files Should I Backup?

Typically, you should back up the system registry, the system.ini and win.ini files, perhaps your config.sys and autoexec.bat files (if present or important) and maybe MSDOS.sys (which in Win9x is a text based configuration file unlike previous versions of DOS). If you have more disk space than you know what to do with, you could also copy the entire Windows\System directory somewhere else in case you want to restore all the libraries. (this isn’t really necessary, but would almost guarantee that you could recover from any software installation that went bad).

Let’s start with the system registry, it is a binary database of hardware and software settings contained in two files: System.dat and User.dat which are hidden and read-only files. Make a folder on your hard drive and copy these files from the Windows directory. Also copy win.ini and system.ini to this folder. If you are showing all files in Windows explorer this is an easy task, you can just right-click to copy and then right-click on the destination folder and paste. It wouldn’t hurt to copy Autoexec.bat, Config.sys and MSDOS.sys to this folder as well. Not very many programs would change your MSDOS.sys file, but maybe some “tweaking” utilities allow you to unknowingly make changes to this file, for example, to turn off the startup logo screen or some other feature of Windows. Does this all sound like a pain in the butt to do every time you want to install software or just make current backups of important configuration files? What’s worse, when most of these files have attributes like hidden and read-only, they have to be turned off before you can restore them using DOS. (You certainly cannot replace the registry while any Windows components are loaded).

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