What’s the Difference Between AppData Roaming and Local?
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If you’ve done some digging into the filesystem on your Windows computer, you may have come across the AppData folder. It’s hidden by default so most users won’t see it or have a reason to access it. Short for Application Data, many programs store their data in this directory.

While essential installation files are kept in the Program Files folder, AppData stores the settings that you’ve personalized for your account. You can take a look at it if you want, though it’s not particularly interesting. Open a File Explorer window and enter the following into the address bar:

C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData

When you arrive at this folder, you’ll see three folders: Local, LocalLow, and Roaming. Why are there three different subfolders, and what are they for? The answer concerns domain-connected Windows computers, like in a business environment.

Any data in the Roaming folder would follow a user if they logged into another domain-connected PC at their company. Examples include browser bookmarks and profiles. Unlike your own PC, any employee of a company can log into any of the computers on their company’s domain. Thus, the Roaming folder doesn’t do much for a home user, though you can move your profile through other means.

Local stores data only on one PC. It’s up to the developers what goes where, but generally data in the Local folder is too large to sync or not worth syncing. For instance, you don’t need to sync the giant thumbnails file or browser cache to a new PC — it’s just a waste of space and time.

LocalLow stays on one PC like Local, but has a lower level of access. It’s not too common now. One example is Internet Explorer’s Protected Mode.

In the end, Roaming and Local are functionally identical for a home PC running Windows. In a domain environment, data in the Roaming folder will stay with a user’s profile if they move to a different computer.

Did you know about AppData before reading this article? Have you noticed data moving with your profile in a business environment? Tell us down in the comments!

Image Credit: scanrail/Depositphotos

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  1. Jarrett
    September 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    I've always wondered about this. Thanks for writing this article.

    • Ben Stegner
      September 25, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      You're welcome -- I'm glad this explained it for you!

  2. ABC
    September 22, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    It would also have been good if the article explained what's the difference in %AppData% and %ProgramData%

    I am guessing former is user specific, latter is system-wide. But in what fashion? Access control? Read/Write access?

    • Ben Stegner
      September 25, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks for your suggestion. We may be able to write another article about this comparison -- keep an eye out!