Backup 101: Windows Files and Folders You Should Always Back Up

Joel Lee 28-09-2017

We’ve written ad infinitum about why you should back up files 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More and what can happen if you don’t These Guys Didn't Back Up Their Files, Now Look What Happened If there is anything I learned during those early years of working with computers (and the people that use them), it was how critical it is to not only save important stuff, but also to... Read More . Worst case scenario? You lose all of your apps, data, settings, and files, forcing you to start over from scratch.


A major inconvenience — and one that you can avoid so easily.

But even if you do decide to back up your stuff The Ultimate Windows 10 Data Backup Guide We've summarized every backup, restore, recovery, and repair option we could find on Windows 10. Use our simple tips and never despair over lost data again! Read More , you may be stuck with this follow-up question: Which files and folders should I back up? Keep reading to find out, plus learn about which files and folders you should ignore.

Files and Folders to Back Up

Note that when we talk about backing up data, the ideal case is that you should be able to restore data and have it work properly right away, but that won’t always be the case.

Treat these as emergency backups: the restoration process may not be easy, and you may need to retrieve data by hand, but it’s better than starting from nothing.

AppData and ProgramData

AppData (C:/Users/{Username}/AppData) is used for storing an app’s user-specific settings. Within this folder, you have AppData/Roaming (data that can move with the user to another system) and AppData/Local (data that’s specific to this particular system).

Don’t back up the entire AppData folder. Focus only on the apps for which you need the user-specific configurations. Roaming is more important than Local, so feel free to ignore the latter.

Backup 101: Windows Files and Folders You Should Always Back Up windows 10 appdata roaming

ProgramData (C:/ProgramData) is used for storing app settings and data that aren’t tied to specific users. Don’t back up the entire ProgramData folder, but go through and save the ones you think you may need in the future.

Note that AppData and ProgramData settings and data may only be compatible with certain versions of the app. Backing these files up can be good for posterity and reference, but may be buggy if you restore straight from a backup.


The Documents folder (C:/Users/{Username}/Documents) is meant to be a place where users can store personal files and documents. Unfortunately, many software developers have ignored this and use the folder to store app-related data (e.g. Calibre stores ebook library metadata here).

As with AppData and ProgramData, you may want to go through and back up these files for posterity and reference. For example, Visual Studio uses Documents to store settings and templates, SoftMaker Office uses Documents to store templates and designs, etc.


The Downloads folder (C:/Users/{Username}/Downloads) is where downloaded files are supposed to go. Most web browsers default to this folder for downloads, and many tools for downloading media The 5 Best Tools to Download Streaming Video From Any Website If you want to download videos from websites using online tools and programs, we've rounded up the best to get the job done quickly. Read More also default here. You might as well back these files up so you don’t have to download them again.


You don’t have to worry about backing up emails if you use IMAP, but if you use POP3, you may need to back them up.

Backup 101: Windows Files and Folders You Should Always Back Up windows 10 email backups

(IMAP keeps emails on the server while POP3 downloads them to your local machine. Learn more about IMAP vs. POP3 IMAP vs. POP3: What Is It and Which One Should You Use? If you have ever set up an email client or app, you will have certainly come across the terms POP and IMAP. Do you remember which one you chose and why? If you are not... Read More .)

Unfortunately, email clients store data in different ways. Outlook stores your emails (and calendars, contacts, tasks, and notes) as a singular PST file, which can reside at one of a few locations:

  • C:/Users/{Username}/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Outlook
  • C:/Users/{Username}/AppData/Roaming/Microsoft/Outlook
  • C:/Users/{Username}/Documents/Outlook Files
  • C:/Users/{Username}/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Outlook

Because there are too many other email clients out there, we can’t cover them all. A quick Google search for “how to back up [email client] emails” should get you to the answers you need.


If you buy and play your games through Steam, many of them use the Steam Cloud to synchronize game data and settings so you can have a consistent experience across machines.

To enable Steam Cloud syncing, go to Steam > Settings, click the Cloud tab, then Enable Steam Cloud synchronization for applications which support it.

To see which games support Steam Cloud, go to the Library page, then click List View at the top right. Games that support this feature have a cloud icon:

Backup 101: Windows Files and Folders You Should Always Back Up windows 10 steam cloud

For all other games, you’ll need to hunt and find their save data individually. Here are several common locations where games may store data:

  • C:/ProgramData/{Game}
  • C:/Program Files/{Game}
  • C:/Program Files/Steam/steamapps/common/{Game}
  • C:/Program FIles/Steam/{Username}/{Game}
  • C:/Users/{Username}/AppData/Roaming/{Game}
  • C:/Users/{Username}/AppData/Local/{Game}
  • C:/Users/{Username}/Documents/{Game}
  • C:/Users/{Username}/Documents/My Games/{Game}
  • C:/Users/{Username}/Saved Games/{Game}

Music, Pictures, Videos

As with the Documents and Downloads folders, Windows provides special folders meant to store personal media files: Music (C:/Users/{Username}/Music), Pictures (C:/Users/{Username}/Pictures), and Videos (C:/Users/{Username}/Videos).

Some media apps use these folders for storing local files (e.g. iTunes keeps library files in the Music/iTunes subfolder), so while these aren’t essential to back up, it may be desirable if you don’t want to re-download everything.


If you do creative work (e.g. programming, photography, video editing, etc.), then you should absolutely back up these files — especially any works-in-progress! Only you know where you keep all of your creative projects. Make sure you remember to back up all of them.

This isn’t as big a deal for programmers who use Git source control What Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a Developer As web developers, a lot of the time we tend to work on local development sites then just upload everything when we’re done. This is fine when it’s just you and the changes are small,... Read More , but it’s still a good idea to keep local backups even if your source is hosted and managed by a remote service.


If you have any personal files that aren’t stored in the above folders, don’t forget to back those up too. I’m thinking of files like tax records and documents, rental and lease documents, business invoices, bank and credit statements, certificates, resumes, various spreadsheets, etc.

Files and Folders to Ignore

Out of fear of losing precious data, you may be tempted to back up every folder that sounds even remotely important. Fight that urge! You’ll just end up wasting space, your backups will take longer to create and restore, and the inconvenience may turn you off of making regular backups Things You Should Know About Redundancy and Backups Redundancy is frequently confused with backups. Indeed, the concepts are relatively similar, albeit with some important differences. Read More .

Here are a few of those files and folders that you can safely ignore.


We simply don’t recommend backing up existing drivers. A driver is a software utility that interfaces between hardware and system, basically acting as an interpreter that allows a given device (e.g. keyboard, mouse, monitor) to work properly on your system with full functionality.

Since hardware differs from one system to the next, you won’t need the same drivers. If necessary, you can back up driver installer files. Just don’t back up the drivers themselves.

Program Files

Both C:/Program Files and C:/Program Files (x86) contain apps that are installed on your system. You cannot simply copy and paste them to another system and hope that they’ll work — sometimes they might, but more oten they won’t. Installations are usually customized for the system.

Backup 101: Windows Files and Folders You Should Always Back Up windows 10 program files

The one exception to this is if you installed a portable version of an app. These are designed as self-contained folders, requiring nothing outside of the folder for the app to run properly. See our Best Portable Apps page The Best Portable Apps That Require No Installation Portable apps don't need installation. You can run them from even a flash drive. Here are the best portable apps around. Read More for ideas.

Temp Files

Temp files are exactly that: temporary files. They’re created for a specific action at a specific point in time and are no longer needed when that action is completed. Why does your system keep them around? Well, developers are supposed to make their programs delete them when they’re done, but laziness prevails.

Backing up temp files is nonsense. Don’t do it.


You might think all you have to do is copy the C:/Windows folder to back up the operating system, but that won’t work. Windows relies on the Windows system folder, yes, but also relies on many other components: registry, bootloader, etc.

If you really want to back up your entire system in one go, you’ll be better off creating a Windows image How to Create an ISO Image of Your Windows System Need to backup and restore Windows without backup tools? It's time to learn how to make an ISO image of your Windows PC. Read More that you can restore at some later point (or on another machine).

Tips for Backing Up Your System

Now that you know what to back up, how do you back everything up?

The easiest methods are syncing to cloud storage or storing on an external drive, but we recommend using a NAS storage device 7 Reasons to Use a NAS for Data Storage & Backups External hard drives are great for data storage, but there are many more benefits to using a network-attached drive instead. Here's everything you need to know. Read More (which is like an external drive that acts as personal cloud storage, so you get the best of both worlds).

Are there any other files and folders that you’d back up or avoid? What’s your favorite backup method? Let us know in the comments below!

Explore more about: Data Backup, Steam, Windows 10.

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  1. countrymouse
    September 28, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    I've always made a copy now of the AppData. Learned a lesson when chrome was infected by a pesky adware and all my data were almost lost.