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Product keys are used to activate or enable a purchased application. You can often find product keys used on your machine with a special application.

How can I find the XP installation CD key used on my system without having the CD or its box?

It's important to save that box, sleeve, or whatever else your product key was originally distributed on.

Under certain circumstances, you can retrieve it from the system that it's installed on, but unfortunately, under other circumstances, you cannot.

I'll look at a couple of tools that you can use to see if it's available for you.

Keyfinder

Keyfinder from Magical Jelly Bean is a free utility that will display your Windows product key.

Be sure to say "no" to the additional toolbar that the Keyfinder install offers you.

Once run, Keyfinder gives you the information for the current system:

Magical Jellybean Keyfinder

I've obscured my information, but you can see where your CD key would be displayed.

Keyfinder is free and works primarily only with Windows keys. On the download page, they do offer another product which is not free, which claims to display product keys from a wide variety of products.

Belarc Advisor

Belarc Advisor full report

Belarc Advisor is a PC auditing/inventory tool that actually displays a lot of information about your computer.

Download, install, and run Belarc and it'll start by taking a few minutes to analyze your computer. When done, it displays its results in a local web page in your browser.

To the right is an example of the report generated for my machine. As you can see, it's quite lengthy and includes a lot of information about the machine, its hardware, and the software that's installed on it.

Included in the middle of all of that information are the product keys:

Product Keys displayed by Belarc Advisor

Once again, I've obfuscated my own keys, but you can see that Belarc displays keys for a wide variety of installed programs.

My advice

Write down all of your keys and keep them somewhere safe.

Now. Before you need them.

As an example, I have a spreadsheet that I keep of all of the products that I've purchased and their activation keys. Should I ever need to reinstall a program, I have that information readily available. (Naturally, I keep it secure and also back it up regularly.)

In many ways, product keys are the product. It's not uncommon for the software to be readily available, but without a product key, it either won't activate or will deactivate after a trial period.

Don't lose your keys.

Article C5089 - February 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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18 Comments
SkiddMarxx
February 28, 2012 8:21 AM

In my experience, if you're trying to get the key from an OEM installation (HP, Dell, etc) you will get the manufacturer's key which is tied to the manufacturer's installation media - you're going to need the key from the OEM sticker and an OEM disk of the correct version (professional or home) to be able to do a reinstall.

arik
February 28, 2012 8:22 AM

if you have the cd but not the key, open unattend.txt in i386 folder, and you will see the key there.

Nelson Coleman
February 28, 2012 8:29 AM

I also store the key numbers of a new product. I usually copy the installation CD or downloaded file to a hard drive sub-directory and also create a text file with the key, purchase information, invoice number and activation codes. If much of that is in an email, I'll save it to that same sub-directory with the CD or installation files. Then I can backup that sub-directory onto a CD or DVD for archival purposes. I end up with "all pertinent information" in one place.

John Servis
February 28, 2012 8:37 AM

I have had great success with Belarc Advisor. Not that I've ever needed the information, I notice that it will display the product key for every program I have installed, whether it be Windows/M.S. related or any other software. I imagine if someone lost their key(s) this would be a great help. Of course, if you don't have access to the running system, you're out of luck.

Hank
February 28, 2012 8:41 AM

SIW (System Information Windows) is another another good free package for at home users that will tell you the product code for your current MS OS.

Gabe Lawrence
February 28, 2012 9:07 AM

Quick note about Keyfinder...I've used it for years so I trust it but Symantec Endpoint doesn't. I used to save a copy on our server but nightly scans caught it and I believe it must be a heuristics detection and not from a "naughty list" (meaning, Symantec just "thinks" it's bad). I still use it. I just don't store the file on the network anymore.

HTH

Dave Markley
February 28, 2012 9:30 AM

I have found Belarc to be an invaluable tool, especially for finding what 'versions' of a particular program may be installed. But, of hundreds of times that I've used it, not once has the Windows key or a Microsoft Office key been correct. Please don't rely on these keys unless you have double-checked the results with a second, different program. Once you format the drive, that info is gone!

Marvin Burton
February 28, 2012 9:34 AM

Leo, thanks for the information on Belarc Advisor. I have been looking for an easy way to document this information for all of my computers and just ran Belarc Advisor on my desktop. Wow! What a nice report. I was not a subscriber when you posted your first article on this utility in 2008, so I missed out on using it.

Thanks so much for your newsletter - it is worth it's weight in gold to me. Keep up the good work. :>)

Neville Lowe
February 28, 2012 11:28 AM

I have used Belarc and found it not always reliable in that it doesn't always give you the correct key characters. I have relied on AIDA32 (a free app) and found it to be 100% reliable. A good feaure of AIDA32 is that you do not actually install anything on your computer it will run from a USB whereas Belarc must be installed.

Duane Ferguson
February 28, 2012 12:08 PM

I think the only times I've encountered the same problem as Dave Markley, is when the machine has been 'downgraded' from Windows Vista to Windows XP. Aside from those one or two instances, I've found Belarc to be 100% reliable.

J.R. Acton, III
February 28, 2012 4:51 PM

Have long used Belarc Advisor---originally to keep easy track of µSoft's voluminous # of updates & their current status---and the product's just gotten better with age. Would be interesting to know just how close Leo's "Security Benchmark Score" is to the "perfect" rating of 10, as I always have questions about implementing full compliance with all of N.I.S.T.'s standards...

Ron007
February 28, 2012 5:03 PM

I've tried both Keyfinder and Belarc. They are good tools. Here are some more similar tools:

TOOLS TO EXTRACT PRODUCT KEY
Normally you have several resources to find your Retail Product Key.

1. Your original package or purchase confirmation email
2. Online download account
3. You can extract the Product Key from the machine itself
4. Image copy backups of system with Office installed
5. Activation backup utilities

I have tried the first 6 in this list with various degrees of success:

http://www.belarc.com/free_download.html - not only does Belarc extract product keys, it reports on a WHOLE BUNCH of other stuff you want to know. Printing the report, or saving it is probably a good idea.

http://www.gtopala.com/ SIW – System Information for Windows (portable app#, the install keys for Windows, Office and some other programs are displayed. Start SIW #no install required# and click on Software | Licenses. #SIW for Win 2010 Build 0714g#

http://www.magicaljellybean.com/ V 2.0.8- Office 2003 OK, 2007 OK, 2010 na, Win Vista Wrong#

http://sourceforge.net/projects/keyfinder/ - Enchanted Keyfinder Beta Portable- Win #9X, ME, NT/2K/XP, Vista, Win7#, MS Office #97, XP, 2003, 2007, 2010#, Recover key for 484 other software and counting

http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/product_cd_key_viewer.html Nirsoft ProduKey V1.45- Office 2003 OK , 2007 , 2010 , Win Vista #
ProduKey may be able to extract product key information from a registry file saved externally. This is useful if you’re trying to get the key details from the backup of a now defunct machine. Try the /Regfile option.

http://www.technibble.com/license-crawler-find-product-keys-in-the-registry/ License Crawler V1.2 B98 #Office 2003, 2007 , 2010 , Win Vista #

http://techblissonline.com/product-key-cd-keyserial-number-software-vista-xp/ - License Crawler for Vista XP #Office 2003 , 2007 , 2010 , Win Vista )

http://www.winkeyfinder.com/download.php
#Office 2003 , 2007 , 2010 , Win Vista )

I have not had an opportunity to try these tools:

Abelssoft MyKeyFinder -
http://www.abelssoft.net/mykeyfinder.php - fouind all Office keys correctly

Advanced Token Manger - Tokens.dat works as a digitally signed file, which stores the majority of the windows activation files.
All files together employ a digital signature that prevents tokens.dat be replaced on other machines

How to Reinstall Vista / Win7 / Office 2010 Without Having to Re-activate – http://www.howtogeek.com/75496/how-to-reinstall-windows-without-having-to-reactivate/
In Windows 7, can you use the Windows.old folder that the installer made to regain that product key?

Try Recover Keys http://recover-keys.com/. They have a free demo version to see if it will work for you. The full version costs $30. Use it search your windows.old and use the hive function to point to the windows.old\windows folder

http://pcsupport.about.com/od/productkeysactivation/tp/topkeyfinder.htm – 13 keyfinder programs
http://recover-keys.com/ - Product Key Finder for Win, Office & 3000+ more prog. #Trial only shows first 4 char)

Snert
February 28, 2012 6:55 PM

This article prompted me to check all the product keys I've saved. I found I have the keys from stuff going back to DOS 6.22 and Win 3.1!! Ok.
I'm sure I'll never need those keys again, but I'm hanging on to them anyway, JIC.

Derek McLean
February 29, 2012 11:01 AM

I use Gearbox KeyFinder PRO for 32-bit keys and MSKeyViewer Plus for 64-bit keys.
They're both free and they have worked every time for me.
That 32/64 demarcation isn't exactly right, but using both always seems to extract all the keys.

Helga
July 1, 2012 12:20 AM

How about instead of storing your keys and activations somewhere remote, like a spreadsheet, just write them in permanent marker on the media. That way it can always be handy where it should be handy. And while you're installing from a CD/DVD, you can open the drawer and look at the key, then close it. Seems a little more practical and useful than having it in a spreadsheet.

Morton
January 1, 2013 2:23 PM

I've tried both Belarc and JellyBean. They both give you the same keys. These keys will not allow you to register Windows XP. The keys they supply, according to Belarc, are the manufacturer's key, and not the key that came with the disc that you need to register.

Mark
February 14, 2013 11:06 AM

I'm really upset with these guys. I had an older version of Keyfinder that was awesome. Worked every time. I downloaded this version, after reading the article and the comments, and found that it wanted to install "California Fonts" toolbar. There was no way to opt out that I saw. What a HUGE mistake! It decided to download the toolbar, put the toolbar in all the browsers I use (IE, Firefox & Chrome) and change the homepage on all three browsers as well. It locked up my machine and I couldn't stop it through Task Manager. I could go on . . . . I should say I have downloaded many utilities from Ask-Leo. I've followed him for many many years and have found tons of great information. This was the first time I ever had a problem with a utility he suggested. Once again, be careful with KeyFinder.

Mark J
February 15, 2013 3:23 AM

@Mark
That program wasn't suggested by Leo. It was an ad place there by Google AdSense. Leo doesn't have any control over the ads Google displays on the page.
What's the difference between an ad and your recommendation?

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