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Documents and Settings contains a lot of information placed there by Windows and many applications. There's no simple maintenance strategy.

I just found out my "Documents and Settings" directory has grown to 43.7 GB. That's 61,206 items, 56,831 files and 4,375 sub directories. In all the news letters I get and from Googling, I see no mention on how to maintain this directory. This has to be a common problem, my relatively new laptop has 13.4 GB of files in D&S out of 22.3 GB of storage used. Is reformatting or bigger drives the only answer? What causes this and why isn't anything getting purged. How do you maintain D&S?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but most folks will tell you that there really isn't such a thing as "maintaining" the Documents and Settings folder. It's just a place where programs put stuff. Like documents. And settings.

Let's explain that a little, and then also take a look at exactly what I would do in your situation.

If you look at the top level within "Documents and Settings" you'll find several sub folders: "Administrator", "All Users", and then one each for every user account on your system. In fact, if you include hidden folders when you look you may find a few more "Users" you didn't know you had that are set up for system services.

Within each of those are a number of folders, most commonly:

"Each user of your computer is given their own folder in Documents and Settings so that they can each maintain their own items and preferences ..."
  • Desktop - the folder containing the shortcuts that appear, combined with the "All Users" equivalent folder, on your desktop.

  • Favorites - the folder containing the shortcuts that appear, combined with the "All Users" equivalent folder, as your Favorites.

  • My Documents - the default folder most programs use to place your documents.

  • Start Menu - the folder containing the shortcuts that appear, combined with the "All Users" equivalent folder, as your Start Menu.

And many more. And once again, if you include hidden folders, you'll find even more, including something called "Application Data", which is where applications are supposed to store their data.

Each user of your computer is given their own folder in Documents and Settings so that they can each maintain their own items and preferences independent of other users on the system.

Now, this all gets much further confused by the fact that not all programs play nice. Some use Documents and Settings, some do not. Some use the "Application Data" folder, some use "Local Settings \ Application Data", and others don't use the folder at all. Some create their own sub folders in various places underneath Documents and Settings, some do not. Some folders are hidden, others are not.

You get the idea. It's messy.

There are a few specific items that are typically stored in your Documents and Settings folder that I want to point out, since they may be relevant to your situation:

  • Internet Temporary Files - also known as your browser cache. This can take up a lot of space. You can clear this by clearing your browser cache.

  • Windows Temporary files - these are temporary files created by other programs running under Windows. There's actually no automated cleanup here, and these files can accumulate over time.

  • Your email - Outlook Express, Outlook, and probably most other email programs default to placing their email storage within your Documents and Settings folder.

That's really only the tip of the iceberg, though. I looked at my own machine and it seems like all sorts of different applications create data files, caches and more, using the space for whatever purposes make sense to keep specific to each user for the specific application. On my machine, for example, the top 3 biggest users were a cache for the virtual environment Second Life, some kind of data store for Microsoft Help, and a couple of data stores for the Google Earth application.

So knowing that there's really little rhyme or reason behind what gets stored in Documents and Settings makes it hard to come up with a set of instructions on how to "maintain" it - that really varies tremendously based on what programs you happen to have installed and how you use them.

But you can at least get a sense of who's using up all that space. And if you keep track, you can see who's using more and more over time.

As mentioned in a previous article Where's my disk space going?, the free version of tool Space Monger will show you graphically exactly what's using up the space on your hard drive. (Another option, using the Windows command line and another free tool is described in How can I tell what's taking up so much disk space?).

So the one management tip I have is simply this: use some kind of tool to see exactly what's taking up so much space in your Documents and Settings folder. Based on what you find you may decide that's entirely appropriate for your machine, and take no action. On the other hand, you might determine that a couple of programs are using most of the space, and you might look into reconfiguring them to use disk space more wisely, or perhaps even uninstall a program that you no longer need.

Periodically repeat that process, so that you get a sense of how fast some programs keep using up disk space. Once again, you might decide you want to change something about your system depending on what you discover.

Article C3331 - March 24, 2008 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

March 25, 2008 1:38 AM

I'm not able to download diruse for some reason...
I have a valid copy of XP Pro. The download page does say it's only for windows 2000 though...

Jake Smith
March 28, 2008 10:31 PM

Close all programs, right click on MY COMPUTER, locate the C drive, right click on the C drive, select Properties, on the general tab select DISK CLEANUP.

Check the files you want removed, ( I usually select all of them,) select OK and you'll get rid of the 'junk' you don't need.

March 29, 2008 5:34 AM

As a non-techy I often wondered/worried about the decreasing amt of free space and what is the safe amt to still have. Will try out suggestion but am not sure/dont want to elimate something necessary. Tks for adv.

Gord Campbell
March 29, 2008 7:54 AM

One specific: Explorer's cache is much too large by default. I usually cut it back to 50 MB.

Also: search for .tmp files and delete them.

March 29, 2008 3:45 PM

Here's another idea:

Download robocopy (part of the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit). Then run a command like this:

robocopy "C:\Documents and Settings" C:\Temp /s /l /MINLAD:180 /ndl

What this does is show you a list of files that haven't been accessed in 180 days (the "/l" means that the files that *would* be copied are just listed). If you or your system haven't used a file in that time, you can either a) delete it or b) archive it to a CD-R or DVD-R.

I like to look for folders filled with files of this type, and then move the folder somewhere else (outside of "Documents and Settings"). Then I use my computer for a while, and see if anything has changed. If I don't notice the files missing and I don't recognize them, I trash them.

Robert Rosenstein
April 6, 2008 6:15 AM

The person with the Documents and Settings problem would be helped by a program called CCleaner. It is free, it seems very safe, it works for me and many others, and is worth a try.


jide michael
April 15, 2008 11:02 PM

recently i found out that i can not save images or download in my document.. pls, what can i do?

November 30, 2012 2:57 PM

I have a problem,something is eating my space ,in C/document/settings,so i unlock hidden folders and i found in C:\Documents and Settings\Kundak\Application Data 11GB used space and in C:\Documents and Settings\Kundak\Local Settings\Application Data\Sun\Java\Deployment\cache\6.0 also 11GB used space ....
I manage to free space at C:\Documents and Settings\Kundak\Application Data with CCleaner but i in C:\Documents and Settings\Kundak\Local Settings\Application Data\Sun\Java\Deployment\cache\6.0 still have 11GB used space,so is it safe to delete these files ?
Those folders it is named with number one to number sixty three ,so there are sixty three folders in C:\Documents and Settings\Kundak\Local Settings\Application Data\Sun\Java\Deployment\cache\6.0.
Every folder is minimum 200 MB.
There are three another folders with names host,muffin and tmp and one file last Accessed.
So how can i release some of that space ?

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