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It is often possible to locate missing Windows files elsewhere on your hard disk, but when all else fails they can be found on your installation media.

I can run "ipconfig" in a Windows Command Prompt on my desktop, but if I run it on my laptop I get: "'ipconfig' is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file."

What do I do?

ipconfig is a standard Windows utility and should be part of your installation by default. Obviously, for some reason it's not.

We'll look at a few ways to see if you have it, where it might be, where else it might be, and how to get it where it should be.

I'll use "ipconfig.exe" as an example, but in reality this applies to almost any file that's a part of Windows.

The first thing we'll attempt is to search for the file on your hard disk. Again, in the Command Prompt:

C:\Documents and Settings\LeoN>cd \
C:\>dir ipconfig.exe /S

The "cd" command changes the current directory or folder. Normally when you open a command prompt, the current directory is the directory associated with your user account. We'll want to search the entire hard disk, which means we want to be at the top level directory to do that search. That directory is referred to as "\", so "cd \" takes us there. You can see that reflected in the prompt that results on the next line, as it shows you the current directory.

"The first thing we'll attempt is to search for the file on your hard disk."

The "dir" command produces a listing of files, or a "directory". We ask it to show a list of all files named "ipconfig.exe", and the "/S" parameter says "search the current folder and all folders within it". When executed at the top level directory "dir /S" scans the entire hard drive.

On my system that results in:

 Volume in drive C is NOTENQUAD
 Volume Serial Number is E852-AA62

 Directory of C:\WINDOWS\$NtServicePackUninstall$

07/27/2007  04:00 AM            55,808 ipconfig.exe
               1 File(s)         55,808 bytes

 Directory of C:\WINDOWS\ServicePackFiles\i386

04/14/2008  05:42 AM            55,808 ipconfig.exe
               1 File(s)         55,808 bytes

 Directory of C:\WINDOWS\system32

04/14/2008  05:42 AM            55,808 ipconfig.exe
               1 File(s)         55,808 bytes

     Total Files Listed:
               3 File(s)        167,424 bytes
               0 Dir(s)  176,697,344,000 bytes free

As you can see, ipconfig.exe is in several places, including "C:\WINDOWS\system32", where it's supposed to be. In your case it's apparently not there.

The other places you might find it include:

  • C:\WINDOWS\ServicePackFiles\i386 this would typically be the most recently applied service pack, and hence a fairly reasonably up-to-date copy of the file. This is probably the copy that I would choose to use below.

  • C:\WINDOWS\$NtServicePackUninstall$ this is the previous version of the file prior to that service pack. This is retained so that you can uninstall the service pack and revert to the previous version of this, and all files affected by the service pack.

  • C:\I386 not listed in my example, since I have installation CDs, but many manufacturers will place a copy of the Windows install files in this folder in lieu of (or occasionally in addition to) giving you an install CD. This would be the version of the file as originally installed on your machine. Be sure to see the note below about compressed files.

  • D:\Windows\System32 I include this specifically because many manufacturer's often include a copy of your Windows installation on a recovery partition. On my laptop that happened to be the "D:" drive. If you don't find what you're looking for on your primary Windows drive, and you have a separate recovery partition, it's worth searching that as well.

Regardless of which one you choose, you can simply copy the file to where it was supposed to be (C:\Windows\system32, for example), or to some other appropriate place where you can use it. Depending on the file it may, or may not be safe to use it in the place that you found it, so I recommend making a copy so as not to inadvertently damage the contents of that location.

If you don't find the file, you'll need to grab your Windows installation CD or DVD. Much like the "C:\I386" example above, that vast majority of Windows files are in a folder "\I386" on the installation CD, and you can just copy them directly from the CD to where they belong in your existing Windows installation.

If you don't have an installation CD, and all you're attempting to do is replace a missing file or files on your legitimate and legal installation of Windows, it's seems to me that it'd be perfectly valid to go out and borrow an installation CD from which to copy the files. Be sure that it's the same version of Windows - it may not matter for some files (like ipconfig.exe), but for others it's actually quite critical that the Windows version match.

Compressed Files: on installation media and copies of installation media individual files are often compressed to save space, and you'll need to decompress them before they can be used. Compressed files also have a modified name - the last character of the extension is replaced with an underscore. That means that instead of searching for "ipconfig.exe" in our example, we would look for "ipconfig.ex_".

Once you've located "ipconfig.ex_" you'll need to decompress it:

[F:\I386]expand IPCONFIG.EX_ c:\t\ipconfig.exe

What I've done with the command above is used the expand command to decompress ipconfig.ex_ into ipconfig.exe, placing the later in a temporary folder on my hard drive. "F:" is my CD drive with the Windows installation CD installed, and the compressed file was located in the I386 folder.

The results look like this:

Microsoft (R) File Expansion Utility  Version 5.1.2600.0
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corp 1990-1999.  All rights reserved.

Expanding ipconfig.ex_ to c:\t\ipconfig.exe.
ipconfig.ex_: 17105 bytes expanded to 49664 bytes, 190% increase.

The bottom line is that missing Windows files may be found in several locations, both on your hard disk and on your original installation media. Be sure to look for compressed versions as well, which can then be easily decompressed before use.

Article C3525 - October 10, 2008 « »

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?

Tony Brown
October 14, 2008 6:08 PM

Is it possible that the laptop is still running Win98/ME? If it is you would need to use winipcfg instead of ipconfig.

October 19, 2008 3:34 AM

Is it correct that whenever my networkadapter is not available, ipconfig is also not working and the same error appears?

ipconfig should be found, and give you a different error stating that there's no network adapter.
- Leo

Ed Angel
October 27, 2008 8:41 PM

I'm curious as to why you went to the command prompt.

Why not just use the Windows Search command.

Personal taste. I find the command prompt much easier to use and much more flexible. But yes, you can use Window's search as well, as long as you remember to uncheck or check all the appropriate options so that it actually searches everything you think it should.
- Leo
Loretta H
October 16, 2009 6:33 AM

All of a sudden I have LOST Windows Autocheck files.I get a warning that this will be skipped . How do I find and replace this file?

Muhammad Adnan
November 2, 2009 4:16 AM

I cant understand that procedure plz tell me in easy way can you?
im using windows xp sp3

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