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Writing files to C: drive could be hitting up against two problems... both of which are there for your protection.

I don't know what's wrong with my OS. I'm currently using Windows 7 and the issue is that I'm unable to save anything in the C drive. I myself am the administrator and it still displays the message that you don't have enough permissions to access or even save anything in the program files folder. As if I'm the client and theirs is an in-built administrator. Even though after repeated formats and reinstalling my Windows, the problem still remains the same. I don't know whether it's the hard disk or my OS, which is experiencing the problem. I can save everything anywhere else, but not the C drive. Please help.

In this excerpt from Answercast #83, I look at how and why Windows restricts administrative access to the root drive.

Writing files to C: drive

This is not a hard drive problem; this is not an operating system problem. This is a misunderstanding.

There are potentially two different things going on here. My guess is they both apply.

One is when you are logged into an account that has administrative privileges... you are not running as the administrator. If you take a look at some of the shortcuts for things like the command prompt or Windows Explorer, even when you're logged into your administrative account, you need to right-click on those programs and select Run as administrator to actually, truly really be running as the administrator.

Running as administrator

The only thing your administrative account gets you is the ability to run as administrator without having to specify the administrator password. That's it.

You are not running as administrator all the time. You are only running as administrator when you specifically say so, or when a program requests administrative privileges - at which point you'll be presented with a UAC dialog that says, "Hey, this program wants to run as administrator. Is that OK?"

So that's the first thing that could very well be happening. You are logged into an account that has administrative privileges, but you're not running as administrator.

There's an article I've got that covers this, "Why does my computer say I need to be administrator when I am?" It's because you are not the administrator until you explicitly invoke administrative privileges by running programs "as the administrator."

Write-protected folders

Now, the other thing that could be going on here (and I don't know if this was a Vista edition or a Windows 7 edition), but there are folders on your C drive that you cannot write to... even when you are the administrator; in other words, even when you're running as administrator.

In other words:

  • I don't believe you can necessarily write to the root of your C drive;

  • I don't think you can necessarily write to program files;

  • I don't think you can necessarily write to some of the other folders that are on your hard drive.

Even when you run as administrator!

The specific folders may come and go. I'm not going to claim that I know the canonical list of folders where this happens - but it is something else that Windows has done to, basically, make Windows itself a bit more resilient.

You can create yourself a folder, like, C:\example. Create yourself a folder at the root. Then you can save everything you want in your folder. You can save whatever you want in "My Documents," which is on C drive.

You can save all sorts of things in other places on your C drive, but there are definitely a restricted set of folders that you cannot (or cannot easily) save files to.

Limited administrator privileges

Now, you may be saying wait a minute, I'm the administrator, why is Windows getting in my way?

In a word, security. In two words, stability.

The problem is that people have repeatedly caused problems in Windows by writing in places where they shouldn't be writing; by putting files where files don't belong.

Sometimes it's you and me doing the wrong thing for a good reason. We probably have our reasons for doing what we do - but not understanding the full ramifications of the issues of placing the files in certain places.

Preventing malware

The other side of course is malware. If you are running with an account that has administrative privileges, since you're not actually "running" as administrator, that makes it harder for malware that you might accidentally invoke to do things. It has to first ask for administrative privileges. If you are paying attention then of course, you would say, "No, don't give this piece of malware administrative privileges. It's doing something I don't understand and I don't want it to do."

Ultimately, all of this is really for your protection for the safety of the system.

I would suggest you take a look at what exactly why it is you want to place things where you place them - and potentially look into placing them somewhere else.

Finally, run as administrator for those things that you know require true administrative privileges. Run the command prompt as administrator, or run Windows Explorer as administrator, and you'll be able to do pretty much anything you might want to - within the scope of the things that I've talked about.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

End of Answercast 83 Back to - Audio Segment

Article C6199 - December 30, 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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1 Comment
Camran Manikfan
December 31, 2012 9:12 PM

Yes, I wondered the same thing some months ago when I tried to save two copies of some files on my partitioned disk, one on each. I just couldn't save it to C:\ until I put it in a folder first in C:\ and then moved it outside to C:\. I thought it was because Windows wanted to hog the C:\ drive for itself :D. I also found that when I tried to get into AppData, AppData\Roaming, AppData\Local, AppData\LocalLow, ProgramData, and some others for the first time, I was told that 'I don't have permission to access this folder. Click "Yes" to permanently access this folder in the future'.

Thank you for the concise explanation, Leo ... like always. :)

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