Migrating User Profiles and Data to New Windows Installation

Before you start

Objectives: remember the types of migration as well as the utilities which we can use to do migration. Learn which data belongs to user profile.
Prerequisites: knowledge about Windows installation types and User Profiles is recommended.
Key terms: user profile, migration tools, types of migration, Windows Easy Transfer, User State Migration Tool, XML files used for configuring USMT, USMT migration stores

Side-by-side vs Wipe-and-load Migration

Side-by-side migration is used when the source and destination installations are on different computers. The main benefit of a side-by-side migration is that the old information is still left on the source computer, so the in case the migration fails we can continue to work with our data on the old installation.

Wipe-and-load installation method is used when the source and destination installations reside on the same computer. In that case we first need to export the data to external source such as an external hard drive or USB flash drive. After the clean installation has been performed, the exported data can be imported back into the new installation. Disadvantage of this method is that we lose the original information source after the clean installation. If the migration fails we don’t have access to original files and folders on the source computer because they were overridden with the new installation.


When doing clean install or upgrade we have to consider the migration of the user profiles. User profiles store their documents and files, specific user settings and application settings. It can be of great importance for a user to have it’s old data and settings available, so we should plan a profile migration in advance. User Profile migration to Windows 7 can be done more easily if we are upgrading from Windows Vista or if we are using roaming profiles (profiles copied to a network share).

If the source computer can support new Windows we can perform a wipe-and-load migration or dual-boot setup. If the source computer hardware lacks support for new Windows we will need to perform a side-by-side migration.

Migration Utilities

To perform user profile migration we can use two utilities which will automate the entire process for us. The available tools are Windows Easy Transfer (WET) and User State Migration Tool (USMT). Both tools can be used to, for example, to migrate user profile data from Windows XP and Vista to Windows 7, or even from an existing Windows 7 installation to a new Windows 7 installation.

Windows Easy Transfer (WET)

WET is easy to use and designed for end-users. This tool is already built into Windows 7. An older version exists on Windows Vista and needs to be upgraded when we’re migrating from Vista to the Windows 7. In Windows XP a full installation of Windows Easy Transfer utility is required before migrating data to Windows 7. WET replaced Files and Settings Transfer wizard (FAST) migration from Windows XP. The Windows Easy Transfer utility can be used to transfer user accounts, files and folders, favorites and other important user profile files and settings.

The Windows Easy Transfer tool supports three different methods of migration. We can use the easy transfer cable. It is a special USB cable that has an A connector on both sides so it can connect to both computers. A side-by-side migration is the only type of migration that supports the easy transfer cable. We can also use a network migration method in which both computers are connected to local network. This method is similar to the easy transfer cable method, but it requires a password to be set on the source computer that must be entered at the destination computer. The network method only supports side-by-side migrations. The third method is using external hard disk or USB flash drive. Using this method we can perform a side-by-side or wipe-and-load migration. We can also protect our data by securing it with a password on the source computer.

Keep in mind that both computers must be running the latest version of Windows Easy Transfer tool. WET tool can create installation file that can be executed on Windows Vista or Windows XP computers prior to the migration to install the latest version of WET.

User State Migration Tool

The User State Migration Tool (USMT) is an advanced command line tool that allows us to automate and script the user profile migration process. It allows us to export user accounts files and application settings to be imported later into the destination computer. It is usually used by IT professionals for larger environments or multiple migrations. USMT supports profile migration from XP and Vista to Windows 7, and from Windows 7 installation to a new Windows 7 installation. Also, with USMT we can migrate user profile from Windows 7 back to Windows Vista, however we can not migrate profiles from Windows 7 to Windows XP. With USMT we typically save settings to an external source (hard drive, network, etc.) which we then import onto the destination computer.

USMT is part of the Windows 7 Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) which can be downloaded from Microsoft website. WAIK is a set of tools that supports the configuration and deployment of Windows systems. To install the Windows AIK, first we must download the ISO file from Microsoft site, write the ISO file to a DVD using a third party tool, and then install the Windows AIK from the DVD. When the installation is finished we can find USMT in the C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\USMT\x86, if we used the default installation path. USMT can also be downloaded from Microsoft website as a standalone application.

Compared to WET, USMT is better at migrating large number of profiles. USMT can not perform side-by-side migrations, but it supports writing to removable storage and network shares. USMT also migrates NTFS permissions or ACL’s for the files and folders ensuring the permissions are properly migrated to the new computer as well. With USMT we can not migrate mapped drives, local printer drivers, passwords and shared folder settings. USMT uses a set of migration rules that are stored in different XML configuration files that specify what user profile data to export from the source computer.


The migration rules are divided to four different XML files. The MigApp.xmlor Migration Application XML file contains rules about the application settings that needs to be migrated. These settings may include things such as folder options, fonts, task bar settings, accessibility options and others.

MigUser.xml or Migration User XML file contains the rules about the user files and data that needs to be migrated. These settings may include My Documents folder, Desktop, Start Menu and similar.

MigDoc.xml contains the path of the user documents that needs to be copied.

Config.xml file is used to specify which features are to be excluded from the migration.

USMT Command Line Commands

There are two USMT commands which we can use to perform user profile migrations. These commands are Scanstate and Loadstate. We can use Scanstate on the source computer to export the user profiles and data based on the migration rules specified in the XML files. The output of the Scanstate can be stored on network share or on external hard drive or USB flash drive. With the Loadstate command we can import user profiles and settings on the new installation.

USMT Migration Stores

USMT supports three types of migration stores. These are Uncompressed,Compressed and Hard Link. An Uncompressed migration store saves the data using a hierarchy of folders that mirror the user profiles data. Uncompressed stores give users the advantage of browsing the migration store using Windows Explorer and making changes if needed.

Compressed store saves the data into a single image file in a separate directory structure which can be password protected and encrypted.

Hard Link migration stores profile information on the local computer which is not changed while the old operating system is removed and the new version is installed. It is primarily used when performing a custom installation on a system with an existing operating system, like in a wipe-and-load situation.

USMT Offline Migration

USMT can also be used to perform off-line migrations. Offline migrations involve booting a computer into Windows PE environment. Once in the Windows PE environment we can run the Scanstate command and save our information to a store location. Once the destination computers are prepared we can use the Loadstate command to import the exported user profile. When doing off-line migration the person performing the migration does not have to have administrative access to the computer.


Side-by-side migration is used when the source and destination installations are on different computers. Wipe-and-load installation method is used when the source and destination installations reside on the same computer. To perform user profile migration we can use two utilities: Windows Easy Transfer (WET) and User State Migration Tool (USMT). The Windows Easy Transfer tool is already built into Windows 7. The User State Migration Tool (USMT) is a command line tool. USMT uses a set of migration rules that are stored in different XML files. USMT supports three types of migration stores: Uncompressed, Compressed and Hard Link. Offline migrations involve booting a computer into Windows PE environment.

Paths that are mentioned in this article
  • C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\USMT\ – folder in which we can find USMT if we have Windows AIK installed

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