What Is Folder Redirection Extension?

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

In this section

  • Benefits of Folder Redirection

  • Common Folder Redirection Scenarios

  • Folder Redirection Dependencies on or Interactions with Other Technologies

  • Related Information

The Folder Redirection extension, a feature of IntelliMirror, enables an administrator to redirect the location of certain folders in the user profile to different path, such as a shared network location. When these redirected folders are accessed, either by the operating system or by applications, the operating system automatically redirects to the location on a network share specified by the administrator. From a user perspective, this feature is similar to a roaming profile because users have the same folder settings regardless of which computers they use. These settings remain on the network share and enable users to access their files from any computer they use to logon on to the network. The following figure illustrates the relationships and interactions of the Folder Redirection extension with other networking components and Group Policy features.

Folder Redirection Extension Relationships and Interactions

Folder Redirection Extension Relationships

The following special folders can be redirected:

  • Application Data

  • Desktop

  • My Documents

    • My Pictures
  • Start Menu


    • My Pictures folder is no longer shown in the Folder Redirection Node. To simplify the user interface and to help support the best practice that the My Pictures folder should always follow the My Documents folder, the My Pictures folder is not shown in the Folder Redirection node for new GPO’s. If you have previously redirected the My Pictures folder separately, the My Pictures node will still appear.

Benefits of Folder Redirection

When fully deployed, IntelliMirror uses Active Directory and Group Policy for policy-based management of user desktops. A Windows XP or Windows 2000 Professional desktop can be automatically configured to meet specific requirements of a user’s business roles, group memberships, and location. Group Policy and the Active Directory are not necessary for every IntelliMirror feature. Some of the features can be set on the local level or through local polices. An organization can tailor IntelliMirror to meet its needs. When planning to use IntelliMirror, an organization should assess which features it needs and then implement the technology required.

By using IntelliMirror on both the server and client, administrators can protect and manage user data and settings. Non-recoverable data from local workstations can be copied to servers, where it can be easily backed up and centrally managed. Personalized data, applications, and settings can follow each user to different computers throughout the network. Administrators can easily replace faulty computers and restore all user data and settings on a new computer.

Previously, administrators who wanted to redirect folders to the network had to use logon scripts to change registry values. In Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, the same task can be accomplished by using the Folder Redirection extension of Group Policy. For example, you could redirect a user’s My Documents directory to \\Server\Share\%username%.

Folder Redirection provides the following benefits:

  • Improved Roaming User Profile performance. You can use Folder Redirection to reduce the time it takes to log on to and log off from the network. The My Documents folder is part of the Roaming User Profile (RUP), which means that the My Documents folder and its contents are copied back and forth between the client computer and the server each time users log on and log off. Redirecting the My Documents folder to a location outside of the user profile can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to log on and log off because not all of the data in the user profile is transferred to the desktop each time the user logs on — only the data that user requires is transferred.

  • User documents available from any computer. To ensure that users’ documents are available when they roam from one computer to another, you can use Folder Redirection to redirect user documents to a server location accessible from any computer connected to the domain.

  • User documents available when not connected to the corporate network. Folder Redirection can be used with Offline Files technologies to make users’ network-based My Documents folder available when they are disconnected from the corporate network. By default in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, any redirected shell folders such as My Documents, Desktop, Start Menu, and Application Data are automatically made available Offline.


    • Offline Files are disabled by default in Windows Server 2003.
  • Increased security and availability of user data. When you use Folder Redirection to redirect user data to a network location, the data stored on a shared network server can be backed up as part of routine system administration. This protects user data and requires no action on the part of the user.

  • Reduced support costs and user down-time. If there are multiple hard disk drives in a user’s computer, user data and files can be redirected to a hard disk on the user’s local computer other than the one on which the operating system is installed. This protects the user’s data if the operating system needs to be reinstalled or if computer hardware needs to be replaced.

  • Control allocation of disk space. Administrators can use Group Policy to set disk quotas, which limit the amount of space taken up by users’ folders.

Common Folder Redirection Scenarios

This section presents sample scenarios that illustrate some of the practical uses of Folder Redirection. Each of the scenarios fits into an entire picture or can be seen as a separate event. Each scenario also shows how the components of IntelliMirror benefit the entire organization by reducing the time and effort associated with maintaining the computing environment.

The new hire

One of the most critical and time consuming IT tasks is setting up a computer for a new hire. In an organization that uses IntelliMirror, the new hire logs on to a new computer and finds documents and shortcuts already on the desktop. There are shortcuts to common files, URLs, and folders that are useful to all employees (for example, the employee handbook, shortcuts to the departmental shared documents store, and the user’s departmental guidelines and procedures). Desktop options, application configurations, Internet settings, and so on, are all configured to the corporate standard, ensuring that if the user needs to call the help desk, the support staff knows what configuration the user started with.

In this example, the user gets a pre-configured user profile that was set up for all new users, and was configured before the new hire logged on to the network. The administrator configured a computer to look and behave according to the corporate standard, and then, using the User Profile utility built into the System Control Panel application, copied the user profile to a Default User folder on the domain controller’s Netlogon share. When the new hire logged onto the network for the first time, Windows copied this default profile to the local computer and used this profile as the basis for the new hire’s profile. In addition to configuring the default profile the user received, the administrator also used Group Policy to redirect the user’s My Documents folder to a network location, so that the user’s documents are safely stored on a network server and can be backed up regularly.

The laptop user

In this scenario, a laptop user working at the office creates several documents and saves them to his or her My Documents folder. After saving documents, the user logs off, unplugs the laptop computer from the network and takes it home. While at home and off the network, the user continues to edit the documents saved earlier in the My Documents folder.

The user returns to the office and logs on to the network. Since the user has worked offline, a dialog box appears advising the user that data in My Documents has changed and is being synchronized with the network copy.

In this scenario, the user’s My documents folder has been redirected to a network server, the documents are transparently saved to the network location and also saved in the local computer’s cache (because the network folder is setup to be available offline), so that they are available when the computer is disconnected from the network.

The whole process can be transparent to the user; the experience is no different than saving documents to the local hard disk.

As soon as the user reconnects to the network, IntelliMirror attempts to reconnect to the network location of the redirected folders. When IntelliMirror reconnects, it determines if there are differences in the data between the local copy of the folder and the network copy. In this scenario, the user has made modifications to a document on the local computer. IntelliMirror identifies this change and prompts the user to update the version stored on the network.

Computer replacement

In this scenario the computer that a user is working on suddenly stops working because of a complete hardware failure. The user calls the support line, and receives a new computer, loaded with only the Windows XP Professional operating system. Without waiting for technical assistance, the user plugs in the new computer, connects it to the network, and starts it. When the user logs on to the corporate network, he or she will find that the desktop has the same appearance as the original computer that it replaced. It will have the same color scheme, the user’s preferred background picture on the screensaver, and all the application icons, shortcuts, and favorites. More importantly, all the user’s data files will have been restored.

In a disaster recovery scenario, IntelliMirror assists in getting the user’s computer replaced and running quickly with the minimum of support. In this example, because the user was configured to use roaming user profiles, a copy of the user’s working environment was safely stored on a network server. When the new computer arrived, the user was able to log on and the server copy of the user’s profile was downloaded to the new computer. An administrator could also have used Folder Redirection to redirect the user’s key folders such as My Documents and Application Data, to ensure that the user’s documents were safely stored on the server.

A shared computer environment

In this scenario, a user works in a department where the computer he or she uses might change from day to day—a call center or IT support environment, for example. The user is working on an important document late one night when the shift ends. The user saves the document and logs off the computer. When the user returns to work the next day, he or she logs onto the first available computer—a different computer from the one used the previous night. The user logs onto the network, and sees that the desktop has the same look and feel as the original computer. The user opens the My Documents folder on the desktop and finds the document exactly where he or she saved it and continues the work started the previous night.

In this example, the user was configured to use roaming user profiles, so that a copy of the user’s working environment was stored on a network server. When the user logged onto the computer, the user’s existing preferences, shortcuts and documents were copied to the local computer, so that the user could continue working as if using the original computer. A variation on this scenario is using roaming profiles in conjunction with Folder Redirection. Users can have the same work environment and have access to the same documents on any computer. Changes made on one computer are synchronized with the other computer the next time the user logs on.

Folder Redirection Dependencies

The Folder Redirection extension is used most effectively when combined with other related Group Policy and Windows Server technologies, such as Roaming User Profiles, Offline Files, and Synchronization Manager.

Folder Redirection with Roaming User Profiles

You can also combine Folder Redirection and roaming user profiles to decrease logon and logoff times for roaming and mobile users. A common scenario is to redirect the My Documents and My Pictures folders, and allow the Application Data, Desktop, and Start Menu folders to roam with the profile. In addition to improved availability and administrative benefits from storing the data on the network, users also realize performance gains when using low-speed network connections and in subsequent logon sessions. Not all of the data in the user profile is transferred to the desktop each time the user logs on — only the data that user accesses during a session is transferred. Because only some documents are copied, performance is improved when the user’s’ profiles are copied from the server.

When you combine the use of Folder Redirection and roaming user profiles, you can also provide fast computer replacement. If a user’s computer needs to be replaced, the user’s data can quickly be copied from the server locations to a replacement computer. Combining Folder Redirection with roaming profiles gives the benefits of roaming profiles, while minimizing network traffic caused by synchronization of the profile.


  • To decrease initial logon time to a new computer, you should redirect the location of the My Documents folder outside of the user’s roaming profile.
Local profiles

Using Folder Redirection with local profiles can provide some of the benefits of roaming profiles (such as having a user’s data available at any computer or maintaining data on the server) without the need to implement roaming profiles. Remember though, using Folder Redirection with a local profile would only result in the user’s documents and files being available from all computers. To have settings and configurations move with the user, you would need to use roaming profiles.

Folder Redirection with Offline Files

By using Offline Files, users can continue to work with a cached copy of files stored on a network location, even when they are not connected to a network. If your organization has mobile users with portable computers, Offline Files gives them access to their files when they are not connected to the network, and ensures that they are always working with the current version of network files. Offline Files technology stores the data in the computer’s cache to make network files available offline. The view of shared network items that you have made available offline remains as it is when connected, even if users lose a connection to or manually disconnect from the network. Users can continue to work with the Offline Files as they normally do when online. Users have the same access permissions to those files and folders as when they are connected to the network. When the network connection is restored, any changes they made while working offline are updated to the network so that both locations are synchronized.

Offline Files is a stand-alone technology, which means that you do not need to use it with Folder Redirection. However, using Offline Files with Folder Redirection allows for greater flexibility and availability of user files. For example, if a shortcut to a file is available offline, that file is made available offline, but if a shortcut to a folder is available offline, the contents of that folder are not available offline. If you pair the two technologies, Offline Files and Folder Redirection, both the shortcut and the folder are available offline.

Shared files or folders on a Windows Server 2003 or Windows XP-based network can be available offline. By default in Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, any redirected shell folders such as My Documents, Desktop, Start Menu, and Application Data are automatically made available offline. You can also make files available for offline use from any computer that is sharing files using server message block-based file and printer sharing, including Windows 2000, Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT 4.0.


  • Make sure that you turn off Offline Folders for shares where roaming user profiles are stored. If you do not turn off Offline Folders for a user’s profile, you might experience synchronization problems since both Offline Folders and Roaming Profiles will try to synchronize the files in a user’s profile.

Synchronization Manager

When using Offline Files and folders, users can synchronize all network resources by using the Synchronization Manager. The Synchronization Manager can be set to automatically synchronize some or all resources. For example, users can set certain files and folders to be synchronized every time they log on or off the network. The Synchronization Manager quickly scans the system for any changes, and if it detects changes, the resources are automatically updated. Only resources that have changed are updated—vastly speeding up the synchronization process.

The following resources contain additional information that is relevant to this section.