User Profiles Overview in User Data and Settings Management

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

A user profile describes the desktop computing configuration for a specific user, including the users environment and preference settings.

A profile is created the first time that a user logs on to a computer running Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, Windows 2000, or Windows NT Workstation. A user profile is a group of settings and files that defines the environment that the system loads when a user logs on. It includes all the user-specific configuration settings, such as program items, screen colors, network connections, printer connections, mouse settings, and window size and position. Profiles are not user policies and the user has a profile even if you don't use Group Policy.

A user's data can be stored on the local hard disk drive, or IntelliMirror can be set so that the data roams with the user wherever he or she logs on. User data can include shortcuts to executable files, personal files, and user settings, such as a custom dictionary.

Depending on how you manage your network, you or a user can define the desktop settings.

The following user profiles are available in Windows Server 2003, Windows XP Professional, and Windows 2000 Professional:

  • Local User Profile. Created the first time that a user logs on to a computer, the local user profile is stored on a computer's local hard disk. Any changes made to the local user profile are specific to the computer on which the changes are made.

  • Roaming User Profile. A copy of the local profile is copied to, and stored on a server share. This profile is downloaded every time that a user logs on to any computer on the network, and any changes made to a roaming user profile are synchronized with the server copy upon logoff.

  • Mandatory User Profile. A type of profile that administrators can use to specify particular settings for users. Only system administrators can make changes to mandatory user profiles. Changes made by the user to desktop settings are lost when the user logs off.

  • Temporary User Profile. A temporary profile is issued any time that an error condition prevents the users profile from being loaded. Temporary profiles are deleted at the end of each session - changes made by the user to their desktop settings and files are lost when the user logs off.


If you need to provide managed desktop configurations for groups of users or computers, consider using Group Policy instead of mandatory profiles.

Advantages of User Profiles

A primary goal of user profiles is to separate each users settings and data from that of other users and the local computer. Separating each users state provides several advantages:

  • It allows for stateless computers. An organization can configure computers to store all the key user settings and data away from the local computer. This allows for much easier computer replacement and backup. When a computer needs replacing, it can simply be swapped outall of the users state information is safely maintained separately on the network and is independent of a particular computer. When the user logs onto the new computer for the first time, the server copy of the users state is copied to the new computer.

  • It allows a users system and desktop customizations to travel with the user from computer to computer, without requiring the user to reconfigure any settings. When a user logs on to any computer on the network that supports the roaming profile, the users desktop appears just as that user left it before logging off. With roaming user support, users can share computers, but each user has his or her personal desktop (both roaming and mandatory profiles support this functionality).