How to Access the Windows AppData Folder

By Scott Shpak

With organization and security in mind, Microsoft altered its folder structure, starting with Windows Vista, to include an extra layer of protection for important program and system files. The AppData folder appeared as a place for well-developed applications to store settings, files and data in a common and protected location, for each user profile on a computer. By default, the AppData folder and its contents are hidden in File Explorer.

The AppData Folder Structure

The Roaming folder is one of three sub-folders under the AppData folder. It contains items that move with a user profile between computers networked on the same domain. Your browser favorites and bookmarks, for example, are available from your profile on each networked computer. Local and LocalLow sub-folders contain data specific to one computer or too large to conveniently transfer through a server. The sub-folders are divided by level of access. The LocalLow folder contains lower-level settings and data, such as files needed when you run in protected or safe mode, for instance.

Hiding for a Reason

The AppData folder is part of the Windows File Protection concept, which recognizes the various levels of computer knowledge among Windows users. Hiding system files by default in File Explorer has been a key strategy to protect the Windows operating system, and with the addition of the AppData folder, program and application settings are now similarly protected. Deleting, moving or changing files or AppData folders or sub-folders may prevent your applications from working correctly.

Using Control Panel

Accessing the AppData folder requires first that the hidden folder is shown in File Explorer, a setting available in the Control Panel. In Windows 8, type "folder" in the search bar, and select "Show hidden files and folders" from the search results, under Folder Options. Select the "View" tab and locate "Hidden files and folders" in the Advanced settings menu. Click the button beside "Show hidden files and folders" and click "OK." The AppData folder and sub-folders will now appear in File Manager.

Using File Manager

You can also access hidden files and folders through File Manager. In Windows 8, click "File" in the upper left of the File Manager window and select "Change folder and search options." Select the "View" tab in the Folder Options window and locate "Hidden files and folders" in the Advanced settings menu. Click the button beside "Show hidden files and folders" and click "OK." The AppData folder and sub-folders will now appear in File Manager. Windows Vista and Windows 7 use both the File Manager and Control Panel methods for access, though with some minor differences in menu names.