What is an NTUSER.DAT File? What Purpose Does it Serve? Find Out Now

What is an NTUSER.DAT File?
NTUSER.DAT is an important system file which is present in every Windows operating system. In this Techspirited post, we shall learn more about this system file.
Did You Know?
Historically, Windows 95/98 did not employ the multiple user profiling scheme. This scheme, which has now become a standard part of the Windows OS, was first used in Windows NT.
Microsoft knew that even though you might like Al Pacino, one of your loved ones might prefer Marlon Brando instead. That's why they designed the Windows OS such that, among other things, both of you can have different desktop-wallpapers of your favorite celebrities on the same computer. But how did they do this? Through separate user profiles, of course.

The Windows OS employs a method of keeping individual preferences and settings different for different users. This allows each one of them to have a computer-usage experience that is truly personal. The NTUSER.DAT file is an important part of this method. Let's go ahead and find out what it is, and further examine some of its important aspects.
What is an NTUSER.DAT File?
Windows allows the creation of different, unique user profiles. Each of these user profiles contains a particular user's personal settings and preferences, such as desktop settings, browsing history, and a unique 'Documents' folder.

An NTUSER.DAT file is generated by Windows for every new user profile that is created on the system. It contains the registry entries of each individual user, and is essential for the Windows OS. NTUSER.DAT contains a user's personalized settings for the majority of software installed on the computer, including those of Windows itself. Thus, its size is basically dependent on the activity of the user. If the user installs a lot of big software programs on the system, the size of the NTUSER.DAT file will be more.
What Does the NTUSER.DAT File Do?
NTUSER.DAT files are registry files. Each one of them contains specific registry settings for a user's individual account. In Windows, the registry is a central hierarchical database, that contains information regarding the software, hardware, and the different user profiles present in the computer.
When the Windows OS is running, it constantly needs to refer to its registry files for completing its various operations. When the user logs in, the NTUSER.DAT gets combined with the computer's registry, into the HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch of the Windows registry tree.
Location and Visibility
Windows creates and stores the NTUSER.DAT file in that user's 'User' folder. The following are the different locations of this file in the different Windows operating systems.

For Windows 2000, XP: C:\Documents and Settings\user-name

For Windows Vista/7/8/8.1: C:\Users\user-name_Folder
However, the NTUSER.DAT file is a hidden file, and therefore, you won't be able to find it unless you alter your folder option settings to show hidden files. For this, press 'Windows+E' to open Windows Explorer. Click on 'Organize' on the ribbon bar. Then click on 'Folder and Search Options'. In the 'Folder Options' window that opens, click on the 'View' tab. Then select 'Show Hidden Files, Folders and Drives' option in the 'Advanced Settings' pane, and click on 'OK'. You should now be able to see the NTUSER.DAT file for your user profile.
A Few Words on Deletion
For each user profile, Windows creates some unique folders, including documents, desktop, etc. In these folders, Windows stores the specific preferred files that the particular user uses - notice how the files stored on the desktop are different for different users. In a similar fashion, the NTUSER.DAT file contains specific registry settings for a particular user. If it were to be deleted, that particular user's individual settings and preferences will be lost. This may corrupt the user's profile. Hence, the NTUSER.DAT file is normally 'locked' and hidden to keep it safe from accidental deletion.

However, there may arise a situation when the user account associated with an NTUSER.DAT file won't be required anymore. In such a case, the NTUSER.DAT file can be safely deleted, allowing you to free up some space in your computer. The following procedure shows you how to delete the NTUSER.DAT file associated with a redundant account.
Step 1

Unhide the NTUSER.DAT file, as described in the above section.

Step 2

In the 'Users' folder, right-click on the now visible NTUSER.DAT file, and select 'Delete'.

Step 3

A confirmation box will pop up asking whether you are sure about your choice for deletion. Click on 'Yes' to delete the NTUSER.DAT file.

By using this method, you can very well delete the NTUSER.DAT file. However, it is still advisable to instead delete the entire redundant user profile associated with it, using the following procedure.
Step 1

Go to 'Start', and right-click on 'Computer'. Click on properties to open up the 'System' window. In the left pane, click on 'Advanced System Settings'. This will open up the 'System Properties' window.

Step 2

Click on the 'Advanced' tab. Under 'User Profiles', click on 'Settings'. This will open a new window listing all the user profiles in the computer. Select the user profile which you want to remove, and click on delete.
An NTUSER.DAT file is an important Windows system file which is responsible for maintaining the unique settings and configurations for each individual user profile. It is best not to try editing or deleting this file, as doing so would lead to the corruption of the user profile. Only if the associated user profile has become redundant, should you consider deleting this file.