Why Can’t I Rename a Copy of My "Documents" Folder on Windows Vista?

Here was an interesting little conversation that took place on one of our internal discussion lists today:

One person was trying to back up his documents directory. So, he'd use Robocopy to copy the files over. For example, he would use the following command line:

robocopy c:users<username>documents e:documentsbackup-january

Then, he'd click over to this directory in Windows Explorer, and he couldn't see e:documentsbackup-january, he would see e:documents.


To find out what is going on, you'll have to view some hidden system files. From Windows Explorer, select Organize -> Folder and Search Options. On the View tab, select the option to show hidden files and uncheck the option to hide protected operating system files. Now, in the documents directory, right click on desktop.ini and select edit. Here is mine:


The LocalizedResourceName is what is making things interesting here. No matter what you call this directory, Explorer is going to display the LocalizedResourceName.

That's handy when you don't live in the US. You see, on Windows Vista, we don't give different names to directories based on locale. c:program files is always c:program files. It doesn't matter what locale you are sitting in. But if you don't speak English, you'd probably prefer to see this in your own language. That's what this desktop.ini option will do for you.

This is a change from what we did in the past. Say you are from Germany. On Windows XP, you had c:programme. That's not where program files actually live any more. To keep applications working, we have a directory junction there, and to keep explorer showing you want you understand, we have the localized name.

But this can mess you up when you're making copes that include this desktop.ini and you want to rename it. Delete the desktop.ini file, and things will probably begin to make more sense to you.

Comments (15)

  1. Did you see the post at blogs.msdn.com

  2. Here was an interesting little conversation that took place on one of our internal discussion lists today

  3. anonymous says:

    And does this apply to all special folders in Vista? Also, I *think* desktop.ini has a parameter called DeleteonCopy or similar????

  4. Derek Noonan says:

    robocopy [src] [dest] -xf desktop.ini

  5. Hi Chris,

    I’ve had to write a lot of articles on my blog about the trouble the Desktop.ini has caused me in Vista.

    I know you think that desktop.ini’s locale support is kind of neat (I liked it too for a while), but it even causes a lot of grief for the end user when not copying – here’s what I mean:


  6. cjacks says:

    Hi Gordin,

    I’m seeing what I can do about chasing down the right people to look into this.


  7. Hi Chris,

    True to your word – about 30 Microsofties must have hit my page this week.  I am eager to hear their thoughts on the behaviour.  Is this clever design or simple oversight?  Will life improve?

    I can be reached at GordonPMartin@gmail.com.

    Thanks, keep up the great work!

  8. cjacks says:

    Hi Gordon,

    There is an open bug on modifying this behavior, so folks are seeing how to implement that. Turns out that it’s fairly complicated and risky to make it happen, but there is quite a bit of thought going into how to solve it correctly.


  9. Thanks Chris, that’s good to hear.

    A co-worker experienced another interesting behavior relatd to the Desktop.ini and multiple languages.

    On a French workstation he attempted to save a report in RSOP.  He wanted to save something in the public profile so he browsed to C:UtilisateursPublic.  RSOP complained that it was an invalid path.  He then replaced "Utilisateurs" with "Users" and RSOP functioned as required.  I don’t know if this problem is specific to RSOP or a more general problem with the way Vista supports multiple languages.

  10. cjacks says:

    I’m not familiar with the RSOP reporting tool. If this is just popping up a common file dialog, then is is also a service provided by the shell, and would be affecting everybody who uses it. If this is a command line tool, then they wouldn’t see the shell magic – can you give me more details on the tool and how it works?

  11. Hi Chris,

    I think we should probably disregard my last post.  I sat down with my co-worker to get a demo of the problem and he couldn’t reproduce it.  Sorry to waste your time.

    But regarding RSOP… it’s an MSC app (Resultant Set of Policies) and is used to determine what GPOs are being applied to a workstation or user.

  12. Warren P says:

    This is a good example of why the average human being thinks Vista is a steaming pile of doggie doo.

    Warren P

    Toronto Canada

  13. cquirke says:

    This is spooky stuff, as it implies a dropped Desktop.ini can spoof the name of a folder to anything it likes.  

    If that (or other Desktop.ini-mediated effects, especially launching of code) poses safety risks, then any full-shared directory is at risk.  

    If code can be auto-launched via Desktop.ini, then any full-shared directory can be used by malware as a drop-and-run entry point.

    I notice Vista seems to drop Desktop.ini all over the place, and auto-spawns these files at times.  For example, when copying a subtree to a newly-created empty directory, you may see an "overwrite?" prompt on a Desktop.ini; presumably because one has been already spawned there?

    I also notice (as documented) that Vista sometimes gets a bit knotted when forward namespace to file system references from registry are in conflict with backward namespace references from Desktop.ini, e.g. one may see duplicated items in Users.

    For fun, try sorting out D:Data (namespace = Documents) vs. D:Documents (namespace = Data), for both interactive navigation and batch file logic  🙂

  14. tcliu says:

    I just tried Windows Vista Home Premium, and this did trip me up. I wish I could put it another way, but it is a mess.

    I understand what you’re trying to achieve here, but the problem is that Explorer no longer shows you what is on your hard drive.

    Suddenly you have folder names and shell folder names, some of which can be renamed (Pictures, Videos), and some of which simply refuse to be renamed.

    I wish a folder was just a folder.

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