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Folder Redirection Overview

Updated: March 1, 2002

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

Folder redirection is a feature of IntelliMirror that allows users and administrators to redirect the path of a folder to a new location. The new location can be a folder on the local computer or a directory on a network share. Users have the ability to work with documents on a server as if the documents were based on the local drive. For example, you can redirect the My Documents folder, which is usually stored on the computer's local hard disk, to a network location. The documents in the folder are available to the user from any computer on the network. The My Documents folder is the location on the Windows Server 2003, Windows XP or Windows 2000 desktop where the user can save documents and graphic files.

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 Group Policy.

Advantages of Using Folder Redirection

Folder redirection provides a number of advantages. Some of the following benefits relate to redirecting any folder, but redirecting My Documents can be particularly advantageous.

  • Even if a user logs on to various computers on the network, the users documents are always available.

  • The system administrator can use Group Policy to set disk quotas, limiting the amount of space taken up by users' special folders.

  • Data specific to a user can be redirected to a different hard disk on the user's local computer from the hard disk holding the operating system files. This protects the user's data if the operating system needs to be reinstalled.

  • Data stored on a shared network server can be backed up as part of routine system administration. This is safer and it requires no action on the part of the user.

You can also combine Folder Redirection and roaming user profiles to decrease logon and logoff times for roaming and mobile users. Besides the improved availability and backup benefits of having the data on the network, users also have performance gains with low-speed network connections and subsequent logon sessions. Because only some of their documents are copied, performance is improved when the users profiles are copied from the server. 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.

When you combine the use of Folder Redirection and roaming user profiles, you can provide fast computer replacement. If a user's computer needs to be replaced, the data that a user requires can quickly be re-established on a replacement computer. By using Folder Redirection to redirect the My Documents and Application Data folders, in conjunction with roaming user profiles and Group Policy-based deployment of applications, an organization can move the key user state to a network location. This means the users documents, settings, and applications follow them, regardless of which Windows XP computer the user logs on to.

For increased availability, Offline File technology gives users access to My Documents even when they are not connected to the network. For more information, see the Complementary Technologies section later in this article. This is particularly useful for those who use laptop computers.

Folders that Can Be Redirected

My Documents, Application Data, Desktop, and Start Menu are the top level folders that can be redirected. These were identified as the key folders that an organization would need to redirect to preserve important user data and settings. There are several advantages to redirecting each of these folders. The usefulness of each will vary according to your organizations needs.

  • My Documents. The place in the shell for users to save their documents and pictures. Because common dialog boxes in Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP point to the My Documents folder by default, there is a greater tendency for users to save files there. Data stored on a shared network server can be backed up as part of routine system administration, and is safer because it requires no action from the user.

  • Application Data. Often applications place large data, such as dictionaries, in the Application Data portion of the user's profile, which roams with the user. To improve performance, Application Data was added to the list of folders that can be redirected. This means that users can still have access to Application Data (such as the custom dictionary), but without the need to download the (possibly large) files at every logon.

  • Desktop. Some organizations want to configure computers to look the same. By redirecting the desktop for a group of users, you can ensure that all users share the same desktop, with the same desktop items.

  • Start Menu. For compatibility with Windows NT 4.0, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP allow you to use Folder Redirection to redirect the Start menu folder. Start menu redirection is treated differently from other redirected folders in that the contents of the users Start menu are not copied to the redirected location. It is assumed that a redirected Start menu has been pre-created by an administrator and that all users Start menus will be the same. As a best practice for computers running Windows Server 2003 or Windows XP, do not use Folder Redirection to redirect the Start menu folder, use Group Policy to control what appears on the Start menu.

Folder Redirection Improvements for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003

This section provides information about the differences between Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003.

User Interface changes

The Folder Redirection user interface has been simplified for Windows Server 2003. The main goals of these changes were to simplify the use of Folder Redirection by removing the requirement that administrators be familiar with environment variables such as %USERNAME%.

In addition to the simplified UI, several new redirection options have been added:

  • Create a folder for each user under the root path

    Rather than having to enter a UNC path such as \\server\share\%username%\MyDocuments, the administrator can simply type in the path to the share such as \\server\share, and Folder Redirection will automatically append the user name and the folder name when the policy is applied. This removes the need for administrators to be familiar with environment variables, and minimizes the chances of errors and spelling mistakes.

  • Redirect to home directory (My Documents Only)

    Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP allow you to redirect a users My Documents folder to their home directory. This option is intended only for organizations that have a legacy deployment of home directories and wish to transition users to the My Documents metaphor while maintaining compatibility with their existing home directory environment. You should only select this option if you have already deployed home directories in your organization.

    Folder redirection treats redirection to the home directory as a special case and certain checks are skipped:

    • Redirection to the home folder is only supported on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 computers. Redirection to the home directory policy will fail to apply on Windows 2000 computers.

    • Security is not checked it is assumed that the administrator has set directory security correctly, no ACL check is made and no reACLing is done. The Grant the user exclusive rights to My Documents checkbox on the settings page of the property sheet is disabled.

    • No ownership checks are made - normally folder redirection will fail if a user is not the owner of the folder they are being redirected to. Because redirection to the home directory is intended for use in a legacy environment, this ownership check is skipped.

    • Users must have the home folder property correctly set on their user object - The folder redirection client side extension retrieves the actual path for the user's home directory from the user object at logon time. Users affected by Folder Redirection Policy must have this path correctly set or folder redirection will not apply.

  • Redirect to a specific path

    This option is intended to allow an administrator to redirect folders to an alternate local drive/partition, or to enter unusual configurations not anticipated by the new user interface. Functionally it works in exactly the same way as the Windows 2000 folder redirection user interface.

  • Redirect to the local user profile

    This option is intended to allow an administrator to redirect the selected folder to the default location in the local user profile, for example: %userprofile%\<Folder Name>. This setting can be used to remove redirection for a particular folder, without removing the GPO. Note: Setting the redirection option to Not Configured (or No Administrative policy specified in the Windows 2000 UI) does not redirect the folder to the local profile, this option means that Folder Redirection is not configured if a folder was previously redirected it will continue to be redirected to the previous location. If an administrator wished to return the folder to the local user profile they can use this redirection setting.

My Pictures 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 GPOs. If you have previously redirected the My Pictures folder separately, the My Pictures node will still appear.

Redirected Folders automatically made 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. This is in contrast to Windows 2000, which required administrators to configure the Administratively assigned offline files policy setting to ensure all files in the redirected folders were always available offline. This setting was difficult to use with advanced folder redirection, and involved extra administrative overhead.

The default behavior can be overridden by enabling the Do not automatically make redirected folders available offline policy. This setting can be found in the Group Policy Object Editor in the User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Network\Offline Files section.

Note that on Windows Server 2003 Offline files are disabled by default.

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