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Migrate Application Settings

Updated: May 31, 2012

Applies To: Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Vista

You can create a custom .xml file to migrate specific line-of-business application settings or to change the default migration behavior of the User State Migration Tool (USMT) 5.0. For ScanState and LoadState to use this file, you must specify the custom .xml file on both command lines.

This topic defines how to author a custom migration .xml file that migrates the settings of an application that is not migrated by default using MigApp.xml. You should migrate the settings after you install the application, but before the user runs the application for the first time.

This topic does not contain information about how to migrate applications that store settings in an application-specific store, only the applications that store the information in files or in the registry. It also does not contain information about how to migrate the data that users create using the application. For example, if the application creates .doc files using a specific template, this topic does not discuss how to migrate the .doc files and templates themselves.

You should identify a test computer that contains the operating system of your source computers, and the application whose settings you want to migrate. For example, if you are planning on migrating from Windows Vista® to Windows® 8, install Windows Vista on your test computer and then install the application.

Before USMT migrates the settings, you need it to check whether the application is installed on the source computer, and that it is the correct version. If the application is not installed on the source computer, you probably do not want USMT to spend time searching for the application’s settings. More importantly, if USMT collects settings for an application that is not installed, it may migrate settings that will cause the destination computer to function incorrectly. You should also investigate whether there is more than one version of the application. This is because the new version may not store the settings in the same place, which may lead to unexpected results on the destination computer.

There are many ways to detect if an application is installed. The best practice is to check for an application uninstall key in the registry, and then search the computer for the executable file that installed the application. It is important that you check for both of these items, because sometimes different versions of the same application share the same uninstall key. So even if the key is there, it may not correspond to the version of the application that you want.

When many applications are installed (especially those installed using the Microsoft® Windows® Installer technology), an application uninstall key is created under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall. For example, when Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 is installed, it creates a key named HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall \{AC76BA86-7AD7-1033-7B44-A70000000000}. Therefore, if a computer contains this key, then Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 is installed on the computer. You can check for the existence of a registry key using the DoesObjectExist helper function.

Usually, you can find this key by searching under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall for the name of the application, the name of the application executable file, or for the name of the company that makes the application. You can use the Registry Editor (Regedit.exe located in the %SystemRoot%) to search the registry.

You should also check the application binaries for the executable that installed the application. To do this, you will first need to determine where the application is installed and what the name of the executable is. Most applications store the installation location of the application binaries in the registry. You should search the registry for the name of the application, the name of the application executable, or for the name of the company that makes the application, until you find the registry value that contains the installation path. Once you have determined the path to the application executable, you can use the DoesFileVersionMatch helper function to check for the correct version of the application executable. For an example of how to do this, see the Windows Live™ Messenger section of the MigApp.xml file.

Next, you should go through the user interface and make a list of all of the available settings. You can reduce the list if there are settings that you do not want to migrate. To determine where each setting is stored, you will need to change each setting and monitor the activity on the registry and the file system. You do not need to migrate the binary files and registry settings that are made when the application is installed. This is because you will need to reinstall the application onto the destination computer. You only need to migrate those settings that are customizable.

  1. Download a file and registry monitoring tool, such as the Regmon and Filemon tools, from the Windows Sysinternals Web site.

  2. Shut down as many applications as possible to limit the registry and file system activity on the computer.

  3. Filter the output of the tools so it only displays changes being made by the application.

    noteNote
    Most applications store their settings under the user profile. That is, the settings stored in the file system are under the %UserProfile% directory, and the settings stored in the registry are under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive. For these applications you can filter the output of the file and registry monitoring tools to show activity only under these locations. This will considerably reduce the amount of output that you will need to examine.

  4. Start the monitoring tool(s), change a setting, and look for registry and file system writes that occurred when you changed the setting. Make sure the changes you make actually take effect. For example, if you are changing a setting in Microsoft Word by selecting a check box in the Options dialog box, the change typically will not take effect until you close the dialog box by clicking OK.

  5. When the setting is changed, note the changes to the file system and registry. There may be more than one file or registry values for each setting. You should identify the minimal set of file and registry changes that are required to change this setting. This set of files and registry keys is what you will need to migrate in order to migrate the setting.

    noteNote
    Changing an application setting invariably leads to writing to registry keys. If possible, filter the output of the file and registry monitor tool to display only writes to files and registry keys/values.

If the version of the application on the source computer is the same as the one on the destination computer, then you do not have to modify the collected files and registry keys. By default, USMT migrates the files and registry keys from the source location to the corresponding location on the destination computer. For example, if a file was collected from the C:\Documents and Settings\User1\My Documents folder and the profile directory on the destination computer is located at D:\Users\User1, then USMT will automatically migrate the file to D:\Users\User1\My Documents. However, you may need to modify the location of some settings in the following three cases:

In this case, the newer version of the application may be able to read the settings from the source computer without modification. That is, the data collected from an older version of the application is sometimes compatible with the newer version of the application. However, you may need to modify the setting location if either of the following is true:

  • The newer version of the application has the ability to import settings from an older version. This mapping usually happens the first time a user runs the newer version after the settings have been migrated. Some applications do this automatically after settings are migrated; however, other applications will only do this if the application was upgraded from the older version. When the application is upgraded, a set of files and/or registry keys is installed that indicates the older version of the application was previously installed. If you perform a clean installation of the newer version (which is the case in most migrations), the computer does not contain this set of files and registry keys so the mapping does not occur. In order to trick the newer version of the application into initiating this import process, your migration script may need to create these files and/or registry keys on the destination computer.

    To identify which files and/or registry keys/values need to be created to cause the import, you should upgrade the older version of the application to the newer one and monitor the changes made to the file system and registry by using the same process described in How To determine where each setting is stored. Once you know the set of files that the computer needs, you can use the <addObjects> element to add them to the destination computer.

  • The newer version of the application cannot read settings from the source computer and it is also unable to import the settings into the new format. In this case, you will need to create a mapping for each setting from the old locations to the new locations. To do this, determine where the newer version stores each setting using the process described in How to determine where each setting is stored. After you have created the mapping, apply the settings to the new location on the destination computer using the <locationModify> element, and the RelativeMove and ExactMove helper functions.

We recommend that you migrate the settings after you install the application, but before the user runs the application for the first time. We recommend this because this ensures that there are no settings on the destination computer when you migrate the settings. If you must install the application before the migration, you should delete any existing settings using the <destinationCleanup> element. If for any reason you want to preserve the settings that are on the destination computer, you can use the <merge> element and DestinationPriority helper function.

We recommend that you migrate the settings after you install the application, but before the user runs the application for the first time. We recommend this because this ensures that there are no settings on the destination computer when you migrate the settings. Also, when some applications are installed, they overwrite any existing settings that are on the computer. In this scenario, if you migrated the data before you installed the application, your customized settings would be overwritten. This is common for applications that store settings in locations that are outside of the user profile (typically these are settings that apply to all users). These universal settings are sometimes overwritten when an application is installed, and they are replaced by default values. To avoid this, you must install these applications before migrating the files and settings to the destination computer. By default with USMT, data from the source computer overwrites data that already exists in the same location on the destination computer.

After you have completed steps 1 through 3, you will need to create a custom migration .xml file that migrates the application based on the information that you now have. You can use the MigApp.xml file as a model because it contains examples of many of the concepts discussed in this topic. You can also see Custom XML Examples for another sample .xml file.

noteNote
We recommend that you create a separate .xml file instead of adding your script to the MigApp.xml file. This is because the MigApp.xml file is a very large file and it will be difficult to read and edit. In addition, if you reinstall USMT for some reason, the MigApp.xml file will be overwritten by the default version of the file and you will lose your customized version.

ImportantImportant
Some applications store information in the user profile that should not be migrated (for example, application installation paths, the computer name, and so on). You should make sure to exclude these files and registry keys from the migration.

Your script should do the following:

  1. Check whether the application and correct version is installed by:

    • Searching for the installation uninstall key under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall using the DoesObjectExist helper function.

    • Checking for the correct version of the application executable file using the DoesFileVersionMatch helper function.

  2. If the correct version of the application is installed, then ensure that each setting is migrated to the appropriate location on the destination computer.

    • If the versions of the applications are the same on both the source and destination computers, migrate each setting using the <include> and <exclude> elements.

    • If the version of the application on the destination computer is newer than the one on the source computer, and the application cannot import the settings, your script should either 1) add the set of files that trigger the import using the <addObjects> element or 2) create a mapping that applies the old settings to the correct location on the destination computer using the <locationModify> element, and the RelativeMove and ExactMove helper functions.

    • If you must install the application before migrating the settings, delete any settings that are already on the destination computer using the <destinationCleanup> element.

For information about the .xml elements and helper functions, see XML Elements Library.

On a test computer, install the operating system that will be installed on the destination computers. For example, if you are planning on migrating from Windows® 7 to Windows 8, install Windows 8 and the application. Next, run LoadState on the test computer and verify that all settings migrate. Make corrections if necessary and repeat the process until all the necessary settings are migrated correctly.

To speed up the time it takes to collect and migrate the data, you can migrate only one user at a time, and you can exclude all other components from the migration except the application that you are testing. To specify only User1 in the migration, type: /ue:*\* /ui:user1. For more information, see Exclude Files and Settings and User options in the ScanState Syntax topic. To troubleshoot a problem, check the progress log, and the ScanState and LoadState logs, which contain warnings and errors that may point to problems with the migration.

See Also

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