What’s the Difference Between AppData Roaming and Local?

If you’ve done some digging into the filesystem on your Windows computer, you may have come across the AppData folder. It’s hidden by default so most users won’t see it or have a reason to access it. Short for Application Data, many programs store their data in this directory.

While essential installation files are kept in the Program Files folder, AppData stores the settings that you’ve personalized for your account. You can take a look at it if you want, though it’s not particularly interesting. Open a File Explorer window and enter the following into the address bar:
C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData
When you arrive at this folder, you’ll see three folders: Local, LocalLow, and Roaming. Why are there three different subfolders, and what are they for? The answer concerns domain-connected Windows computers, like in a business environment.

Any data in the Roaming folder would follow a user if they logged into another domain-connected PC at their company. Examples include browser bookmarks and profiles. Unlike your own PC, any employee of a company can log into any of the computers on their company’s domain. Thus, the Roaming folder doesn’t do much for a home user, though you can move your profile through other means.

Local stores data only on one PC. It’s up to the developers what goes where, but generally data in the Local folder is too large to sync or not worth syncing. For instance, you don’t need to sync the giant thumbnails file or browser cache to a new PC — it’s just a waste of space and time.
LocalLow stays on one PC like Local, but has a lower level of access. It’s not too common now. One example is Internet Explorer’s Protected Mode.

In the end, Roaming and Local are functionally identical for a home PC running Windows. In a domain environment, data in the Roaming folder will stay with a user’s profile if they move to a different computer.

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