Understanding the errors behind a temporary Windows profile

A Windows user finds that he has been issued a temporary Windows profile. Our expert shows how that can happen and how to fix the underlying problem.

Whenever I log into Windows, I get a notice that I've been logged on with a "temporary profile." What does this...

mean, and how do I fix it?

Each Windows user has a profile associated with his or her account that describes where his or her files are stored and holds various settings associated with each user account. The user profile information is stored in the Registry, with each user's profile stored in a different subkey.

Whenever a user signs on, the appropriate profile information is loaded from the subkey associated with that user profile. If this isn't able to happen for whatever reason, the system generates a temporary user profile and signs the user with that. "Temporary" is the key word here. Once the user signs off, that profile is deleted. Consequently, users are at least able to log on and use applications, but they can't access their data or settings.

This happens for a number of reasons:

  1. The user profile in question has been locked by a system service or an application running under another user account. Generally, if this is the case, rebooting and waiting a few minutes before logging in (or rebooting into safe mode) can fix the problem.
  2. The user profile has been damaged or deleted, so the temporary user profile is used as a substitute for the missing or damaged original.

User profiles can become damaged for a variety of reasons, such as a disk error or an application not cleanly unmounting the registry (because of an application crash, for instance).

The most direct way to work around the problem is to simply create a new user profile and move one's files from the old user profile into it. Microsoft has some documentation on how to fix a corrupted user profile.

Do you have questions for our experts? Email [email protected].

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