Recently, I had to join a number of computers in a small office to a domain, but the users all had local profiles that they wanted to keep. Things were a mess – some people’s usernames were the Last name, first initial (the username format I’d chosen for the domain), some were using their full names, and some were using the local administrator account. When I added these computers to the domain, their “domain user” would log in, and would create a new, empty profile. To avoid this took a few extra domain-joining steps, so I wanted to detail them here.
A note: On the computers that were using the local Administrator account as their main login, I had to create a new user and make them a local admin. I just called this user “Transition”, and deleted it once the process was over.
And now for the steps:
- Join the computer to your domain, and grant the new domain user local administrator rights before rebooting. Reboot, and log in using the new domain user. This will create a new, empty profile with that user’s domain login.
- While still logged in as the new domain user, take ownership of the old, local profile folder. To do this, right-click on the folder, select “Properties”, go to the “Security” tab, click “Advanced”, and then the “Owner” tab. You can set the owner to either the local admins group or the current user – set it to the current user. You must be a local administrator to take ownership (from step 1).
- Log out, and log in using either the local administrator account or the transition account you created.
- At this point, you can revoke local admin rights from the domain user if they won’t need them. They were only needed to take ownership in step 2.
- Open REGEDIT, select the “HKEY_Users” branch, and select “Load Hive…” from the file menu. In the user’s profile folder, there’s a hidden file called “NTUSER.DAT” – that’s the one you want to load. Make sure you’re loading the file from the old profile, not the one that was created in step 1. You can call it whatever you want when you load it – it doesn’t matter. Also, make sure you’ve made a backup of this file before you edit it.
- Right-click the user branch you just loaded, and click “Export…”. Export it as a REG file on your desktop.
- Open the registry file you just created in either Notepad or Wordpad (I find Wordpad faster for the this step, but it doesn’t really matter). Search for occurrences of “\OLDPROFILEFOLDERNAME\” and replace them with “\NEWPROFILEFOLDERNAME\”. I’ve generally found about 100 references, but it depends on the size of your registry. Also, make sure you convert 8.3 folder names as well – “\OLDPRO~1\” should become “\NEWPRO~1\”!
- Save the file after your found/replaced all the occurrences. Double-click the REG file to load it back into your registry (into the user’s hive). You’ll get a warning that not all data was loaded because some keys were in use – that’s fine.
- Since not all keys were imported, we’ll need to fix a few folders by hand. Select the user’s hive, and “Find” any occurrences of the old profile path, replacing them with the new path.
- With the main user hive folder selected, go to the “File” menu and select “Unload Hive”. The changes are saved automatically, which is why it’s important that you made a backup in step 5. Close REGEDIT.
- Rename the domain user’s profile folder to “Username.Empty” (since it’s essentially a blank profile), and rename the user’s local profile to “Username”, which matches the folder name of the profile that was created in step 1.
- Log out, and log in as your domain user, enjoying your old profile just as you left it!
This process can be repeated for as many users as you’d like to transition to the new profiles, and you should maintain every one of the settings for your programs. In fact, I’ve never had a program even realize something is afoot, though I’ve only done this on a half-dozen computers.
Please let me know if you have any feedback, and I’d be interested to know of any experiences you have trying this out!