If only life on Windows was as simple as copying and pasting things from one place to another. Sadly, if you just bought a new hard drive and want to seamlessly move programs over to it in a way that they keep working as they did before, then there’s a good chance you’ll get an error when you do so.
That’s because the imprint an installed program leaves on your PC far transcends its install directory, and various data in the registry and other hidden corners of your PC expect the program data to be in the place that you installed it. This article will show you how to use so-called symlinks to get around this problem.
What Is a Symlink?
These work in much the same way that Steam Mover works in the MTE article about moving games from one hard drive to another. Steam Mover moves the games to the directory of your choice using “junction points” to create an alias in the original directory of a given game – a kind of super-shortcut that tricks the computer into thinking that the entire game is still in the original location.
Symlinks are basically the latest version of that but with the added bonus of being usable across networks instead of just locally.
Creating a Symlink
Say you, like me, want to move MSI Afterburner to a new location without it messing up. First, cut and paste the program’s folder from the old location to the new one.
Next, click Start, type
cmd, right-click “Command Prompt” in the search results and click “Run as administrator.”
In the command prompt, make sure the command prompt is set to the drive you’re moving your program from. To do this, just enter the drive name followed by a colon (so “d:,” “e:,” “f:” or whatever).
Once you’ve done this, type your equivalent of the following command, replacing the drive name, program name and directory with those relevant to you:
F:\Program Files (x86)>mklink /j "MSI Afterburner" "d:\MSI Afterburner"
If all goes well, you should get a message saying “Junction created for” followed by the program you moved to another drive. Go to the original location of the folder, and you’ll see a little shortcut-like icon next to the folder for the program that you moved.
Double-click this icon, and it’ll look like the program is still on the original drive in its entirety, but this is just an ingenious illusion. The program is actually in the new location – Windows just thinks it’s in the original location, which means that it will continue to work just as before. Clever, right?
Programs That Can Do the Job
If you find the manual method above a bit intimidating (It’s really not that bad!), you can download a lightweight tool to do the job instead. Incidentally, Steam Mover works for programs as well as games. Or you can try Application Mover.
All these programs are pretty simple to use, asking you to enter the current path of the program followed by the directory you want to move it to. Just follow the instructions, and you’ll be fine!
In a lot of cases your programs will probably work if you copy-paste them around the place. In fact, seeing as you have to move the program first anyway, you may as well check to see if it works after you’ve moved it before going ahead with the rest of the symlink process. That failing, you now know what to do next.