No \WINNT? No repair problem

Repairing an installation when the system files are not in WINNT.

By default, the Windows 2000 system files are installed to a folder named \WINNT. A crafty system administrator may want to specify a different folder to install Windows into during setup, however. There are many legitimate reasons for this:

  1. As a security measure. Many exploits assume that Windows is in the \WINNT directory and attempt to take control of the system by blindly exploiting this fact. Having Windows installed in another folder defeats this.

  2. As a requirement for a parallel install. When you install the current version of Windows alongside an existing version, the new install has to be put into a different directory.

Unfortunately, the Windows setup and recovery services assume that Windows will be in the \WINNT folder. In the event of a disaster, it is sometimes very difficult to coerce Windows into using another folder for repair operations.

Fortunately, there are some ways to work around this problem. One way to do this is to manually create a \WINNT folder on the target partition for the reinstall. When the installer sees the existing \WINNT directory, it will prompt the user for a new directory name. This can be done through the Recovery Console, through an alternate operating system, or by putting the drive in another computer. (Note that if you elect to create the \WINNT directory on another computer, be careful not to change any ownership information on the target drive, or you will create problems further down the line.)

Another way you can create the target directory is by using an answer file with an unattended installation operation, by using the TargetPath=WINDIR parameter.

  1. Create a text file called WINNT.SIF with the following contents:

    [Unattended]
    UnattendMode=GuiAttended
    OemPreinstall=No
    TargetPath=OLDWINDIR
    
    [data]
    unattendedinstall=yes
    msdosinitiated =0 
    
    Be sure to replace WINDIR with the custom Windows directory you want to use.

  2. Put the floppy with the WINNT.SIF file in the A: drive and boot the Windows 2000 CD-ROM. Windows Setup will read the WINNT.SIF file and use the target path you specified to perform the setup operation.

Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter. Check out his Windows 2000 blog for his latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators – please share your thoughts as well!


This was first published in June 2003

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