Tips and Tricks

Power Up Offline Files

A feature for mobile users.

Offline Files is a great feature included in Windows 2000, XP and 2003, allowing mobile users to keep their files on a file server but still have copies with them when they travel. Offline Files’ default policies are even well thought-out, preventing users from caching file types, such as Access databases, where Windows can’t really figure out whether to keep the mobile user’s cached copy or the server copy. Windows Server 2003 even includes support for encrypting cached files by using EFS, which helps ensure that those mobile copies are safer from prying eyes. But there’s a lot you can do to power up Offline Files in your environment.

By default, Offline Files only caches the files in a folder marked for offline use. In other words, when a user right-clicks a folder and selects “Make available offline,” only the files in that folder—not the subfolders—will be available. Users don’t always realize this, since most operations on a folder do cascade down to subfolders. Fortunately, you can control that default behavior through Group Policy, either centrally from Active Directory or locally through a client’s Local Group Policy Object.

The policy you’re after is located under Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Network | Offline Files. The policy is named “Subfolders always available offline,” and you simply have to enable the policy to ensure that subfolders will always be available. Of course, you need to consider what this can do to the drive space on your client computers, as they’ll potentially be caching many more files. While you’re there, edit the “Files not cached” policy and make sure any database file types or other difficult-to-synchronize file types are listed so that Offline Files won’t try to grab them. If you’re concerned about security, look for XP’s “Encrypt the Offline Files cache” policy, which encrypts the entire cache using EFS.

Speaking of client-side disk space, the disk cache used by Offline Files is located, by default, on the system drive, which may not be the most convenient location for your client computers. Fortunately, you can move the cache to any location you want. You’ll need a Resource Kit utility named Cachemov. exe. You must be a local administrator on the client, and you can only move the cache to fixed disks. Also, be careful not to move the cache to any volume whose drive letter might change for some reason, as that’ll most likely cause Offline Files to stop working.

To accomplish the move, just run Cachemov.exe -unattend d:\, where d is the drive letter to which you want to move the cache. Check the Application event log for any errors. By the way, Cachemov is actually a GUI utility. If you’d prefer to click buttons rather than using the command line, just run the tool with no parameters and the GUI will appear. And a bit of extra advice: Always put the cache on an NTFS volume. You’ll get slightly better performance, the option to use EFS and the protection of NTFS permissions on cached files.

By default, Offline Files tries to synchronize whenever any network connection becomes available. It’s pretty annoying when you bring the laptop home from work and it tries to find file servers on your home’s wireless LAN. You can ratchet down the enthusiasm and configure Offline Files to only try synchronization when a specific network connection becomes available. To do so, open the Synchronize tool from the Accessories folder on the Start menu. Then click Setup and choose only your office LAN connection from the “When I am using this network connection” box. Then just choose the items you want synchronized and you’re good to go. You won’t have to put up with annoying delays or synchronization messages when you know you’re not connected to the right network to begin with.

Unfortunately, Offline Files can’t tell the difference if you use the same physical connection—such as a built-in Ethernet connector—for both your home and office networks. Consider using a USB NIC or some other alternate connection at home to give Offline Files a way to know where you are.

About the Author

With more than fifteen years of IT experience, Don Jones is one of the world’s leading experts on the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 35 books, including Windows PowerShell: TFM, Windows Administrator’s Scripting Toolkit, VBScript WMI and ADSI Unleashed, PHP-Nuke Garage, Special Edition Using Commerce Server 2002, Definitive Guide to SQL Server Performance Optimization, and many more. Don is a top-rated and in-demand speaker and serves on the advisory board for TechMentor. He is an accomplished IT journalist with features and monthly columns in Microsoft TechNet Magazine, Redmond Magazine, and on Web sites such as TechTarget and Don is also a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s prestigious Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award, and is the Editor-in-Chief for Realtime Publishers.

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 Ivan cambridge

Hi a solution for those having the Access issue and creation of files while offline you can try chaging the setting in Group Policy: Encrypt the Offline Files cache: disabled. It worked for me Good Luck!

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 Scott Thiltgen Austin

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Tue, Sep 1, 2009

Help! the offline files are all lost while I tried to connect to the school server to synchronize. I have been working for the whole summer, created a lot of new files. When I brought the computer to work, the synchronizing started but after it finished, it went back to those old files. And the new stuff was no where to find in the computer. I checked the offline files, there were no traces of those at-home work!! OMG, I dont know what to do. the tech person had no idea either. can someone help?!

Thu, Apr 23, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous

I have the "access denied" problem, though I have another problem too. I cannot create a file in the redirected My Documents folder when offline, because It says that it cannot find the file. It seems like Offline folders doesn't understand that the computer is offline, and hold the "connection" with the server (which isn't there of course). And since I cannot synchronize thanks to the "access denied" problem, all files that are not in offline mode "disappear" when the computer is offline. Oddly enough, I can still create folders and they're working as supposed to. This problem is driving me mad. I want to stop working with computers and start growing flowers or something.

Mon, Sep 1, 2008 Anonymous Anonymous

Beautifull design
Thanks, webmaster.

Wed, Mar 5, 2008 Anonymous Anonymous

Every technician is able to understand how to configure this shit when using the configuration and setting forms of the application. There is no need to explain "klick on the enable button if you want to enable...". Explain common problems instead! Access Denied! That crap would be nice to see a solution to. And yes, the permissions on the server is wide open...

Wed, Nov 21, 2007 Jim Washington DC

I have to second what "Jorge from South America, Chile" said on
Thursday - 6/10/04... the fix for Access Denied actually works.

The fix is to disable the NIC, create a new file, enable the NIC and synchronize.

Stupid Microsoft.

Fri, Nov 16, 2007 faith Anonymous

We're not on active directory yet so i can only make the subfolders available offline by enabling the local group policy for the offline files. I did this but the the shortcut to offline files still shows only the files not including the subfolder. Anyone's help is greatly appreciated.

Mon, Apr 9, 2007 Michael K New JErsey

I have been having access is denied messages ever since I came over from W2000 to XP. I have tried for 6 hours now several suggetions but no go. I have same question as Paul regarding the NIC fix: What do mean by create a new file?.... One thing I find that works is if you are on your laptop and open a file on your desktop and save, this file is available Off line. Tough situation. NAy help anyone?

Mon, Feb 26, 2007 Neville UK

..... To think that a more explanatory error message.. like... access denied by FIREWALL etc... may have saved months......

Mon, Feb 26, 2007 Neville UK

I've had many months of the Access denied message.. Driving me mad.... Then I read somewhere that the firewall may be blocking this..... How did I over come this??? I added Mobsync.exe to the exceptions list (the only available setting) and what do you know.... Success....

Fri, Feb 9, 2007 Paul Anonymous

Hi I have the access in denied error, could you please elaborate on the 'create a new file' part. Do you mean create a new My Documents?

Elaborate this please.

Mon, Oct 23, 2006 Trish Taylorsville, NC

I have a quick question. If you are sync. my docs and it works fine but get a popup asking asking you to logon so the c$ drive so it can sync but you have turned this off under the setup menu-how do you get it to stop this? Thanks for any comments.

Thu, Oct 5, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

I too would like some elaboration on that Access Denied tip. So far it hasn't worked here.
Thanks in advance

Wed, Aug 16, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

Genius, you should write an article devoted solely to the "Access Denied" error!!

Wed, May 31, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous

Have tried for days to synchronise files trying permissions, deleting profile, deleting home folders, reassigning permissions to no avail. Luckily found this page and tried the solution which worked a treat - Thank You !!!!

Mon, May 1, 2006 rehan uk

Very useful summary. Group policy created. Users very happy!

Fri, Nov 11, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

Column is fine if everything works, but doesn't tell the user about any problems they may get.

Fri, Jun 17, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

um, I'm not in marketing....

Wed, May 4, 2005 Andrew New Zealand

Who would have thought, I have just compleatle rebuilt a staff members laptop ... spent hours trying to figure out the offline file access denined error...

Mate that little tip is worth a million.


Fri, Apr 29, 2005 Paul London

Hi I have the access in denied error, could you please elaborate on the 'create a new file' part. Do you mean create a new My Documents?

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 steve Anonymous

I would add that Cachemov.exe is located in the Windows 2000 server resource kit.

By default, Offline Files are in the systemroot\CSC directory on the user's hard drive [eg: if your system directory is C:\WINDOWS, your cache is C:\WINDOWS\CSC] - running cashmove
with d argument places a hidden folder on the root of the D drive.

Fri, Mar 11, 2005 Dan Hong Anonymous

CORRECTION: "Files note changed" has been corrected to "Files not changed." - Dan Hong, associate Web editor

Sun, Mar 6, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

VERY CUTE, I must add :)

Wed, Mar 2, 2005 Jakko Estonia

This was werry helpful ... but you have one typo. “Files note cached” remove the "e" ;) it's "Files not cached"

Thu, Sep 9, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Not only are your articles informative, but you're cute! "This is a good thing"

Tue, Jun 29, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

"The fix is to disable the NIC, create a new file, enable the NIC and synchronize."

This really works. I can't believe it, have been looking for hours to fix this **** bug!!

Wed, Jun 23, 2004 Steve G. Nashua, NH

All my offline files are gone. Microsoft "recognizes this is a problem with Explorer SP1". Just great! Another wasted day with Windows. Your article sheds no light on this.

Thu, Jun 10, 2004 Jorge South America, Chile

The comment about how to fix the "Access Denied" saved my life... I could not like the tone of the writing, but thanks!
The fix is to disable the NIC, create a new file, enable the NIC and synchronize. Why? I do not know but it fixes it. This is the type of information that is truly useful.

Tue, Jun 8, 2004 Matt Gadsby Anonymous

I have removed a server from our network and some machines are still trying to synchronize files on the server. Is there any way to remove the links to this removed server to stop this occuring?

Mon, Mar 1, 2004 Mike montose,CO

Informative article. We use offline files extensively and our big problem is when replacing laptops we have to manually reproduce the offline files config. This is VERY time consuming. Is there a way to export the offline files of one computer and import them onto a new computer? Thanks.

Fri, Jan 23, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

great article, bad title.
I would typically consider a "power up" to add some new feature, or at least use some hidden ability of the product. Unfortunately the article does not cover anything resembling a "power up". Based on its own merits the article is informative and well written. I am hoping that it was some uninformed editor that decided on the title, not the author.

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I know it is easy to complain but administrators need less fluff more substance. Your article gives a 5000 foot view. I can get all the 5000 foot view information from MS documentation...
Offline files is great feature not just for mobile users but as a way to have “My Documents” be available to users when network connectivity is down and have them on a central file server for easy backup. Unfortunately, it either works or it does not. There is no middle ground and virtually nothing in the way of troubleshooting. For instance, it is not uncommon to receive an "Access is Denied" error when first configured. MS states that it is a permissions issue. However, this is not always the case. In a recent migration of 2000 users, we ran into this error 5% of the time. The fix is to disable the NIC, create a new file, enable the NIC and synchronize. Why? I do not know but it fixes it. This is the type of information that is truly useful.

Fri, Jan 2, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Thanks for an informative article. Came in very handy when I needed to move my offline folder cache to a different folder.

Fri, Dec 12, 2003 Delaisse Hugues Tubize, Belgium

Good explaination ! Just one more question if someone could help me ? Is it possible to transfert the offline files from one to other computer in case of changing computer ? (Example : we are busy with changing hardware from a lot of users, and we want to keep more environment as possible ?) Thanks

Wed, Nov 26, 2003 Don Jones Las Vegas

Anon, that bit with the wireless cards not showing up is something I hadn't noticed. I'm not sure if it's by design or just something that was missed when MS was adding wireless support to XP; I've asked a couple of friends at MS and am hoping to find out one way or the other. It does seem like wireless NICs should show up separately so that you can configure different sync policies, doesn't it? Thanks!

Tue, Nov 25, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

When selecting different connections to syncronize through, only LAN connection is available. Thus a wireless card, a PCMCIA card, a PCI card in an external docking station, etc - they all appear as the same network to Offline Files... Not sure about USB network cards.

Mon, Nov 24, 2003 Joanne Denver, Colorado

It's too bad the author hasn't tried using Offline files extensively to show the real limitations! Of course, you can just uncheck synchronizing the files with different connections---isn't that on the main tab when you select Tools, Synchronize?! What about in a real environment when the user is synchronizing files with multiple servers? Try ceasing to synch with one server while maintaining synchronization with another server. It's a nightmare, to say the least. Unlike other MS applications where you can find "hidden" features or some tweaking ability in the registry, nothing exists for offline files except to stop synchronizing EVERYTHING and then reselect. Fabulous!

Sun, Nov 23, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous


Sun, Nov 23, 2003 primax belgium

Power Up? No Power Down, after implementing offline folders we get sometimes the message that 'Offline folders are available' when the users are on the network, they can access there offline files but none of the files on the servers even if they are on the corp LAN? Network problem? We don't have any other problem with the LAN. Ping still works only the pc doesn't find the 'domain' and goes offline. At random times the pc's are (re)discovering there server and start replicating. There some technet records concerning dfs & offline folders, however non really solves the program. And yes we are using dfs and have several sites that use the same domain. If you have the solution drop a mail. Tnx

Sat, Nov 22, 2003 Tim Wilson Saskatoon, Canada

We were just covering the topic in class, and this turned out to be a well timed posting. Especially liked the feature of USB nic to let the system differentiate between office and Home. Thinking outside the box IS sometimes necassary to improve a system's performance.

Fri, Nov 21, 2003 Brian Greene Buffalo, New York

Thanks for a the article Don. Are you able to shed some light on the issue of ofline file sync on shared computers? Bill Boswell fielded a question regarding this in his Q&A column in the July 2003 issue but his response seemed to have missed the point of the question (please see the user comments on that article). In a nutshell, the question asked if there is a way to have windows only attempt to sync the current users files on logoff/logon rather than the default behavior which is to try to synch the files of all local user profiles. Thanks in advance for your advice Don.

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