Windows XP SP3, Corrupted registry. Corrupt/missing windows system32\config\system - Recovery through Recovery Console unable to copy original files from system32 folder. Please Assist.

When my husband's computer was improperly shutdown we encountered the "Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM" error message. I understand that the registry is written upon shutdown and that it is not uncommon for the registry to become corrupted during power failure or improper shutdown. Upon checking out the support articles for the details on how to proceed, and starting the recovery process as listed inArticle ID: 307545 from shown below:

"Part one <script type="text/javascript"></script> In part one, you start the Recovery Console, create a temporary folder, back up the existing registry files to a new location, delete the registry files at their existing location, and then copy the registry files from the repair folder to the System32\Config folder. When you have finished this procedure, a registry is created that you can use to start Windows XP. This registry was created and saved during the initial setup of Windows XP. Therefore any changes and settings that occurred after the Setup program was finished are lost.

To complete part one, follow these steps:
  1. Insert the Windows XP startup disk into the floppy disk drive, or insert the Windows XP CD-ROM into the CD-ROM drive, and then restart the computer.
    Click to select any options that are required to start the computer from the CD-ROM drive if you are prompted to do so.
  2. When the "Welcome to Setup" screen appears, press R to start the Recovery Console.
  3. If you have a dual-boot or multiple-boot computer, select the installation that you want to access from the Recovery Console.
  4. When you are prompted to do so, type the Administrator password. If the administrator password is blank, just press ENTER.
  5. At the Recovery Console command prompt, type the following lines, pressing ENTER after you type each line:
    md tmp
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\system c:\windows\tmp\system.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\software c:\windows\tmp\software.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\sam c:\windows\tmp\sam.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\security c:\windows\tmp\security.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\default c:\windows\tmp\default.bak"
There was no prompt for administrator password, but the console started without event. I was unable to copy any of these files to any folder. (Yes, I checked my spelling and made certain that the commands, parameters and syntax were exact.) I created another directory and tested the console by copying the repair files to the secondary directory. These copied without any error. I was able to discern that there were no issues with the console itself.  At this point, I am uncertain how to proceed.  There is data that hasn't been backed up yet and needs to be recovered in the event it is suggested to do a new/factory install. Therefore, I need to know if there is another way to proceed with the recovery or if I need to do a new install. Additionally, any suggestions on recovering the data from his drive, if the new install is the only way to proceed, also would be appreciated. Thanks.

Just to be clear, when you tried, for example to run this command:

     copy c:\windows\system32\config\system c:\windows\tmp\system.bak

you got some error message (please post it in full) or perhaps nothing happened.

But you made another directory (say "c:\windows\otherdir") were successful in running the following command:

     copy c:\windows\repair\system c:\windows\otherdir\system

If that's the situation that you find yourself in, essentially you're unable to create a backup copy of the current corrupted registry.  This isn't the end of the world, because as you can see by reading the full KB article, you never use those *.bak files anyway.  That step is just included "out of an abundance of caution" so that you can restore the original, corrupt registry files if for some unknown reason you wanted to do so.

Given that you can't start the system anyway, you might as well proceed with the process described in the article without creating those *.bak files. 

You can either do the delete step first:

    delete c:\windows\system32\config\system

or just try to copy the files from the repair directory over the files in the \system32\config directory and answer "Yes" when asked if you want to overwrite the existing file.

Note that the successful completion of this procedure assumes that you have been running System Restore.  Otherwise, you'll end up with the registry as it existed when Windows was first installed -- which almost certainly won't be compatible with the state of your machine today.

Essentially, what you are doing is the following:

1. While in the Recovery Console, restoring the registry to its state when Windows was first installed.  This permits you to start Windows -- but don't try to use any application program.

2. While in Windows, copying the registry saved in a recent Restore Point to a location that can be accessed by the Recovery Console -- but not using the System Restore application itself because with the "original" registry, System Restore isn't aware of those restore points.

3.  While in the Recovery Console, restoring the registry using the files you made available in step 2.

I'm not really sure what the point of the article's step 4 is, unless it's to use System Restore to restore to a different restore point.

If you can't get things working using the above steps, or if there are no recent restore points to use in step 2, then you are correct: you have to backup your data, do a clean reinstall of Windows, and then reinstall your apps from original media and restore your data from the backup. 

If you are able to do step 1 and start Windows with its original registry, you should be able to use Windows native tools to backup your data.  I wouldn't use NTBackup, but rather just copy (don't use the "move" command) the data to an external hard drive.  Alternatively, you could boot to a live Linux CD (e.g., Knoppix) to access your drive and copy off the data.  Or if you have a bootable CD from a disk imaging application like Acronis, you could use that.  If you need further information along these lines, post back.

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MS MVP (Windows Desktop Experience) 2006-2009
Microsoft Community Contributor (MCC) 2011-2012

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Last updated April 4, 2021 Views 6,995 Applies to: