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Microsoft-Specific XML files in Windows (Part I)

In this tip, Ed Tittel discusses XML files related to Microsoft operating systems, tools or applications.

You can learn a lot about XML and Windows by executing the following command sequence on any modern Windows (2000 or newer) desktop or server machine:

cd c:\
dir *.xml /s >> xmlfiles.txt

For convenience, we assume that C: is the Windows boot drive (if in doubt, try resolving the %SystemDrive% or %SystemRoot% environment variables or simply type set at the command line). In fact, running this command on my current Windows XP desktop machine produces a listing of nearly 500 files across a wide variety of directories — so many of them in fact that we decided to break this story into two parts. This first part deals with XML files related to Microsoft operating systems, tools or applications. The next XML tip will deal with other files outside the Microsoft company umbrella.

How does one tell which files pertain to Microsoft matters, and which do not? Your first clue comes from where a file resides. Those familiar with Windows file structures will immediately recognize certain directories as more likely to contain files from Microsoft than other vendors, such as elements of the …\Windows or …\Windows\System32 directories. Also, because XML is a plain text based markup language you can always open any XML file inside notepad or some other text editor to see what it says about itself inside (most files are pretty good about identifying themselves in that way).

As we browsed through the contents of xmlfiles.txt, we came across numerous elements that you'll probably find on your systems too. For convenience, readability and possible reference use, we list these file names (or file descriptors, when wildcards come in handy) in alphabetical order in Table 1-1. For brevity, we also omit the .xml file extension. One hint to help keep your lookup time under control: Stay away from the XML files in the …\Temporary Internet Files\… folders. They're not usually of much interest for Windows spelunking anyway.

Table 1-1: A sampling of Microsoft XML files

Filename Directory sub-string Explanation
<random> ...\Microsoft\Office\ONetconfig MS Office Network config data
ACTOC ...\Microsoft Office\Office 11\1033 MS Office Access operation & appearance controls
(many other similar files and control items here)
CDLIST ...\Office 11\SAMPLES\INFOPATH... Sample XML documents drive InfoPath examples
ConnectionManager ...\Windows Media Connect 2 Communications & protocol settings for Media
ConsumerCommands ...\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v1.1... Runtime security policy and application fix settings
CONTEXT . ..\Office 11\HTML\XMLLINKS Help, debug, environment & more settings data
Control ...\Local Settings\Temp Info about Windows Media download & setup
CSS*DATA various ...\Office11\VS Runtime dirs Stylesheet descs & metadata for markup display
DESIGNER ...\Microsoft Office\Office 11 MS Office component config and environment files
(many other similar files in this directory)
Filters . ..\Movie Maker\... Pre-defined sound and image Movie Maker filters
GroupedProviders ...\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v2.0… ASP.NET SQL provider info & settings
INFTOC ...\Office 11\... & various update dirs InfoPath table of contents and settings info
MSOSEC ...\Microsoft Office\Office 11\ADDINS Microsoft Office Security Policy settings
Outlook ...\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook Outlook state information, shortcuts, links
SKU011 ..\MSOCache\... (and other locations) License info about MS Office 11 (2003)
System.xml location varies in ...Windows\Assembly... Defines the standard namespace for XML processing
VBOWCTOC . ..\Microsoft Shared\Web Components\... MS Office Web components VB reference
WMSDKNS ...\Windows Media\9.0 or ...\10.0 Windows Media 9.0 or 10.0 config settings

In directories with multiple XML files, we listed only the first item, but that shouldn't hamper your ability to locate such files. We also listed only the first 20 entries of interest we found, simply to keep the length of this discussion sufficiently brief.

By looking into these various XML files you can learn a lot about the way applications, interfaces and the operating system itself is configured and how it saves state information from invocation to invocation. Microsoft has clearly taken the easy-to-read, easy-to-parse and easy-to-store nature of XML to heart and uses it for all kinds of controls and status information.

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