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What Happens When You Delete System32?

What Happens When You Delete System32?

My computer’s been really slow lately. You got any tips? Have you deleted system32? No, what’s system32? Well, there’s this folder called system32 that’s actually a virus that Microsoft put on your computer, and it’s designed to slow down your computer over time, so, you can make your system run faster by deleting it?

So I’m sure we’ve all seen it before; An image that looks like this, telling you that you can speed up your computer just by deleting this one pesky folder on your hard drive called system32.

What Happens When You Delete System32?

It’s, of course, the infamous delete system32 trolling scheme that became popular in the mid-2000s targeting novice computer users. And if you didn’t know that system32 contains important system files needed by Windows to function properly, you might’ve fallen for it. Nowadays, however, the fact that this is a trolling scheme is more widely known.


What is system32?

System32 is a folder that can be found in the Windows directory on whatever drive that you boot Windows from. It’s present in every NT-based version of Windows. It was created as an addition to the original System folder that was used on 16-bit versions of Windows, like 95 and 98, to store certain 32-bit applications and libraries, hence “system32.” However, its usage has evolved ever since the introduction of 64-bit releases of Windows.

If you’ve purchased a new desktop or laptop computer in the past, let’s say 10 years, chances are it’s a 64-bit machine running a 64-bit copy of Windows. And these versions still use the system32 folder to store necessary system files.


Why is it still called system32 and not “system64?”

This is because when the software developers recompiled the 32-bit versions of their applications to run on the 64-bit architecture, they still utilized the system32 folder as the name of the directory was hard-coded into the application. So to prevent compatibility issues, Microsoft left the system32 folder the way it was, and it gradually became the system-wide storage location for 64-bit libraries.


What about those 32-bit programs that were not recompiled?

To allow 64-bit versions of Windows to run these programs, Microsoft created a new subsystem called Windows 32-bit on Windows 64-bit, more commonly known as WoW64, to be included with every 64- bit release of the operating system. You may have even interacted with this subsystem without even knowing it, as it will automatically redirect the storage location of certain program files when a 32-bit program is being installed on the computer.

This is why 64-bit versions of Windows have both a Program Files and Program Files (x86) folder. The Program Files folder is used to store 64-bit applications, and Program Files (x86) is used to store 32-bit applications. It’s the same story with system32 and SysWOW64, just in reverse. Both of these folders are stored in the Windows folder and both store important system files.

But you probably haven’t heard much about SysWOW64 if you’ve even heard of it at all. Despite the “64” in its name, this folder is used to store 32-bit libraries through WoW64. The subsystem redirects the source of 32-bit libraries that applications look for to SysWOW64, just like in the case of Program Files (x86).


But what’s actually IN these folders?

If you haven’t guessed already, it contains important system files like DLLs, control panel applets, and executable files for critical system processes like cmd and rundll32. System32, along with SysWOW64 and the parent directory of both of these folders, should never be deleted from an active Windows installation. Doing so can cause damage to the operating system.

Although deleting this folder won’t result in loss of your personal data stored in your user library folders, as this is stored in another location, it will make the actual operating system unbootable, meaning that you’ll have to boot off of another source or use another machine to recover your data.

So if you haven’t already guessed, telling someone to delete system32 is not going to result in anything good for them. And that’s why this “prank” is more of a trolling scheme with serious consequences. The delete system32 trolling scheme isn’t really as effective anymore since most people are aware that it’s a trolling attempt. But it obviously wasn’t always that way. The prank itself originated back in the days of Windows XP.


Images began to surface online alleging that Microsoft created the system32 folder to intentionally slow down your computer so they can sell cleaning tools that they... ...don’t own?

Yeah, it makes no sense, but it goes on to give instructions on how to create a batch file that will delete the system32 folder when run. Other posts claimed that system32 was a virus that needed to be deleted. And others claimed to be written by former Microsoft employees to give the victim some sort of reassurance.

What Happens When You Delete System32?

While all of these posts claim that deleting system32 will result in faster system performance or something like that, in reality, as mentioned before, it causes damage to your operating system.


What happens if you were to delete the folder?

Well, let’s find out. Now a huge disclaimer before I actually show you this: DO NOT try this yourself on your computer. I’m using a virtual machine, meaning that this isn’t my real computer, and since this is a VM, I can easily restore it to a working state in a few seconds. I’ll create a new batch file using the commands mentioned in the troll post. Now the reason why these images told users to delete the folder in this manner is because it doesn’t display any sort of warning message.

If you were to try and delete system32 from Windows Explorer, you’d have to make it through a “These files are hidden” screen that will appear when navigating into the Windows folder. This warns the user that the files contained within are system files that should not be modified. These deterrents would typically prevent somebody from performing this action.

But when you run a batch file, all you have to do is press Y and Enter to confirm the operation and the files will be deleted. Now it’s worth noting that not ALL of the files will be deleted since many of them are in use by the system currently. But the files that are deleted will prevent Windows from booting properly. And you’ll have to either boot off of your Windows installation CD to repair the installation or retrieve your data by booting off of a different source.

So that’s what happens if you delete system32 and that’s a brief history of these trolling posts that circulated around the web years ago.

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