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About the ArcGIS application profile

ArcGIS Desktop saves thousands of user-specific settings in two places: a) the user application profile (%APPDATA%\ESRI\Desktop10.x) and b) in the HKCU hive of the registry. These settings include application settings (set in Customize/Options in ArcMap and ArcCatalog, for example) and user setups such as ArcCatalog connections, UI widget locations, "remembered" properties such as where windows pop up on the screen and paths where specific dialog boxes last opened.

Since all of these settings are useful to remember - why would we want to "zap" the application profile?

  • ArcGIS Desktop apps crash or are sluggish.
  • You see broken UI elements (missing, blank, or garbled menus or toolbars, etc.)
  • You want to start fresh (best practice) after an ArcGIS update

If one user is having an issue with ArcGIS and other users logging into the same machine are not experiencing the problem, resetting the ArcGIS app profile is likely to help.

If the problem occurs for all users, the application profile probably will not help (though it won't hurt).

Esri Application Profile reset

Reset ArcMap Normal.mxt template

ArcMap saves some user customizations in a template for all new map documents named "Normal.mxt". Just rebuilding this one file can sometimes solve a software problem or improve ArcMap performance.

  1. Close ArcMap, ArcCatalog, etc.
  2. Log out, log in, to make sure there are no headless Desktop processes.
  3. Open your application profile folder:


    Enter %APPDATA% in the search box.


    Start / Run..., enter %APPDATA% in the Open: input box; click OK.

  4. Open the ESRI folder. Delete any Desktop10.x folders that are left over from previous versions of the software.
  5. Browse to ESRI\Desktop10.x\ArcMap\Templates (x=0,1,2,3) or ESRI\ArcMap\Templates (Arc 9) and rename Normal.mxt to Normal_old.mxt.
  6. A new, clean Normal.mxt will be created the next time you start ArcMap.
  7. If you do like to customize your toolbars and buttons Normal.mxt a lot, consider doing this right
    1. Open ArcMap, set up your UI the way you like it (Customize > Customize Mode, etc)
    2. Exit ArcMap
    3. Make a copy of this Normal.mxt (say, Normal_jwpowell.mxt)
    4. Later, if you need to reset, copy your template over Normal.mxt with your template. This will give you a nice clean map document with your customizations all set up!

Reset entire ArcGIS user application profile

Rebuilding your entire user profile may delete some user settings, but is highly recommended after installing a service pack or doing a major update. A full profile reset may also improve performance and stability of your ArcGIS applications, as the profile can get loaded down with fragmented templates and log files over time.

  1. Close ArcMap, ArcCatalog, etc.
  2. Log out, log in, to make sure there are no headless Desktop processes
  3. Open your application profile folder:


    Enter %APPDATA% in the search box.


    Start / Run..., enter %APPDATA% in the Open: input box; click OK.

  4. Rename the folder ESRI to ESRIold
  5. When you start ArcMap or ArcCatalog, a new ESRI application profile folder will be created.
  6. You may copy certain files from the "backup" folder (ESRIold) to your new profile without losing the benefits of the "reset" (these files may also be candidates for backup outside of your user profile area):

    Arc 10.x ("x" in [0,1,2,..])

    Arc 9.x




    Folder connections

    Desktop10.x\ArcToolbox\My Toolboxes

    ArcToolbox\My Toolboxes

    User toolboxes



    User styles (symbology)

Windows user registry keys

(star) Update: new method, does not require admin access.

These registry keys store user application settings saved between ArcGIS sessions. This includes some application options, default folders used by open dialogs, certain screen window positions, and other settings.

A common reason to reset your registry is if your window locations are kerfuzzled from working with multiple monitors and you want to return them to defaults.

Since DOI/USGS security settings do not allow users to run the regedit utility to modify HKEY_CURRENT_USER, you must get to these settings using the Windows command line.

  1. Close ArcGIS desktop applications.
    This is important! You may want to check Task manager or log out and log in again just to make sure no headless ArcMap processes are running.
  2. Open a command window (<winkey>-R, type "cmd" in the box, <enter>)
  3. At the command prompt, enter:


    reg copy HKCU\Software\ESRI  HKCU\SOFTWARE\ESRIold /s
    reg delete HKCU\Software\ESRI
  4. Log out and log in.
  5. When you next start an ArcGIS application, new HKCU\Software\ESRI registry keys will be created and populated.

Windows User Profile reset

This step is dangerous and is kind of extreme, as user settings for all apps, and all user documents in the user profile will be removed. A backup of C:\Users\<username> is recommended.

  1. Log out the user with the issue
  2. Log in as administrator 
  3. Cut and paste  C;\Users\<username_with_problem> to another location.
    Open a cmd window (elevated) to move the profile to another location:
    move C:\Users\jwpowell D:\profiles\jwpowell
  4. Restart Windows
  5. User should now log in. A new user profile folder will be created.
  6. Users will need to copy any needed data from the D:\profiles\jwpowell folder if they want it.

If a profile reset does not help

If issues persist after trying the steps outlined above, the following may be attempted, in order. (Running a repair install or re-install of ArcGIS Desktop should be a last resort.)

These steps require elevated privileges.

  1. Rename the CATID folder(s) from previous installations of ArcGIS to "CATID_old." This folder, if it exists, is located at:
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\ArcGIS\Desktop10.0\Configuration
    C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\ArcGIS\Desktop10.1\Configuration  (delete only if 10.2.x is installed)
  2. Make your ArcGIS install media are accessible, and attempt a Repair install:
    Start > Control Panel > Add/remove programs > Right click on ArcGIS > Uninstall/Change > Repair
  3. Full re-install (or install an available new version) of ArcGIS Desktop. 



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