Recovering Offline files in Windows XP

Offline files within Windows XP is a pig – make no doubt about it. Don’t get me wrong – what is supposed to be a nice feature, allowing laptop users to amend documents "offline" and then see them sync to their office server when they connect to the LAN, does work… albeit 90% of the time. That other 10%? Expect tears before bed-time.

Back in the day I debated the short-comings of off-line files with many a MSFTer, with the response from more than one Microsoft employee being a hushed "don’t tell anyone I said this, but off-line files is not a reliable feature". You only have to look around at the number of blogs and web-sites dedicated solely to resolving end-users off-lines file woes to realise things aren’t right. Of course, Vista has come along now so everything is ok – but what about all those people still using XP – or to put it another way, what about 90% of Windows users out there?

I can’t recall the amount of times when I’ve had a ‘phone call from a user who had spent hours working on a document on his laptop, then found that document mysteriously disappeared when he synchronised his files on-line.

One such situation occurred today when a client ‘phoned me to ask where two of his files had gone to – they were there one minute, but as soon as the computer had finished synchronising with the company server – they weren’t to be found.

The files had gone, sure enough, and although we could restore the last best copy from either on-site or off-site backup, the work the user did on the files since he last synchronised seemed lost.

Step in CSCCMD – supposedly part of the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit. I say supposedly, because although version 1.0 of CSCCMD is indeed within the ResKit download – it doesn’t contain an important feature – the /EXTRACT function. This can only be found in CSCCMD 1.1 – which is apparently harder to find than Rocking Horse droppings! I finally located a copy via this blog – kudos to the writer for making the file available himself. I’ve made sure you can now also find a copy of CSCCMD 1.1 here – if anyone knows an "official" source of this file, do leave a comment below and let me know.

What do CSCCMD do? It allows you to work with the off-line file cache – located (a hidden folder) at C:\Windows\CSC. If you browse to that directory directly, you’ll see a list of numbered folders and suitably mysteriously named files within. CSCCMD allows you to extract those files into a readable format using the \EXTRACT function we spoke of earlier. In this case I dropped a copy of CSCCMD.EXE into C:\Windows\CSC and then executed the command

CSCCMD /EXTRACT:\\servername\share /TARGET:c:\temp /recurse

… where <servername\share> is the off-line folder location you’re trying to recover, /TARGET:c:\temp is a temporary folder setup as a suspense location for the extracted files, and /recurse is a switch that makes sure that CSCCMD extracts all files in all folders found within C:\Windows\CSC.

Minutes later, CSCCMD had ran its magic.

My advice to the user going forwards? If you’re working on a very important document or making lots of changes, save a copy to a USB key-disk before returning to the office – I didn’t specifically say off-line files under XP wasn’t to be trusted, but he got the idea.

Now cue a ton of e-mails and comments telling me off-line files is infinitely better within Windows Vista and the user is a fool for sticking with XP… 🙂

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5 Responses to “Recovering Offline files in Windows XP”


  1. 1 Dale February 10, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    This is a great posting.Works as described.Thanks for a simple description of the process.

  2. 2 Tim May 6, 2009 at 2:45 am

    Works a treat, thanks

  3. 3 Jorg August 24, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    This is a great posting, however, it doesn\’t work for me. I am getting an error message saying "System Error 87 has occured. The parameter is incorrect."

  4. 4 Stewart March 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    You don\’t know how long I\’ve been looking for this. Absolutely great, thank you!!!!!!!!

  5. 5 Richard March 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks for the feedback – glad this post is useful!


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