What Is The Windows System32 Directory and Why You Can’t Delete It

By | March 26, 2022

Spend some time on the internet, and you might come across a joker telling you to delete the Windows System32 folder on your computer. But what is this mysterious Windows folder, and why would someone tell you to delete it?

And what will happen if you completely remove System32? Here are the facts.

What is System32

System32 is a folder included in every version of Windows since Windows 2000. It is located in C:WindowsSystem32 and includes all kinds of files and folders that are important for keeping Windows functioning properly.

There are too many files in System32 to discuss individually, although users on the Symantec forums have described many of them if you’re interested. In general, you can break most System32 content into two groups:

  • DLL (Dynamic informasi Library) files allow programs to access parts of Windows and perform standard tasks. For example, one DLL file might allow the computer to play audio, while another might enable automatic Windows Update. Many DLLs start as soon as you boot your computer. Windows can’t start without them, which is why fixing DLL errors is such a hassle.
  • EXE (Executable) files are software applications and utilities. Your executable starts every time you open a software like Word or Chrome. But the EXE file in System32 is more important: apart from Windows utilities like Event Viewer (eventvwr.exe), it includes executables for vital Task Manager processes like winlogon.exe. Without this, you can’t even get into the PC.

Apart from this, System32 also contains a folder of drivers (content that allows your computer to interact with various hardware devices), language files, and more.

How to Delete System32 Folder on Windows

Despite the jokes online, removing System32 is not a one-click affair. Since this is a protected system folder, Windows will deny you access if you try to delete it. This is enough to prevent inexperienced users from accidentally deleting the folder.

However, if you are persistent, you can continue along your path of destruction. Taking ownership of the folder lets you try to delete it, but Windows blocks this again because it’s actively using a lot of files inside System32.

To work around this, you can start deleting individual files within System32, or use the Command Prompt for more efficient deletion. If you do this, Windows will let you delete files that are not currently in use.

What Happens When You Remove System32

If you continue to delete random files in System32, your computer will start to slowly crash. Basic functions, such as launching programs, searching through the Start Menu, and opening Windows utilities will no longer work because you deleted the files they relied on. There isn’t a single exciting moment where System32 “explodes” it crashes down in no time.

Depending on what you deleted, you might not even be able to shut down the computer normally. After you perform a hard shutdown and reboot, you’ll probably find that Windows won’t boot without that critical DLL. Obviously, your Windows installation is roasting at this point.
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If you’ve gone this far, you’ll have to reinstall Windows to get things working properly again. Functions like System Restore will likely be destroyed by your actions, so you’ll have to reinstall from scratch.

Looking at all of this, it’s clear that Windows is protecting this folder for a reason. If it’s not protected and someone doesn’t know any better, they might try deleting the folder to save space and end up with an unpleasant surprise.


System32 vs SysWOW64: What’s the Difference

On 64-bit versions of Windows, you’ll notice some different folders, such as a separate Program Files (x86) directory. Something similar happened with System32. In the C:Windows folder on 64-bit systems, you will find a folder named SysWOW64 next to System32.

Take a look, and you will see that the two folders contain many files with identical names. Like Program Files (x86), Windows includes these two separate directories for compatibility with 32-bit programs. If a 32-bit program tries to load a 64-bit DLL, it will crash.

But the strange thing is that on 64-bit systems, System32 has 64-bit files, while SysWOW64 contains 32-bit files. As it turns out, WoW64 stands for Windows 32-bit on Windows 64-bit. This is a service that allows the OS to properly run 32-bit programs, even on 64-bit systems.

Part of how to achieve this is to automatically redirect 32-bit processes to use the right folders. A 32-bit program, even without knowing that 64-bit software exists, will naturally try to access the System32 folder. But WoW directed him to use SysWOW64 instead. The same thing happens with Program Files.

Since many legacy 32-bit programs are hard-coded to access System32 and Program Files, this switching method allows 32-bit and 64-bit programs to both work on one system easily. It’s a bit confusing, but now you know why.

What About System32 Virus

It’s possible that a virus or other malware infection could be hiding in System32. Rootkits can try to invade folders and disguise themselves as legitimate processes, which you may notice due to the unusually high CPU usage.

If you suspect you have a System32 virus, you should not attempt to delete or modify the affected files. You have a much better chance of accidentally damaging your system than cleaning the infection that way.

Instead, you should scan with a trusted antivirus program, then follow up with an anti-malware scanner like Malwarebytes.

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