We cannot overstate the importance of backing up your precious, irreplaceable data. But what about your programs – and in particular those settings, preferences and tweaks you've painstakingly set up over the past few months or even years?

The good news is that it's possible to back up just about any program setting, ensuring all your chosen program preferences survive your next Windows recovery or reinstall.

All you need to know is where to look and what to add to your backup job. For the purposes of this tutorial we're using the excellent free GFI Backup Home backup tool as it's user-friendly, offers simple plug-ins for common applications and is capable of backing up specific Registry entries as well as files and folders.

Just click New Backup Job at the main screen and work your way through the wizard – when it comes to selecting what to include, all the options you need are on the Source tab.

Below we reveal the settings required to back up 20 popular applications, but if your program isn't covered, don't worry: we'll show you how to track down the settings yourself.

Some of the folder locations listed below are in hidden folders – to bring them into view, click Start > Computer, and then either choose Tools > Folder Options (XP) or Organize > Folder and Search Options (Vista/Win7) and switch to the View tab. Select "Show hidden files and folders" and click OK.

How to back up email settings

1. How to back up Outlook Express

The simplest way to back up Outlook Express is through GFI Backup Home – click the Email button on the Source tab and either tick the Outlook Express box to back up everything, or expand it followed by the {identity} string to restrict your backup to selected items like signatures, mailboxes and account details.

2. How to back up Windows Mail

Again, GFI Backup Home has an email plug-in with all the options you need to back up Vista's email program – again, expand Windows Mail to choose exactly what you want to back up, whether its settings, accounts, mail, rules or more.

3. How to back up Microsoft Outlook

There's a plug-in for Outlook in GFI Backup Home too – Outlook settings just tick the box or expand it to pick exactly what Outlook settings to back up.

4. How to back up Windows Live Mail

If you want to back up Windows Live Mail settings, the GFI plug-in allows you to back up the calendar, contacts, mailboxes and other program settings.

5. How to back up Thunderbird

Again, GFI Backup Home has a plug-in, but it only offers two options: mail and settings. If you want more control over exactly what gets backed up, try MozBackup instead.

MozBackup

How to back up browser settings6. How to back up Internet Explorer

Click the User Settings button on the Sources tab in GFI Backup Home and you'll find Internet Explorer in the Internet Browsers section. Tick the box to back up everything, or expand it to choose from Favorites, settings and cookies.

7. How to back up Firefox

You can back up Mozilla-based browsers using MozBackup – this tool can also back up SeaMonkey, Mozilla and Netscape settings – or use the plug-in found in GFI Backup Home.

GFI backup

8. How to back up Google Chrome

There's no back-up option in GFI Backup Home – the simplest option is to synchronise your Chrome settings with your Google account (click the spanner icon and select Options > Personal Stuff tab to set it up). This will cover your bookmarks, themes, preferences, extensions and auto-fill settings: click the Customise button to select exactly what to back up.

9. How to back up Opera

Once again, GFI Backup provides backup for Opera through the User Settings button – this plugin covers your history, bookmarks, cookies and settings. If you want more control over what gets backed up, this page will tell you what files you need to manually add to your backup to cover specific settings.

How to back up office suites10. How to back up Microsoft Office

Office XP and 2003 users should click Start > All Programs > Microsoft Office > Microsoft Office Tools > Office Save My Settings Wizard to quickly back up or restore their important settings. Office 2007 and 2010 have no free and easy option to follow; instead, you'll need to do the following.

Press [Win] + [R], type %appdata% and press Enter, then open the Microsoft folder and back up the following sub-folders: Office, Proof, Templates and UProof. If you have plug-ins installed, back up individual program folders from here, like Word and Excel. When it comes to the Registry, browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office and back up the entire key.

11. How to back up OpenOffice

Launch OpenOffice and select Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > Paths – you'll see where templates, graphics and the like are stored. By default they use the OpenOffice\3 folder inside AppData\Roaming (Application Data in XP) – backing up this entire folder protects all your OpenOffice settings too.

How to back up image editors12. How to back up Google Picasa

Many settings can be found in two folders – Picasa2 and Picasa2Albums – which are stored inside C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Local\Google (or C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Local Settings\Application Data\Google in XP). Other preferences can be found inside the following Registry key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google\Picasa.

13. How to back up GIMP

The GIMP stores most of its settings in two locations – the .gimp-2.6 in the root directory of your personal User folder, and inside its own Program Files folder. To verify what folders these are – so you can add them to your backup, open The GIMP, choose Edit > Preferences and expand Folders to verify the locations you need.

Backup gimp

14. How to back up Paint.NET

Paint.NET offers a very clean install – back up the Effects and FileTypes folders inside C:\Program Files\Paint.NET to protect any third-party plug-ins you've installed. If you've made changes to the default tool settings (click the Tool button on the toolbar and select Choose Defaults, then click Save), these are stored in the Registry along with other user settings: add HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Paint.NET to your back-up plan to protect them.

15. How to back up Photoshop Elements

Browse to the %Appdata%\Adobe folder and back up both Elements Organizer and Photoshop Elements folders you find inside – repeat for the hidden C:\ProgramData\Adobe folder too, which is where your catalogues are stored. Complete the job by backing up the Elements Organizer and Photoshop Elements Registry keys, which you'll find inside HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Adobe.

16. How to back up Windows Photo Gallery

Back up Windows Live Photo Gallery by adding the Windows Photo Gallery live folder at C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Live Photo Gallery (C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Local Settings\Application Data in XP) to your backup job. You should also back up the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows Live\Photo Gallery key too.

Miscellaneous programs17. How to back up Apple iTunes

Your iTunes library can be backed up in its entirety (including playlists and other preferences) by opening iTunes, selecting Edit > Preferences > Advanced tab. Verify "Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library" is ticked, click OK and then choose File > Library > Organize Library. Tick both boxes and click OK again. Once complete, close iTunes and add the iTunes folder (it's inside your Music folder) to your backup job.

You'll find numerous Apple Computer folders inside C:\Users\{Username}\AppData (Win7 and Vista), while XP users should back up the Apple Computer folder found inside C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Local Settings\Application Data instead.

iTunes

18. How to back up Windows Media Player

There's a plug-in to do just the job in GFI Backup Home under User Settings, which backs up all the folders and Registry settings you need to cover everything, including skins, playlists and preferences.

19. How to back up Skype settings

Again, GFI Backup Home provides a plug-in under User Settings, which backs up both the Registry and the Skype folder inside C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Roaming or C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Application Data.

20. How to back up FileZilla settings

Point your backup tool to C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Roaming\FileZilla (Vista/Win7) or C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Application Data\FileZilla (XP).

Program not covered?

If your program hasn't been featured above, don't despair. You'll have noticed a number of patterns forming when looking for program settings to back up: here's where to look for your target program settings:

%AppData% - basically C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Roaming in Vista and Windows 7; C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Application Data in XP

%LocalAppData% - C:\Users\{Username}\AppData\Local (C:\Documents and Settings\{Username}\Local Settings\Application Data in XP)

C:\ProgramData

C:\Program Files and – 64-bit systems only – C:\Program Files (x86)

Other settings can be found inside the Registry – most are held under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\ and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\

Registry

If all else fails, visit your program's website and look for a support option or forum where you can looks to see if someone else knows where your elusive settings are held.

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