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Why the user profile cannot be loaded
The error could be caused by the following reasons:
- Corrupted default profile
- Corrupted or nonexistent NTUSER.DAT file under the default profile
- Inconsistent NTFS permissions on the default profile
A bad Windows update, OS partition resizing, or a system restore could lead to the aforementioned situations. As you can see, this error usually occurs when there is a problem with the default profile. The default profile acts like a template for all new users created on the system. The default profile problems only affect the new user accounts; users who already have their profile directory created inside C:\Users are not affected by this error.
Permissions for the default profile
On a perfectly healthy Windows system, the default profile directory has Read and Execute permissions for BUILTIN\Users and Everyone. You can check the default permissions using the following PowerShell command:
(Get-Acl "C:\Users\Default").Access | Format-Table -Auto
When a new user logs in for the first time, these permissions allow the creation of the profile directory using the default profile template. Without sufficient permissions, Windows will log event ID 1509 in the Application log with the following message:
Windows cannot copy file C:\Users\Default\NTUSER.DAT to location C:\Users\Username\NTUSER.DAT. This error may be caused by network problems or insufficient security rights.
DETAIL - Access is denied.
This error may be caused by network problems or insufficient security rights.
Nonexistent NTUSER.DAT file
When permissions are correct but the NTUSER.DAT file doesn't exist inside the default directory, the user profile service will log event ID 1500 with the following message:
Windows cannot log you on because your profile cannot be loaded. Check that you are connected to the network, and that your network is functioning correctly.
DETAIL - The system cannot find the file specified.
Corrupted NTUSER.DAT file
When the NTUSER.DAT file inside the default profile is corrupt, you will see event ID 1508 with the following message:
Windows was unable to load the registry. This problem is often caused by insufficient memory or insufficient security rights.
DETAIL - The system has attempted to load or restore a file into the registry, but the specified file is not in a registry file format for C:\Users\Username\ntuser.dat
When such events are logged, you will see a User Profile Service failed the sign-in. User profile cannot be loaded on the login screen. Now that you understand why this error occurs, let's discuss how to fix it.
Fixing the default user profile
Try restarting your computer before attempting further repairs, because problems sometimes go away with a simple restart. If the error persists, try the following:
- Log in with an existing admin user. As mentioned above, users who already have a user profile directory are not affected by this error. If you can't even log in with the current admin account, enable the built-in administrator account. Once enabled, log in using the built-in administrator account, and follow the remaining steps.
- Open the Event Viewer and try to locate any errors or warning events about the User Profile Service or User Profile General source. The most relevant event IDs to look for are 1500, 1508, and 1509.
- If the event logs indicate that the NTUSER.DAT file does not exist or is corrupt, you can copy it from C:\Users\Public. If this does not resolve the error, try the next step.
- Delete the contents of the faulty default profile directory and copy it from a working computer running the same Windows version and language. If the error is still not resolved, try the next step.
- Verify that the NTFS permissions are correct on the C:\users\default directory. If not, use the following PowerShell code snippet to correct the permissions:
Running an in-place upgrade
If the above steps didn't solve your problem with the default user profile, you can run an in-place upgrade to rebuild a new default profile for yourself. Doing so will not affect your files and apps, but to be on the safe side, I recommend backing up your data before you proceed. You might also want to temporarily disable your antivirus program to avoid any interference during the upgrade process. To run the in-place upgrade, follow these steps:
- First, you need to rename (or delete) the current default profile, which is causing the problem.
- Next, download the media creation tool for your Windows version: Windows 10,Windows 11
- If your computer isn't connected to the Internet, you can run setup.exe located in the root of the Windows installation DVD or USB flash drive to initiate the in-place upgrade.
- Run the downloaded media creation tool with administrator privileges.
- Accept the license terms and select Upgrade this PC now option.
- Now make sure that the Keep personal files and apps option is selected and click Install.
- When the in-place upgrade is finished, you will see a new default profile directory created.
You can now log in with a new user without any errors. That's it; you successfully resolved the User Profile Service failed the sign-in. User profiles cannot be loaded error. Don't forget to disable the built-in administrator account if you enabled it.
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“If the event logs indicate that the NTUSER.DAT file does not exist or is corrupt, you can copy it from C:\Users\Public”
C:\Users\Public\NTUSER.DAT does not exist.
If it doesn’t exist on your local computer, you could copy it from a remote.
If it doesn’t work, or you do not have another computer to copy from, in-place upgrade will surely help you.
Sometimes just loading and unloading the NTUSER.DAT file can help.
> reg load HKU\Default C:\Users\Default\NTUSER.DAT
The operation completed successfully.
> reg unload HKU\Default
The operation completed successfully.
I believe reg.exe has some sort of corruption repair capability. Obviously, this will fail if the file is so corrupted that mounting fails.
I never tried it but I will definitely give it a try. Thank you for the tip Andrew.