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Why are there two folders – Program Files and Program Files (x86) in 64-bit Windows OS?

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  • Difficulty Level : Easy
  • Last Updated : 19 Jul, 2019

Have you ever wondered why you have two different Program Files (Program Files and Program Files (x86)) on your 64-bit Windows Operating System? Well, you will get the answer to this question by going through this article.

Earlier on, the Windows OS has 32-bit version only. If you are still using a 32-bit of Windows today, you will notice that you only have one kind of Program Files on your computer. It “C:\Program Files” folder. The Program Files folder that is mentioned here is the default location where the programs we install and store their data. In layman terms, the programs will get installed on the Program Files folder.

The popular 64-bit Windows versions also install the programs to the Program Files folder only. But the 64-bit versions of Windows also support 32-bit programs, and Microsoft doesn’t want 32-bit and 64-bit software mixing up in the same location. Whenever any program is installed by the user on a system with a 64-bit CPU, the folder of it usually goes for the 64-bit content. Whenever a 32-bit program tries to utilize the 64-bit component, it is going to face many issues and problems. So what the developers did with the Windows was very smart. The Windows separated and created two different directories of the 32-bit program and 64-bit program. The Program Files stores all the 64-bit programs and the Program Files (x86) stores all the 32-bit programs. x86 stands for different processor types, i.e. 286, 386, 486, 586/Pentium.

The 32-bit programs run on the 64-bit Windows versions by the use of WoW64, which is an abbreviation of “Windows 32-bit on Windows 64-bit” and WinSXS, which is the abbreviation for Windows Side By Side. When this scenario happens, the WoW64 emulation layer will do a seamless redirection of the access of the files from the Program Files to the Program Files (x86). Whenever the 32-bit application accesses the directory of the Program Files, it will get pointed to the folder of Program Files (x86). The 64-bit apps will be going to use the Program Files folder generally as it is.

However, the primary explanation for this is that the 64-bit applications don’t go along with the 32-bit extensions quite well, and vice versa. So the above method drastically reduces the chances of the conflict, if someone wants to install both the 32-bit version and the 64-bit version of the same application on the same Windows. If we have two different and separate folder for Program Files, it will be ensured that the 32-bit software doesn’t know about the work of the 64-bit system, and vice-versa. Separation of both the different kind of software will altogether remove the chances of a 32-bit software trying to load up a 64-bit DLL accidentally, and then fail and give the error message.

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