UPDATE FOR WINDOWS 7 SP1
A commonly asked question among people looking at a Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 installation is “why is the WinSxS folder so big?!” To answer that question I need to first describe componentization, and how components are managed in Windows Vista.
One of the largest changes between previous versions of Windows and Windows Vista was a move from an INF described OS to componentization. A component in Windows is one or more binaries, a catalog file, and an XML file that describes everything about how the files should be installed. From associated registry keys and services to what kind security permissions the files should have. Components are grouped into logical units, and these units are used to build the different Windows editions.
All of the components in the operating system are found in the WinSxS folder – in fact we call this location the component store. Each component has a unique name that includes the version, language, and processor architecture that it was built for. The WinSxS folder is the only location that the component is found on the system, all other instances of the files that you see on the system are “projected” by hard linking from the component store. Let me repeat that last point – there is only one instance (or full data copy) of each version of each file in the OS, and that instance is located in the WinSxS folder. So looked at from that perspective, the WinSxS folder is really the entirety of the whole OS, referred to as a “flat” in down-level operating systems. This also accounts for why you will no longer be prompted for media when running operations such as System File Checker (SFC), or when installing additional features and roles.Continue reading