Get the fix to the “Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM” boot error message affecting Windows XP.

About the “\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM is missing or corrupt” error

The following information on this error has been compiled by NeoSmart Technologies, based on the information gathered and reported by our global network of engineers, developers, and technicians or partner organizations.

Description and Symptoms

The error messages, alerts, warnings, and symptoms below are tied to this error.

Symptom 1:  \Windows\System32\Config\System is missing or corrupt error screen on startup

The Windows Registry is a hierarchical database that stores low-level settings for the Microsoft Windows operating system and for applications that opt to use the Registry. When a computer loads, Windows tries to access the registry to get the loading settings, but if the registry is corrupted, then the loading process halts and the following error screen is displayed.

config\SYSTEM is missing or corrupt error screen

Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:

You can attempt to repair this file by starting Windows Setup using the original Setup CD-ROM.
Select 'r' at the first screen to start repair.

Note that the exact error message may vary depending on how exactly the registry was corrupted. All different error messages that are all related to this error are listed below:

  • Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SOFTWARE
  •  Stop: c0000218: The registry cannot load the hive (file): \SystemRoot\System32\Config\SOFTWARE or its log or alternate.
  • Stop: 0xc000000f: Windows failed to load because the system registry file is missing, or corrupt.
  • System error: Lsass.exe When trying to update a password the return status indicates that the value provided as the current password is not correct.

Windows 7 registry corrupt error screen

Windows failed to start. A recent hardware or software change might be the cause. To fix the problem:

1. Insert your Windows installation disc and restart your computer.
2. Choose your language settings, and then click "Next."
3. Click "Repair your computer."

If you do not have this disc, contact your system administrator or computer manufacturer for assistance.

File: \Windows\System32\config\system

Status: 0xc000000f

Info: Windows failed to load because the system registry file is missing, or corrupt.

Causes of this Error

This error has been known to occur as a result of the following cause:

Cause 1: The Windows registry is corrupted

The Windows registry may become corrupted because of many different reasons, including but not limited to virus attacks, power outages, disk write errors, or mistakes made by the user while configuring the registry manually.

Fixing “\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM is missing or corrupt” on Windows

Windows Setup CD/DVD Required!
Some of the solutions below require the use of the Microsoft Windows setup CD or DVD. If your PC did not come with a Windows installation disc or if you no longer have your Windows setup media, you can use Easy Recovery Essentials for Windows instead. EasyRE will automatically find and fix many problems, and can also be used to solve this problem with the directions below.

Fix #1: Restore corrupted registry via Easy Recovery Essentials

Easy Recovery Essentials can fix many errors such as this automatically using its built-in Automated Repair option. EasyRE is currently available for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 and can be downloaded and created on any PC.

  1. Download Easy Recovery Essentials. Make sure to note your Windows version (XP, Vista, 7 or 8) before you download EasyRE. This guide can help you identify what version of Windows you have installed.
  2. Burn the image. Follow these instructions on how to burn the bootable ISO image very carefully, as making a bootable CD can be tricky! Alternatively, these instructions explain how to create a bootable EasyRE recovery USB stick/drive.
  3. Boot up your PC from the Easy Recovery Essentials CD or USB you created.
  4. Once EasyRE is running, choose the “Automated Repair” option and click Continue.
    EasyRE Home

    Choose “Automated Repair” in Easy Recovery Essentials

  5. After EasyRE scans your computer’s drives, identify and select the drive letter for your Windows installation from the list, and then click on the Automated Repair button to begin.
    EasyRE displays a list of found Windows operating systems

    Choose the drive associated with the Windows installation you’re trying to repair.

  6. Easy Recovery Essentials will start analyzing the selected drive for problems. EasyRE will test for and attempt to automatically correct errors with the disk, partition, bootsector, filesystem, bootloader, and registry. No intervention is required, as EasyRE’s repair is fully automated:
    EasyRE: Automated Repair

    Easy Recovery Essentials searches for errors and makes corrections to the selected Windows installation.

  7. Once the process is complete, EasyRE will report its findings. Click on the Restart button to reboot your PC and test the changes.
  8. The “\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM is missing or corrupt” error should now be fixed as your PC begins to load:
    EasyRE: Automated Repair

    Windows, booting up successfully.

You can download Easy Recovery Essentials from here.

Fix #2: Reboot a PC into “Last Known Good Configuration”

Rebooting a PC into “Last Known Good Configuration” mode forces a computer to use a saved version of the Windows registry that was in place the last time that computer successfully booted. This should fix all registry-related boot errors, assuming the last registry backup is available and is good condition.

Here are the steps to restore a PC to a previous state:

  1. Restart the computer
  2. Wait for the BIOS to complete POST (the screen with manufacturer logo and/or system information)
  3. Quickly begin tapping F8 repeatedly, until the list of boot options is displayed
  4. Choose “Last Known Good Configuration (Advanced)”
  5. Press Enter and wait for the PC to boot.

Here is an example of the Windows Advanced Boot options menu, with the “Last Known Good Configuration” option selected:

Last Known Good Configuration Boot screen

Last Known Good Configuration Boot screen

Fix #2: Check the disk file system with CHKDSK utility

Since the error is often caused by a corrupt registry, checking and fixing the Windows file system with CHKDSK might be a good solution.

Here are the steps to run CHKDSK using the Windows XP Recovery Console:

  1. Insert the Windows XP installation CD
  2. Restart the computer and boot from the CD
  3. Press any key to boot from the CD
  4. Press R when the Windows Options menu is loaded to access Repair Console
  5. Enter the Administrator password
  6. When the Command Prompt appears, type the following command:
    chkdsk C: /r

    where C: (without a trailing slash: /) is letter of the Windows installation drive (it’s usually C:)

  7. Press Enter
  8. Remove the CD and type exit:
  9. Press Enter
  10. Restart the PC

Here is what the PC’s console output should look like after chkdsk is done checking and fixing the drive file system:

Windows XP chkdsk results screen

Windows XP chkdsk results screen

Fix #3: Restore the registry manually

The corrupted registry may also be fixed by replacing it with a clean copy that was created on the hard drive when Windows was installed. Note that this operation will restore the system to a state that might be very far from its current state; however, it still should be possible to recover user data in that state. This procedure also should not be used if the computer has an OEM-installed operating system, because the system registry hive on OEM installations creates passwords and user accounts that did not exist previously. This means that if these steps are followed on an OEM machine, then it may not be possible to log back into the recovery console to restore the original registry hives.

First, a backup of all current registry files is made so that they could be restored if anything goes wrong. Then, the existing registry is deleted, and replaced with a clean copy from the C:\Windows\Repair folder.

  1. Insert the Windows XP setup CD and restart the computer
  2. Press any key to boot from the CD
  3. Press R to access Repair Console
  4. Enter the Administrator password. When the Command Prompt appears, type the following commands, one at a time and press Enter after each command, replacing C: with the Windows’ drive letter:
    md tmp
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\system c:\windows\tmp\system.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\software c:\windows\tmp\software.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\sam c:\windows\tmp\sam.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\security c:\windows\tmp\security.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\default c:\windows\tmp\default.bak
    Backing up current registry hives

    Backing up current registry hives

    delete c:\windows\system32\config\system
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\software
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\sam
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\security
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\default
    Deleting current registry hives

    Deleting current registry hives

    copy c:\windows\repair\system c:\windows\system32\config\system
    copy c:\windows\repair\software c:\windows\system32\config\software
    copy c:\windows\repair\sam c:\windows\system32\config\sam
    copy c:\windows\repair\security c:\windows\system32\config\security
    copy c:\windows\repair\default c:\windows\system32\config\default
    Restoring registry hives from a repair folder

    Restoring registry hives from a repair folder

  5. Type exit and remove your CD:
  6. Press Enter
  7. Restart your computer

Right after the boot process is completed successfully, it is possible to either backup all user data and reinstall Windows from scratch, or follow the procedure described in the Windows KB corrupted registry article to manually restore the system registry to a more newer version that was backed up by System Restore.

More Information

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Applicable Systems

This Windows-related knowledgebase article applies to the following operating systems:

  • Windows XP (all editions)

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