So, let’s say you want to install the latest fancy Windows 7 desktop themes, then you need to know how to replace system files in Windows 7! Well, at least if you are interested in modifying the shell and explorer skin, because then you have to replace system files like shell32.dll, explorer.exe or shellstyle.dll.

How to replace system files in Windows 7

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Backup System Files

  • Backup system files
  • Try on Virtual PC first
  • Install multiple systems

0. Prerequisites. Before you replace any system files, make a backup. I am not responsible if your system won’t start or if you do any damage to your system and lose valuable data. Microsoft strongly advices you not to modify system files. Of course this does not keep us from modifying and hacking whatever there is, because we want to customize ANYTHING.

If you replace system files with corrupt files or if you replace the wrong files your system will NOT boot. Keep this in mind. If you are new to this, I would recommend to try everything on a virtual PC before you do it on a live system. Another advice: Installing multiple systems, e.g. XP, Vista and Windows 7 is a good idea and can come in handy for replacing system files, if you do something wrong you can always boot another system and undo the changes.

Take Ownership of a System File

1. StepTo rename or delete (don’t) system files you have to take ownership of the system file.

Download this script: Download and double-click on the .reg (registry) file to add an option “Take Ownership” to your contextual menu (the right-click menu).

Then you can right-click on your system files and take ownership of them. You can also do this via the command line using the command TAKEOWN /f . For more instructions, read this.

Rename Windows 7 System Files

2. Step After  taking ownership of the system file, you can rename the system files (don’t delete them, you will still need your original system files). Rename your system file to .bak.dll or .bak.exe or something else that you WILL remember. When you try to rename a system file, you will be prompted via UAC to confirm the action, do it.

System files, like shell32.dll, are protected. So, if you want to copy a file to the system32 folder, it won’t work. Also renaming an existing file in system32 to for example shell32.dll won’t work.

Personally, I always rename system files via the command line.Run an elevated command prompt and use the syntax “rename path_to_system_file new_name” (without the quotes).


Rename System Files in Windows 7

Copy New Files to Windows 7 System Folder

3. StepOpen an elevated command prompt. Copy your new system files to the system32 folder (or wherever your system files are stored) to replace the old files.

My new shell32.dll was stored at E:/midnight/, so I enter:
copy E:/midnight/shell32.dll shell32.dll

Keep in mind that this will copy shell32.dll to the folder that you are currently in. After opening an elevated command prompt, this is by default /Windows/system32.

Copy Files to System Folder in Windows 7

How to replace Explorer.exe in Windows 7?

If you are looking for a way to replace the explorer.exe in Windows 7, then read a comprehensive guide here:
Replace System File: Explorer.exe

Ok, now you know how to replace system files in Windows 7. This should help many of you who want to install Windows 7 themes. A lot of the new shell themes require you to replace files like shell32.dll!