Why VST plugins installed in multiple locations?


I got a new pc, and though I tried to install everything in an organized way, it came out a bit of a mess…
I have so many folders of plugins, it seems like everything is duplicated to multiple locations:

C:\Program Files -
I have folders for every plugin: Celemony (Melodyne), Modartt (Pianoteq), Native Instruments (Kontakt), Spitfire, XLN and more…
Is this normal?

C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3 -
I have files of the plugins I have in C:\Program Files (that mentioned above).
Why do I have it twice? ( C:\Program Files + C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3)

C:\Documents -
Again, I have files of the plugins I have in C:\Program Files (that mentioned above).
Why do I have it there? (not to mention this location is so not comfortable for this, as I want this location to be used for my personal files).

Also, I have:

C:\Program Files\Common Files\Celemony
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Native Instruments
Why do I have these folders there if I also have them in C:\Program Files?

C:\Program Files\Common Files\AVID\Audio\Plug-Ins -
Again, I have folders of: Addictive Drums, Kontakt, Melodyne, Pianoteq…
Do I need this for using these plugins in Cubase?

I have new plugins I want to install, but I don’t know where to install them? - I would like everything to be together in a main folder.

Also, can I move folders that I already installed, to a new location? or do I have to reinstall everything?

And if I have to reinstall - is it possible? (I’m used to the old way, when the purchase wasn’t subscription-based, so I could just uninstall a plugin, and then install it again right from the folder/disc. But now, when it’s subscription-based - will I be able to reinstall? will the vendor recognize that I’m installing the plugin to the same computer?)

Thank you so much!


Ask the plug-ins vendors, why they install the plug-ins to the dedicated folders. And ask Microsoft, why there is no one system folder only, as it is on Mac.

Cubase has to know the VST3 file (or DLL file in case of VST2 plug-in) location to see the plug-in.

It depends on the plug-in itself. There might be some dependencies. So if you just move the folder, it might not work.

But all these questions are really on the plug-ins (and Windows) side. Any other DAW (on Windows) has to search for the folders too.

Hi, thanks.

So does this mean everyone with a Windows pc has their plugins in multiple folders, like mine?
I don’t mean that each plugin is in a different folder, I mean that every plugin is in at least 3 folders.

I do think my questions are related to this forum - none of my other programs are multiplied to so many folders.

But anyway, it would really help me to get an answer to my question as to where to install my next plugins, instead of telling me to ask the vendors or Microsoft :slight_smile:


It depends on the plug-in vendor, where does it store all the data and content and how does it make the folders structure in the system.

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Yes it’s not only you but most installers will ask you where you want to install and if you ignore this then the installer will put the plugin in its own default location.

Thanks, do you have a recommendation as to where to install the plugins?

Also, so if you want to back up your plugins, how do you know what folders/files to save/backup?

Yes, on Windows it is normal to have those files in those locations, with the exception of C:\Documents which is not a standard Windows directory so you’ll have to ask the manufacturer of whatever software puts stuff in there why those files are there.

Bear in mind, as per a similar thread:

C:\Program Files (64-bit) or C:\Program Files (x86) (32-bit) are for executable programs that are not shared between applications. Typically you might find standalone versions of plugins and support libraries in there.

Exceptionally, C:\Program Files\Common Files is for executable code that is shared between multiple applications, such as VST3 plugins. The actual VST3 plugins themselves are stored specifically in C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3 as that is what the VST3 spec (and the Microsoft Windows guidelines) specify as the required location.

Some manufacturers will create a subdirectory underneath C:\Program Files\Common Files for their shared code and that is perfectly normal, as per your examples above.

So yes, you do need all those directories, perhaps with the exception of C:\Documents which is a bit of an unknown.

I would strongly recommend that unless you really know what you are doing, you do not move files around, as you are likely to break something if you do. All these directories are being used as per the Microsoft Windows guidelines and there is nothing unusual about this setup.

@garyhawkins01 Thank you so much!

So as I understand it, basically the VST3 folder is the main folder that contains all the vst3 files of the plugins.

As for the “Documents” folder - I have many plugins’ folders their, not just one or two, but it’s not just of plugins: Steinberg (Cubase) has also 2 folders their:

  1. “Steinberg” folder (which contains the folders: CrashDumps, Cubase, FX Chain Presets, Groove Agent SE, Strip Presets)
  2. “VST3 Presets” folder (which contains the folders: “Steinberg Media Technologies” and “UVI”).

Also, I noticed that some vst plugins (like Embertone) are installed only there, with all their samples.
I don’t like all this mess, but I guess I don’t have a choice…

Installing: Can you tell me what folder I should choose to install plugins or sample libraries, when the vendor doesn’t choose it for me? (Somehow it happened to me).

Backup: Also, what folders/files do I need to save in order to backup a plugin/sample library? and how do I know where the samples are?

Thank you!

Re: installing:
I’d generally advise not to install any VST2 plugins anymore, as Cubase won’t support those anymore in the future. Stick with VST3, they’ll automatically get installed in the default folder and you don’t have to worry about.
If you must use the VST2, check the VST2 search paths in the plugin manager (https://helpcenter.steinberg.de/hc/en-us/articles/115000177084-VST-plug-in-locations-on-Windows), select one and stick with that.

Re: samples:
There is no standard here, every vendor is different. Some offer to select the destination folder for the sample data, some even offer to change it after the installation. Check the plugin’s manual.

Re: backup:
Just backup your whole disk with an image backup solution. There is no use in backuping (that is a word, isn’t it :wink: ) just the plugin files, as most of them rely on additional files or entries in the windows registry to operate. It is probably more important to save and backup the installers.

Ah, you’re talking about the “Documents” folder as shown in Windows Explorer, rather than C:\Documents? That’s a virtual folder, which is really found in the filesystem at C:\Users\[user-name]\Documents and is part of your home directory, so that’s a per-user setting. All files under C:\Users\[user-name]\ contain user-specific settings and files personal to your user account. So in this case the Steinberg folder is likely to contain user settings for Steinberg applications, and VST3 Presets store your own personal VST3 presets specific to your user account. You should be able to back this up easily enough in the usual way, as it contains your personal settings and files.

As for what to back up - you can always reinstall software and plugins if something goes wrong. What you should definitely back up are files you created yourself that you cannot get back by reinstalling, such as your Cubase projects and other documents and so on.


I accidentally installed some VST2 in addition to my VST3 files, but yes, I’m not going to install them in the future.

I also accidentally installed aax files, which are located in
C:\Program Files\Common Files\AVID\Audio\Plug-Ins -
Can I just delete all these folders and files, or will it cause problems?

I read many suggestions about installing all the samples on a different drive, so it seems odd to me that when I install them, I don’t get asked about where to put them.
I just found some samples in the “Documents” folder, some in the hidden “program Data” folder…
I don’t mind that the samples in C drive, I just wish all the samples and plugins would be in the same main folder, to keep everything organized.

I didn’t think about this option, I’ll look into it.


If possible, I would attempt to uninstall the VST2 and AAX plugins using the official plugin installer (Apps or Programs & Features) as it is safer that way.


Yes, I meant for the “Documents” folder that is located here:
Sorry for the confusion!
I really don’t like it that I have all these folders created automatically there, and also some samples, but I guess it is what it is.
I also just found some samples in the "program Data” folder… so messy.

Reinstall plugin or software:
The licenses are usually per 1 or 2 pc, so how will the vendor recognize that I’m reinstalling it to the same computer and not to another one?

Also, I read that some vendors don’t allow downloading their plugins/samples multiple times without paying, that’s why I want to back up the right files and samples.

BTW - do I need to have a backup for Cubase, in case I move to a new pc etc., or will Cubase let me redownload everything in the future?

Thank you!

Thanks! will it let me uninstall only VST2 and AAX, without uninstalling VST3?

Some will, some won’t, you’ll just have to try it and see.

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I can’t answer the question about reinstalling third-party plugins, that’s one for the plugin manufacturers. But you can always take a backup of the installer programs then if you need to reinstall them you can. Steinberg should let you redownload all the Cubase components via the Steinberg Download Manager.

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This really has nothing to do with Microsoft. Weren’t DirectX plug-ins the AU of Windows? Those basically are dead, these days (replaced by VST). They were installed to the relevant application directory and then registered in the Windows Registry, so any application on the system could use them. A few applications still use them (Sound Forge Pro, Vegas Pro, Cakewalk by BandLab (Sonitus FX)). Because you never had to deal with managing scan locations with DirectX Plug-ins, this was never an issue. Like I said, the applications got all of this from the Windows Registry.

VST is a Steinberg technology, and they didn’t mandate an installation directory until VST3. The lack of one (and the lack of a standardized default plug-in database - like the Registry was for DX plug-ins) is (are) what caused this issue of Wild Wild West VST2 Plug-in Install Locations on Windows. Because there literally wasn’t any standard install location, the developers simply picked and chose whatever at the time they created the installers.

The issue is less where they are installed, and the fact that users have to manually set up scan locations in DAWs, NLEs and Audio Editors. That’s what causes the end-user headache. With DX this didn’t matter. Every plugin could be in a different folder on the system, but the user would never notice because the software scanned the registry and found all of them with 0 issue.

It’s honestly just an issue of developers being lazy and not doing the most obvious thing… Install VST2 to \Program Files\Steinberg\VstPlugins and VST3 to \Program Files\Common Files\VST3

Now they’re telling people to go to \Program Files\Common Files\VST2, which has only exacerbated the issue. There are now installers installing to:

\Program Files\VstPlugins
\Program Files\Steinberg\VstPlugins
\Program Files\Common Files\VST2

And that’s ignoring the locations they recommend for shared machines where users don’t have permission to write to system directories, as well as applications that still install VST2 plug-ins to private application directories (e.g. SONAR/Cakewalk by BandLab, Native Access (by default)).

No offense, but passing the buck seems a bit disingenuous. It was on Steinberg to take this into account when they were creating and later LICENSING OUT the spec for VST/VST2. They failed to do that, and now users have to be annoyed by it.

Users should always do a CUSTOM INSTALL when installing plug-ins so that they can specify which directory these files go into. Don’t use Express or Default install settings. You never know where the installer will put the files by default.

If all of your hosts support VST3, just don’t bother installing the VST2 versions, unless required for NKS compatibility.


C:\Program Files\Common Files\Celemony
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Native Instruments
Why do I have these folders there if I also have them in C:\Program Files?

C:\Program Files\Common Files\AVID\Audio\Plug-Ins -

None of these are VST plugins. Common Files\Celemony and Common Files\Native Instruments are for Application Data. Simply opening the directories and looking in there would tell you. That’s what Common Files is for. Shared application data.

The Celemony Directory has the Melodyne RunTime DLL in there. None of those files are VST plugins.

The Native Instruments directory has Shared Resource Files. For example, Library Thumbnails and Browser Category/Tagging information used by applications like Komplete Kontrol, Maschine 2 and Kontakt. The NTK Daemon application directory is also in there, and there is application data for Massive X (Wavetables, etc.) in that subdirectory. There are no VST plug-ins there.

Fundamentally, OP doesn’t understand the structure of the Windows Program Files directory, and why some of those folders exist at the places that they exist (not that I expect him to, end users shouldn’t be expected to be System Admins, but I’m not the one complaining :stuck_out_tongue: ).

Common Files\Avid\Audio\Plug-ins - is pretty self-explanatory. Avid, unlike Steinberg, has always had a standard installation path for its plug-in types. The Avid directory is that. All Pro Tools/Media Composer AAX audio plug-ins go to Avid\Audio\Plug-ins.

\Common Files\Avid\Audio\Plus-ins is the equivalent of \Common Files\VST3, except for PT/MC Audio Plug-ins. If you don’t use Pro Tools or Media Composer, you can delete the Avid Directory.

I have NEVER seen an Installer install VST plug-ins to the user Documents Folder, or even the Shared Documents folder. He must be referring to the Application Data folders in the user documents folder - something Steinberg is abusing as well. This is just lazy development by developers who refuse to switch from a Windows 95-era abuse of the Documents folder to putting application data in %AppData% (or, in some cases, %ProgramData%).

Application Preference Files should never be stored in the %UserDocs% folder, ever, for obvious reasons (they can easily be altered outside of the application, deleted, moved, etc.).

Lots of Developers or other people like to jump in and talk about how it’s on Microsoft to do this or that with Windows, but 90% of developers completely ignore the guidance Microsoft puts out. They treat it as 100% dismissible, while treating Apple’s guidance as the Bible (Steinberg still puts preference files in the User Documents Folder on macOS, instead of the User Library Folder :stuck_out_tongue: ).



There is only one dedicated folder on Mac. So Apple managed to do so.

This has nothing to do with Apple. It has to do with developer’s willingness to install to that directory. If every developer on Windows installed to \Program Files\Steinberg\VstPlugins, we wouldn’t have this thread.

The difference is that Developersa re more willing to standardize on these things on macOS than on Windows - even when it’s the same application, they will often install to Library/Audio/Plug-ins/VST on macOS, while choosing - at random - one of the aforementioned options on Windows.

On Windows, the developers often don’t follow guidance, and there is nothing a user can do about older installers hard-coded to install to random (or different) locations - that is one of the unfortunate issues with Windows’ superior backward/forward compatibility (you carry forward the good as well as the bad).

My User Documents directory should not be filled with 10+ Application Preference directories, because Microsoft has %AppData% and %ProgramData% for that, but it does not stop developers from abusing %UserDocs% and putting their stuff there.

The fact that they may choose to do so on macOS is not a virtue or Apple or macOS. It’s simply a disparity in care factor when it comes to those developers developing for two different target user bases.

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@Trensharo I think it is also fair to say that for Windows applications that are 64-bit native, the scope for putting things in the wrong places by developers is more limited because there are no compatibility bodges (registry virtualization, different permissions, etc. etc.) so I think we’ll see once Windows 10 goes out of support in October 2025, and because (at last) there is no 32-bit version of Windows 11, that things will start to improve, if only because developers are forced to. They’ll still try to ignore the guidelines, but they’ll be stopped from doing certain things.

@Martin.Jirsak I don’t think it’s a particularly useful comparison to compare the way Windows and macOS organise their filesystems, because macOS is derived from Unix (as is Linux), and Windows NT is derived from VMS and DOS, so you can’t really compare the two different heritages. Even Unix/Linux-based OSes have their quirks in this regard, too, and I speak as someone who does Linux system admin for a living, and Windows NT has been playing “catch-up” for many decades on some of the things Unix did right in the first place.

In any case, my original point still stands though - well done Steinberg for following the Microsoft guidelines and mandating putting VST plugins in C:\Program Files\Common Files\VST3, unlike some developers who just ignore the guidelines and throw their stuff indiscriminately all over the filesystem.