Windows Prefetch files, introduced in Windows XP, are designed to speed up the application startup process. Prefetch files contain the name of the executable, a Unicode list of DLLs used by that executable, a count of how many times the executable has been run, and a timestamp indicating the last time the program was run. Although Prefetch is present in Windows 2003, by default it is only enabled for boot prefetching. The feature is also found in Windows Vista, where it has been augmented with SuperFetch, ReadyBoot, and ReadyBoost.
Up to 128 Prefetch files are stored in the %SystemRoot%\Prefetch directory . Each file in that directory should contain the name of the application (up to eight (?) characters), a dash, and then an eight character hash of the location from which that application was run, and a .pf extension. The filenames should be all uppercase except for the extension. The format of hashes is not known. A sample filename for md5deep would look like: MD5DEEP.EXE-4F89AB0C.pf. If an application is run from two different locations on the drive (i.e. the user runs C:\md5deep.exe and then C:\Apps\Hashing\md5deep.exe), there will be two different prefetch files in the Prefetch folder.
Each Prefetch file has a signature in the first 8 bytes of the file. Windows XP and Windows Vista will generate Prefetch files with the signature \x11\x00\x00\x00\x53\x43\x43\x41 (0x41434353 0x00000011). Windows 7 Prefetch file's signature is \x17\x00\x00\x00\x53\x43\x43\x41 (0x41434353 0x00000017). The ASCII representation of these bytes will display "....SCCA".
Both the NTFS timestamps for a Prefetch file and the timestamp embedded in each Prefetch file contain valuable information. The creation date of the file indicates the first time the application was executed. Both the modification date of the file and the embedded timestamp indicate the last time the application was executed.
Windows will store timestamps according to Windows epoch.
The timestamp embedded within the Prefetch file is a 64-bit (QWORD) FILETIME object located at offset 0x78 from the beginning of the file on Windows XP. The timestamp offset for Windows Vista and Windows 7 located at 0x80.
The run count, or number of times the application has been run, is a 4-byte (DWORD) value located at offset 0x90 from the beginning of the file on Windows XP. On Windows Vista and Windows 7, the run time can be found at 0x98.
In each Prefetch file, the size of the header is stored and can be found at offset 0x54 on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. The header size for Windows XP is 0x98 (152) and 0xf0 (240) on Windows Vista and Windows 7.
The Prefetch file will embed the application's name into the header at offset 0x10.
- Prefetch-Tool Script - Python looks Prefetch files up on a web server.
- Windows File Analyzer - Parses Prefetch files, thumbnail databases, shortcuts, index.dat files, and the recycle bin
- Microsoft's description of Prefetch when Windows XP was introduced
- More detail from Microsoft
- Windows Prefetch parser Free tool that can be run on Windows, Linux or Mac OS-X.