UPDATED: March 2015.
There are a number of tutorials and “How To’s” for doing a clean install of Second Life Viewers. Several viewers have their own instructions in their wiki or forum. I’ve read through a bunch of them. In general they seem to be written by a one-viewer user with some minor concessions to the possibility one may be using more than one viewer. I’ve had over 15 viewers simultaneously installed and working. I’ve also had things horribly balled up. So, I’ve experimented with several different clean install processes. This is what I’ve learned about Second Life Clean Installs.
Warning: This is Windows oriented. I don’t do Mac, sorry. And I don’t have any running Linux boxes. The difference in how a clean stall is done is mostly in file locations.
Is an SL Clean Install Necessary?
Most of the time, a clean install is not needed. Even more rare is the need to do a mass clean install, which is where you uninstall all the SL related viewers on your computer. However, a clean install is a quick easy solution for tech support types and you go away for hours. It is much easier for them to tell you to do a clean install and have you do all the work than try to figure out what you did and try to fix it. It is also much easier for a techie to help you when they know the state of your viewer install. A clean install gives them a good place to start. So, for tenacious problems it may be a necessary step.
So, if you are have having a go-bald-day (in 2011 this was a common problem), a clean install will likely make it easier on you and the person helping you. So, a clean viewer install may be beneficial if not necessary.
However, before you go to all the work of a clean install, reboot the computer then manually clear the cache* and the viewer settings. Try logging in. You may find your viewer has recovered and save yourself the pain of a reinstall. So, how to manually clear the cache and settings? To save time, effort, and aggravation you need to know a bit more first.
Two Types of Second Life Clean Install
There is a Scorched Earth approach which is uninstall ALL viewers and delete all viewer related files and folders. For someone like me with over a dozen viewers that is time consuming. I’ve found I usually don’t need to go that drastic. But, if someone is helping you, they may recommend this method. You have to make a decision. I hope this tutorial will help you with this decision.
The other Clean Install is for doing just a single viewer. This method is often avoided because one has to find all the freaking files among all the other viewer files and I suspect most people don’t know where they are or what they are named anyway. But, it is not that complicated.
Fortunately, since 2011 viewer design and compatibility has improved. Most viewers use their own folders for everything. This means that in 2015 we can uninstall a single viewer and not break other viewers. We can generally delete entire folders for one viewer without damaging other viewer installs. Avoid thinking this is a hard rule. There are exceptions.
I’ll explain what you need to know to do either style of Second Life Clean Viewer Install.
Multiple Viewer Considerations
When you have installed multiple viewers you have files in many locations that are not mentioned in most clean install tutorials. So, let’s get clear about how most viewer developers handle their files. Hopefully you will be able to find all your files no matter which viewers you have installed.
When I put a folder name in [ ] it is a description of a folder name not NOT the actual name. So, [viewer_name] could mean SecondLife, Firestorm or another viewer name.
Also, there are files and settings you are likely to want to keep. Chat logs and Windlight settings are examples. I’ll get into how to save them later.
Program files are typically installed on the C: drive in the Program Files (x86) folder. The 64-bit version of viewers is installed in the folder Program Files.
UPDATE: For Apple users there is a Firestorm/Phoenix page on doing a clean install that gives file locations and steps for revealing hidden files.
There are two basic caches. Some viewers place objects, textures, and sounds in the same cache. Call this The Cache. Some viewers also use a Sound File Cache and place the sound files in it. The Cache is found here:
Win 7 & 8: C:\Users\[user_name]\AppData\Local\[viewer_name]
The sound folder, if it exists, will be nearby, if not adjacent. The Sound Cache seldom, if ever, needs to be cleared.
In 2011 clearing the main cache* was still a major troubleshooting step. In 2015 it is now VERY MUCH a last resort step. In 2011 deleting the entire cache folder was the way to go. No longer. In 2015 we save the Inventory List files.
With more and more of the viewer’s communication using error correcting protocols, cache corrupting is a rare occurrence.
This gets tedious and most clean install tutorials don’t bother to explain about settings files. Also, how different developers handle the settings files varies. So, the files are in different places depending on the viewer.
Third party viewers are adding a Save Settings feature. So, manually having to go save the Viewer Settings is a thing of the past for some. The Firestorm Viewer has that feature labeled: Backup Viewer Settings.
The typical settings file location is:
There are more than just settings in the settings folder. The in-viewer browser has a cache here in a subfolder named browser_profile. Various viewer logs are in logs. Chat logs are in the folder [avatar_name]. The actual settings are in a folder labeled user_settings.
This is where things vary from viewer to viewer. Some viewers place their settings and various files in the SecondLife folder and others put some of the files in a [viewer_name]\user_settings folder. So, if you do not find a [viewer_name] folder in Roaming, the files are likely mixed in with the Second Life files. So, if you are doing a single viewer removal, find the file settings_[viewername].xml. Look through the various folders in \Roaming\SecondLife\ for files with your viewer name. These will be files that need to be removed to make a clean install.
In 2015 third party viewers tend to put their settings in a folder unique to their viewer.
If the settings file is in Roaming\SecondLife\ then the important file to get is Roaming\SecondLife\user_settings\settings_[viewername].xml. The SL Viewer’s settings are in a file named settings.xml. Most of the other files in the folder are usually not a problem, so deleting them is optional. When one is using both 1.x and 3.x viewers, chat can also be a problem**. So, if you are hunting a tenacious problem, it is a good idea to remove the chat files too. Otherwise, they can stay.
Because some viewers include their settings file in the SL folder wiping the entire SL settings folder wipes the settings for all those viewers too. So, for a single viewer reinstall wiping out all the settings files is over kill. But, accidental deletion of another viewer’s files is only a minor issue. You can delete the entire Roaming/SecondLife folder if you chose. The other viewers will recover. You will have to redo your settings in each of those viewers when you next use them. No biggie but it can be tedious.
To just clear settings and restore a viewer to its default settings, one only need delete the viewer’s settings file. Often this will restore a viewer to perfect operation. It is worth a try.
If you are planning on a Scorched Earth Clean Install you can save or delete all the other user created files. To save them; just move them somewhere leaving an empty folder behind.
The additional user created files you may want to save are Windlight settings. You can find them here:
Win7: C:\Program Files (x86)\SecondLifeViewer\app_settings\windlight
It is a good idea to have a backup of your Windlight settings if you use lots of them. Create a folder to copy them into. Call it Windlight Archive or whatever and put it someplace easy to find. As you get or make new settings you can copy them into the archive folder.
Update 2014/2: Things have changed since I wrote this. Default presets for the viewer are kept in the Program Files (x86) folder. The presets you create are saved in the AppData\Roaming folder. Place your presets; created, downloaded, or otherwise, in the AppData\Roaming folder.
Skins you use are saved in:
After a reinstall you can copy saved files back into the viewer. The same with chat logs.
WARNING: With the release of Viewer 3 I find trying to save skins is pointless. The new viewers so radically changed the interface that entire new skins are having to be designed. With the variety of User Interfaces in Third Party Viewers (TPV) skins are NOT interchangeable. So, unless you have customized a skin for a viewer you will be re-installing, forget saving skins.
The Second Life Uninstall
The order of install is not particularly important except for one consideration. Windows will typically use the last viewer installed to handle SLURL’s.
Also the viewers have DLL files. What they are is a bit too geeky to explain here. Suffice to say Windows read these bits of programming to understand how to handle certain tasks. These tasks are not necessarily unique to a specific viewer, but may be.
These files may be registered with the Windows operating system. Different developers do this differently. If they include the DLL’s in the install folder they may not register them in which case the install order won’t make any difference. However, if they are installing DLL’s into the Windows system then it becomes important to install your preferred viewer last.
Since we can’t know what an install program is going to do, best practice is to install your preferred viewer last.
To get DLL install and registration right I suggest the Second Life viewer always be the first viewer installed and the last viewer removed when you are uninstalling them all.
If you are planning to install a single viewer, I suggest you still install the SL Viewer first. And when doing a complete uninstall of all viewers, uninstall it last.
When you plan to do a clean install for all the viewers you should remove them using each viewer’s uninstall program. Several viewer’s uninstall programs do not remove all the viewer’s files. They also often skip or forget files in other locations. If you are doing a clean install, it is smart to check for and delete any reaming viewer files after running the uninstall. Above I’ve listed them. With that list you can uninstall all or a just one or two viewers.
Caution: If you are only removing one viewer for a clean install of it, you should probably avoid using its uninstall program. Several remove files that other viewers need. The Lab’s SL Viewer’s un-install program is bad about wiping out files other viewers need. It also removes chat logs.
Since 2011 install and uninstall programs have improved. They usually give you an opertunity to remove ALL files, meaning chat logs and everything, or to leave some USER files, meaning chat logs and some others, installed.
I think if you have several viewers installed then the best method for doing a clean install for a single viewer is to manually remove the files.
Once everything is uninstalled and files deleted, reboot the computer. This restart is needed when you use the uninstall programs. It is not so much needed when you do manual un-installs.
Quicktime and Webkit
If you do not have the Safari Browser or QuickTime installed. Install them before you start your re-install process. This will save you problems with Webkit and SL Media down the road.
I am hoping this problem goes away in 2015. The plan is to change the viewers from using Webkit to using Chrome Embedded Framework, CEF. Once that change is implemented we won’t need to install Safari/QuickTime.
The Second Life Clean Install
Regardless of which viewer you plan to use, install the current standard Second Life Viewer. This viewer needs to be installed first, regardless of which viewers you plan to install. The reason is it makes the DLL registrations and other Windows Registry entries needed. It also downloads some files and installs them. You may need those files as a fix for other viewers.
Install the other viewers you plan to use. Install your favorite viewer. the viewer you plan to use most, last. If you plan to use the SL viewer most that means, install it gain over the top of the previous install and after the other viewers installed. By doing this little step you should end up with the Windows Registry correctly setup and Windows using the SL Viewer for SLURL’s.
If you only remove one viewer and re-install it, you still need to reinstall the SL Viewer so it is the last viewer installed, even if you did not remove it.
Not all the viewers handle the registry entries intelligently. If they did the last viewer installed would be the viewer your web browser automatically calls when clicking an SLURL. So, this order of install makes a difference.
If you are chasing a problem, reboot after the installs are complete and before starting a viewer. This assures the Windows registry is properly saved and reloaded.
Also, if you saved chat logs, Windlight settings, and saved or backed up viewer settings and you are chasing a problem, only restore them after you test the viewer. Start it up and see if your problem is gone. If so, then restore each set of files one at a time and test the viewer.
I suggest you restore the Viewer Settings first and retest the viewer. Most often problems are caused by bad settings. If it is your settings, close the viewer, remove the settings file, and rebuild your settings manually.
Hopefully all works well.
Viewer Problem Tip
Geeks tend to forget to tell you to reboot. Anytime you viewer goes into 0.5 FPS or in and out of Not Responding, blinking black screens, or other obvious video problems, close the viewer, if possible, and reboot. These two steps can fix an amazing number of mysterious problems.
* Clearing the cache is way less a cure all now, 2015, than it was in 2011 when this article was written. Seriously consider whether your reason for doing a clean install is a data corruption issue. If not, leave the cache in place.
Many of the problems we encounter in 2015 are caused by poor connections to the SL Servers. Having a good Internet Connection does not mean you have a good connection to Second Life.
If your problem is likely a connection issue, clearing the cache means your system will be putting more load on the connection and possibly complicating your problems. So, leaving the cache in place will likely help in such cases. I strongly suggest you leave the cache in place and read: Troubleshoot Your #SL Connection. Consider clearing the main cache an absolute last resort.
After years of third party developers and Linden Lab staff advising people to ONLY clear the main cache as a last resort, support people and users are telling people to clear their cache. There are people in Firestorm Support that will tell you to clear your cache first thing. Don’t. Such people are probably not the dedicated support personal trained by the Firestorm Team. Ask them how clearing your cache will fix your problem. If you don’t get a clear sensible answer, come back and ask about your problem in a couple of hours.
** Chat files are seldom a problem now, 2015. Almost all the viewers have standardized on chat files. Some viewers keep their chat files in their Roaming\[viewer_name] folder. Others use the SL default location. In general, leave the chat files in place. If you really think they are a problem, move the file to another location or delete them. But, it is very unlikely they are the problem.
However, as the chat files get larger, there is a bit of performance loss. Also, large files are difficult to open in external editors. So, from time to time you need to delete or rename them to keep the size within reason and improve performance. Examine the file size and rename or delete the large files (500k and larger or may be even 100k). Also, fewer files are better too.