Forcing Steam Categories to Sync Between Computers

After spending a considerable amount of time messing with the categories for all my Steam games, I logged in this morning on my desktop to find my work had been erased! Luckily, my laptop was still showing all my Steam categories. Using a combination of tools, I was able to restore my categories from the laptop’s backup. In this article, I’ll show you how to back up and restore your Steam categories, and force your Steam categories to sync across multiple computers.

First off, this article assumes you have Steam on one computer where the categories are correct. If you lost your categories and don’t have any other Steam installs, this method is unlikely to work. However, you can still probably learn something about how categories are stored and synced, which will allow you to back up your categories to avoid this situation in the future.

According to rallion in this Reddit thread, the file where categories are stored is:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\userdata\[id]\7\remote\sharedconfig.vdf

The ID number appears to be random, and didn’t seem to have any relation to my Steam ID. Obviously, if you installed Steam elsewhere, this folder might be in a different location.

Steam uploads this file to the Steam cloud before exiting, and downloads this file from the Steam cloud if the cloud version is newer than the version on your local PC, or if the file is missing.

So step one is to back up this file on the machine where the categories are correct. If you have a lot of games categorized, and your categories have been corrupted, chances are this file is going to be relatively small on the machine where things are messed up, and relatively large on the machine where they are correct.

In a perfect world, the solution to this problem is to simply:

  1. Log out of Steam where the categories are incorrect
  2. Log out of Steam where the categories are correct (thereby sending the right sharedconfig.vdf to the cloud)
  3. Log into Steam where the categories are incorrect (thereby downloading the right sharedconfig.vdf from the cloud)

However, chances are good that if the sharedconfig.vdf file got messed up on one PC, the “bad” file is actually newer than the “good” file – so Steam will send the bad file into the cloud, where it will override the “good” file the next time you log in! Oh noes!

The solution to this is to make the “good” file seem like it’s been edited more recently. There are many ways to do this, but I did it from the command line. Just open cmd.exe on the PC with the “good” file, cd to the directory with sharedconfig.vdf and then run:

copy /b sharedconfig.vdf +,,

Note the funky “plus sign and two commas” at the end of that – it’s not a glitch, it actually tells copy to just touch the file, making it seem newer than it is. (Check out the docs for copy here)

Now you can log out on the “good” PC, which will upload this file to the cloud. Then you can log back in on the “bad” PC to grab the more updated, correct, cloud copy.

Hope that helps save your Steam categories from extinction!